Fighting Corona – Doing More Harm Done Than Good?

by Arthur Schwartzman

Have we put ourselves at even greater risk with our panicked reactions?

| Topics: ECONOMY, Coronavirus
Israeli economy at high risk due to coronavirus restrictions.
Photo: David Cohen/Flash90

The desire to “flatten the curve” and take control over the coronavirus crisis is what leads the government to impose a lockdown on our homes and businesses. Shutting down the economy for two months or more will leave behind a fallout of unemployment and weaker economic activity across the Jewish state. Will we, in throwing everything at the invisible enemy, risk losing a battle that will take many more casualties?

Currently, there are 199 dead and 15,398 infected Israelis. In a review of the 2019 flu season, Channel 13 News arrived at a number of 600,000 hospitalizations and between 36 and 61 deaths from complications. In the previous season, 113 deaths were recorded. Annual global reports on the infection and death rates of the influenza virus amount to tens of millions and are staggering by comparison. No panic. Business as usual. Why, then, are we reacting the way we do?

As doctors and health experts continue to deflect, the public continues to raise doubts concerning the governmental directives for fighting off the virus at the expense of their incomes and financial future.

Just this week, cosmetics and textile workers took to the streets demonstrating alongside other independent business owners. It is not the first demonstration of the self-employed that has taken place during the coronavirus crisis, and if restrictions won’t loosen it’s likely not to be the last. “No one gives answers,” Attorney Roi Cohen, president of the Bureau of Independent Organizations, told The Marker. “Enough – we can’t do this anymore. People from 55 organizations came here to say to the Prime Minister ‘We can do this no longer’. Hundreds of thousands of self-employed are concerned for their fate. Are we second grade citizens? When we go to the grocery store, we’re asked if we’re freelance workers or employees? To where will tens of thousands of workers return from their leave? Business will collapse.”

Farmers, restaurant owners and workers from other sectors were also protesting with them.


Mounting anxiety

As of now, 1 out of 4 is out of a job in Israel! Are we talking about a bruise on our wallet alone, or could there be more consequences? In an interview with Israel Hayom, Golan Shachar, a clinical psychologist, said regarding his research at Ben Gurion University:

“Subjects were asked about the general anxiety they experienced, the anxiety specific to the coronavirus, and attitudes toward the Ministry of Health. Before the virus entered Israel, the average anxiety level was 2.17 out of 5 on the scale measuring anxiety; today the average is 3.14.”

Over one million Israelis are now unemployed, and out of them a full 250,000 will not receive unemployment benefits due to not meeting the conditions or from having already exhausted their eligibility. We are talking about a quarter million people who have every right to be anxious about their future. Many have already tapped into their savings, or at least those who had them!

The personal story of Yuval Carmi, dubbed the “sobbing falafel seller,” went viral, and brought even the TV crew to tears and stirred some reaction from politicians. Carmi, who was left penniless to support his family, asked to open his falafel stand, but police arrived and threatened to close the business. “There’s no way to live,” he said, crying. He told the media that he pays NIS 12,000 in rent a month, but now he has no money left to spare. “I have kids at home, I don’t know what to do,” he said. How many more are caught in the same predicament as Mr. Carmi?


Famines of biblical proportions

Executive Director of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley recently stated that this recent year marked the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. “If we don’t prepare and act now – to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade – we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.” Beasley’s estimates are grim, with 135 million people already facing hunger, coupled with an additional 130 million on the edge of starvation prompted by Coronavirus.

Unfortunately, this is not just the body that’s at risk; a recent article published on The Lancet psychiatry journal reads:

“The mental health effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic might be profound, and there are suggestions that suicide rates will rise, although this is not inevitable. Suicide is likely to become a more pressing concern as the pandemic spreads and has longer-term effects on the general population, the economy, and vulnerable groups… Loss of employment and financial stressors are well-recognized risk factors for suicide.”

The specialists urged the government to take specific preventative action. Sensitivity to the mentally ill also needs heeding, when besides unemployment weighing down on the human psyche, we’re also dealing with isolation, loneliness and inability to touch and embrace loved ones, such restrictions coming from the government may exacerbate the situation.


What’s the right response?

So is it worth it? Are lockdowns the way to go? If you ask Florida governor Ron De Santis, the answer is no:

“We heard report after report saying it was just a matter of time until Florida’s hospital system was just completely overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. In fact, there was an article in March in the Miami Herald that said this week in April Florida could see 465,000 people hospitalized throughout the state of Florida. The reality: slightly more than 2,000. Those predictions have been false. Our work is succeeding; we have flattened the curve.”

Predictions of experts on the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have been overblown since the inception of the outbreak. In mid-March, The Ministry of Health’s CEO, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told the press: “I’m assuming that at the peak, thousands of patients will emerge who need to be intubated.” Today we’re talking about some 148 Israelis in serious condition, out of which 111 are on ventilators. The number of patients in serious condition has been decreasing in the past few days, after peaking at 182 on April 17.

Some pressure has been relieved and some businesses have started to open up. I urge our leaders to continue loosening the chain that strangles the Israeli economy and return the livelihood to our people.

Don’t get me wrong, measures should be taken, as health is of outmost importance, however we shouldn’t place everything on the alter and follow the World Health Organization’s consensus; there’s a bigger picture.

Money circulating in the economy’s veins also means more resources that the government can direct towards hi-tech solutions for disease prevention and analysis, and much needed help for the overcrowded Israeli healthcare system. We should care for the elderly and the high-risk sectors, and do so without compromising the wellbeing of all citizens. Sending workers home and paying unemployment to hundreds of thousands is not a solution. By doing so we immobilize our future efforts at finding a cure.

Wear a mask, put on a pair of gloves, and open the economy.


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