Dozens of doctors and scientists have launched a campaign urging the government not to impose a new lockdown, claiming that fears over the coronavirus pandemic are overblown and the economic damage from such a move will prove too high a cost to bear.
Among the approximately 90 doctors and researchers to sign an open letter warning against a general closure are Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt and the directors of the emergency wards or coronavirus wards of several major hospitals.
In the letter, the experts warn that a lockdown is only a temporary measure that does not stop the virus but only delays it, thereby drawing out the damage caused by the pandemic and putting more people in danger.
“Given the large amount of information piling up about the low danger of mortality among the healthy population, and given the lack of certainty about the the efficacy and safety of a vaccine being developed soon, and in light of the research done until now, it’s clear that the best way to get out of the crisis quickly with a minimum of death (and also damage to health and the economy) needs to center on developing deep immunity by preventing the elderly population at risk from being infected,” the letter reads.
“A closure, thus, is a strategic mistake, based on a lack of basic understanding of the mechanisms of a pandemic,” it adds.
Among the policy recommendations are developing a model tried out by Sweden, which avoided a lockdown and imposed only a minimal suite of restrictions, in a bid to develop herd immunity, which occurs when enough of a population develops antibodies that infection rates drop to insignificant levels.
As of Sunday, Sweden had just under 85,000 confirmed cases, and over 5,800 deaths. While some have pointed to the high death toll as a result of the country’s lax approach, health officials in Stockholm maintain that its unclear if a lockdown would have led to significantly fewer numbers. Many of Sweden’s neighbors which did lock down, ended up having higher case numbers and death tolls.
While the letter writers admit that Sweden made some policy errors, they also claim that the Swedish population is more susceptible to the disease, indicating that Israel would fare even better under the model.
“We are calling to take the possibility of a lockdown OFF the table. At the same time, we are calling to line up Sweden’s policies with Israel’s reality by diverting infections away from at-risk groups toward those not at risk,” the letter reads.
The letter would appear to run against recommendations by experts at the World Health Organization and many government officials in Israel. Lockdowns in China and elsewhere, which kept people at home and unable to infect others, have been credited with helping nearly eradicate the disease.
Among the signatories are Levitt, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013. Also included are Dr. Aziz Darawsha, the head of the emergency unit at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa; Dr. Michal Goldberg, the head of the internal emergency ward at Carmel Hospital in Haifa, Dr. Guy Dori, the head of the coronavirus ward at HaEmek Hospital in Afula, and Dr. Amir Schachar, the head of the emrgency wing at Laniado hospital in Netanya, which has recently seen a large outbreak within the hospitals geriatric ward, reportedly stretching its resources.
Schachar told Channel 12 news that his hospital was having no issues dealing with the caseload.
“We know how to deal with seriously ill patients, the mortality rate is not out of the ordinary in comparison to other viral diseases, and the hysteria is totally unnecessary,” he said.
Prof. Mark Last, another signatory, recently told The Times of Israel that he believed Israel was nearing herd immunity, calculating that nine-tenths of cases had gone unreported.
“We should be at the peak within the next two or three weeks, and start a slow decrease in the number of new cases, assuming there is no change in the current restrictions,” he said last week.
As of Sunday evening, Israel had over 130,000 cases overall, with the tally growing by between 1,500 and 2,500 daily for the past several weeks, depending on testing numbers.
The death toll stands at 1,019. Of the 27,148 active cases, 453 patients are in serious condition and 131 people are being treated with ventilators.
Israel’s transition government imposed harsh lockdown measures during the initial wave of the virus, managing to bring daily case numbers down to a couple dozen a day in May, but since then has seen the pandemic spread at an unprecedented pace, making it one of the most infected countries per capita in the world. Officials have blamed the swift re-opening of schools and other services, a weak contact tracing system and dwindling public will to maintain guidelines for the spike over the last several months.
On Sunday night, the government pulled back from its plans to impose lockdowns on some 40 cities with especially high infection rates, instead imposing nighttime curfews during which non-essential businesses will have to close. Schools in the cities will be shut indefinitely.
The decision to backtrack from the plans for a lockdown came after heavy pressure from the ultra-Orthodox community, which saw the inclusion of several ultra-Orthodox areas on the roster of hot zones as a form of discrimination.
Officials insist a nationwide lockdown over is still a possibility, especially over the upcoming high holidays.
Header: People chat and drink in Stockholm, Sweden, April 8, 2020. (AP/Andres Kudacki)