'The Netanyahu-Gantz government is enamored with lockdowns'

If their fixation with the lockdown approach continues, we're headed for not just a third lockdown, but a fourth and fifth too.

Naftali Bennett ,

MK Naftali Bennett
MK Naftali Bennett
Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL

This government is fixated on the concept of lockdown, and it is a fixation that is destroying Israel.

We have to prevent a third wave of the virus, and we can and must achieve this without another lockdown.

Instead of identifying the virus’ carriers and isolating them along with those who came into contact with them, the government has chosen to imprison nine million citizens in their homes, thereby taking the economy to the brink of disaster – and yet the government is proud of its “achievements,” trumpeting its “successful lockdown.”

This must not be allowed to happen again! We have to stop using a sledgehammer and start using a tweezers approach instead. The sledgehammer of lockdown is a tool used by lazy, heavy-handed governments, and it wreaks havoc on the economy as well as on families and mental health. On the other hand, breaking the chains of infection – the tweezers approach – is a tool used by hard-working, prompt-acting governments which exert themselves to detect virus carriers, isolate them and only those with whom they have come into contact, such that the rest of the country can continue to function.

Our ‘start-up nation’ should have been at the forefront of the prompt-acting governments, but instead it chose to take a heavy-handed, slow-acting approach. The government should have united us – all sectors of society – in a massive national effort. Instead, the government has pitted us against each other. This isn’t our nature! This isn’t the State of Israel I am familiar with.

Let’s consider a hypothetical case where we have 500 people, and one has coronavirus. The sledgehammer approach of lockdown sends everyone into isolation, whereas the tweezers approach will only affect between 10 and 20 people, leaving the rest of them to continue their lives undisturbed. The sledgehammer of lockdown is easy to use – and it’s for the lazy among us. It doesn’t take any special effort. You just issue an order for nine million Israeli citizens to stay at home, and destroy the economy. That’s all.

The tweezers approach, on the other hand, is much more complicated and demands a sustained national effort, with evolving use of technological means and meticulous follow-up, training employees to work in the field, constant updates, and a huge amount of testing.

South Korea, Estonia, Cyprus, and Taiwan chose to invest in developing the tweezers approach, and they succeeded. Many other countries – including Israel – chose instead to be lazy and didn’t invest in setting up a mechanism for cutting the chains of infection. Instead they locked down.

I’m primarily interested in Israel. We didn’t have to reach this situation of a second lockdown. And there’s certainly no need to impose a third one. There are hundreds of creative things the government has to start trying out now, and if they do, we can gain control over this epidemic – without further lockdowns. It can be done.

Just one small example: Using the “aggregate” method, we can test an entire class of students by analyzing their samples collectively. If the aggregate comes out negative, then they’re all negative. If it comes out positive, then and only then do we test each student’s sample separately. Using this method will enable us to conduct frequent testing of every single student in Israel.

So what’s the problem? Why isn’t it happening? The reason is that the Netanyahu-Gantz government has become enraptured with lockdown. The Prime Minister has called it “a huge success” and he doesn’t stop praising his policy. If that’s the way they think, then of course they won’t bother to put in the necessary work to move to a tweezers approach.

I have spoken with government ministers who are members of the coronavirus cabinet, and they told me that 95% of their discussions revolve around the lockdown – when to lock down, when to open up again. They are not dealing with stepping up the number of tests, technological advances, or the development of a means of swiftly identifying carriers and their contacts.

When you are enamored with the sledgehammer, you don’t bother to get out the tweezers. That’s why, if nothing changes, we’re headed not just for a third lockdown, but for a fourth and a fifth too.

As regards a vaccine: if only… I have been pressuring the Biological Institute as much as I can and all they do is laugh at me. We have to do everything we can to obtain a vaccine – but we must not rely on getting one. We still don’t have a vaccine for AIDS. We must not view a vaccine as a magical cure that is just about to appear.

Instead, we have to assume that there won’t be a vaccine in the coming year, and prepare for that eventuality. I say clearly that Israel has the capacity to swiftly gain control over the coronavirus and return to something very close to normal life – on condition that we get out of this lockdown concept and get down to work.