'The hospitals aren't collapsing, there's no need for lockdowns'

Health experts advise Knesset's Coronavirus Committee against lockdowns, question Health Ministry's warnings of impending catastrophe.

Tags: Coronavirus
David Rosenberg ,

Yifat Shasha-Biton
Yifat Shasha-Biton
צילום: עדינה ולמן, דוברות הכנסת

The Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee held a deliberation Monday on the possibility of imposing a second nationwide general lockdown.

The committee hearing, led by Committee Chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud), assessed the costs and benefits of a possible lockdown, which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said would likely be discussed by the government this Thursday, Walla reported.

“We want to understand whether Israel really needs another lockdown, when it is clear to everyone what the consequences will be.” MK Shasha-Biton said.

“For a pretty long time we’ve had the threat of a general lockdown hovering over us, amid claims that we’re our epidemiological system necessitates it. Yet the more we’ve seen here the statistics, we have seen that they aren’t dramatic.”

“Even this increase [in fatalities] that we’re seeing is actually very small in proportion to the number of diagnosed cases. Last week there was a sense that we’re on the edge of a catastrophe. It is important to point out that the increase in the number of confirmed cases follows an increase in the number of tests administered.”

Dr. Amir Shahar, chief of the emergency care department at Laniado Hospital in Netanya, said that the numbers of diagnosed patients, of patients in serious condition, and the number of patients on respirators has been stable for a number of weeks, and that the healthcare system is not on the verge of collapse as a result of the pandemic.

“I would like to ask the Health Ministry what facts and statistics it bases it decisions to push methods to curb the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Shahar.

“As of right now I count 131,000 [total diagnosed cases] and a bit over 1,000 deaths, which is about a 0.7% fatality rate. That is the level of fatalities of the flu. So what is the threat to the general population? What are we so afraid of?”

The committee also heard from Prof. Udi Kameron, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s School of Medicine and a researcher of infectious diseases.

Prof. Kameron noted the projections earlier this year of higher levels of morbidity and fatality rates, which overestimated the actual death rates of the coronavirus, and discussed Sweden’s handling of the pandemic, saying that there is no need for a lockdown.

“We put together a letter in support of the Swedish model,” said Prof. Kameron. “In March, we were told that this was the pandemic of the century and that 100,000 people would die. That did not happen. It wasn’t even close to happening and it won’t happen.”

“In April, Sweden and Britain were confronted by the dilemma of either imposing lockdowns or preserving personal freedom and having limited restrictions. Britain went with the lockdowns, Sweden went with its own approach – and people predicted Sweden would have 100,000 fatalities. Now we see that there are barely any deaths there.”

“We need to stop with this fear mongering and to take [lockdowns] off the agenda.”

Earlier on Sunday, some health officials warned that Israel’s healthcare system is at risk of being overwhelmed if the coronavirus pandemic continues through the upcoming flu season.

According to a report Monday morning in the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv, several senior health officials warned that hospitals are already having trouble handling the increased number of coronavirus patients in serious condition, and will be further strained if the pandemic continues to escalate when the flu season begins.

Dr. Ze’ev Feldman, the chairman of the Irgun Rofei Ovdei HaMedina (ARAM) - which represents doctors working in the public healthcare system – and chief of Sheba Medical Center’s children’s neurosurgery department expressed concerns over the growing number of serious cases of the coronavirus and the continued increase in the number of fatalities each week.

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to impose daily 12-hour curfews on 40 cities and towns across Israel which have high coronavirus infection rates. Most of the communities in question are either Arab-majority or haredi-majority towns.

Under the curfews, which last every day from 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., businesses in the affected towns will be required to close, with the exception of businesses providing ‘essential services’.

Schools will be closed in the 40 towns and cities included in the order.