Head of Assuta hospital: 'If we follow the current rules, we won't need a full lockdown'

Professor Shemer says he's 'concerned, but panic is damaging. If we follow the guidelines and stay indoors, we don't have to be worried.'

103 FM ,

Police patrol in protective clothing
Police patrol in protective clothing
Police spokesperson

Professor Joshua Shemer, a former Director-General of the Health Ministry and currently director of Ashdod’s Assuta Medical Center, spoke on 103 FM Radio on Wednesday with Anat Davidov about the coronavirus epidemic and the government’s response.

Prof. Shemer said he was “concerned at the situation, but we still need to continue our lives as far as possible. We don’t need to broadcast alarm and panic, because at the end of the day, I think that alarm and panic are damaging. If we follow the guidelines and stay indoors, we don’t have to be worried.”

“The Health Ministry’s guidelines are good ones,” he added. “They’re telling people to stay at home in order to protect themselves. People who violate the rules are committing two ‘crimes.’ Firstly, they’re endangering themselves; they could, G-d forbid, contract the virus and fall sick. Secondly, [if they end up occupying a hospital ICU bed] they are taking a place that should have been reserved for someone [who contracted the virus through no fault of his own] such as an essential worker.”

Prof. Shemer also addressed the pictures and videos that have been flooding social networks and media in recent days, showing people from various sectors of the population failing to adhere to the Health Ministry’s guidelines. “The news probably hasn’t reached them yet,” he said. “The guidelines need to be enforced, of course, so we’re going to have to see security forces on the streets, and people going round with loudspeakers, reminding people to stay indoors.”

He stressed that, “People need to understand that we’re doing all this in order to protect them, to keep them safe. This isn’t just overreach by the government. No one wants a police state here, but if necessary, the government will have to use some kind of force to make sure that people heed the guidelines.”

When questioned on the efficacy of the guidelines, Professor Shemer said, “Over the next three to four days, we should have some idea, some indication of where things are heading,” and those who are testing positive for coronavirus now contracted it “before the new regulations took force, so we have to wait to see if the shutdown leads to a leveling-off of the current sharp rise in cases we’re seeing.”

In his opinion, the government should not be hasty in imposing a general curfew on the citizens of Israel. “We are already doing serious damage to the economy. I make recommendations as a doctor, but I look at the economy as a regular citizen. There isn’t actually such a great difference [in terms of curbing the spread of the epidemic] between the strict rules of the closure we have now, and a full lockdown. If we’re already not allowing people to jog on the streets and making sure they only go out for a short walk to the grocery store, I think that’s enough, as long as people don’t flout the guidelines.”

Addressing claims by senior officials in the Health Ministry that we could soon see the numbers of cases rise to the tens of thousands, with thousands of people dying in the coming weeks, Professor Shemer said, “Working from data and mathematical models from a few months ago, at the beginning of the crisis, it could be. If the numbers continue to double every day or every other day, we could have 10,000 people falling sick within a few weeks, if what we’re doing now doesn’t help.”

However, he added that “I think that the State of Israel is doing the right thing. We are certainly going to see more morbidity and more mortality. When we look at what’s going on in other parts of the world, we see a mortality rate of 4% in Italy and France. It’s a disease, and people die from diseases. But the main thing is that each of us takes responsibility – for himself, and for others. That’s the way to fight this.”