“Sorry, but re-opening pubs just isn’t a good idea.” “What has happened here is a real failure.” Just two of the excerpts from today’s conversation with a leading professor at one of Israel’s top universities.
We talked as the government here re-introduced a raft of restrictions – bars and nightclubs are closed again; so too gyms and public swimming pools; gatherings are limited to 20 people who must wear masks and stay at least two metres apart. It’s a big step backwards after two months of what seemed like strides forward. But the figures don’t lie. There are upwards of 1,000 new cases a day here. When Israel came out of lockdown in early May there were five or six new cases a day.
Some of what the professor told me was off the record so I won’t identify him. But he said that between 95 and 99 per cent of the new infections happened in closed environments, like pubs, clubs and places of worship. There are currently just over 12,000 coronavirus patients in Israel. If the infection rate doesn’t go down that number will double in about ten days. Despite his gloomy summation of the situation today, the professor said it wasn’t too late to change course and correct things.
But that, he said, will depend on personal discipline and stricter law enforcement. The fine for not wearing a mask in public has just been doubled to the equivalent of £115. The professor said the best they could hope for was the stabilisation of numbers over the next two to three weeks. If the numbers are still going up then, Israel will probably have to be locked down completely once more. What has happened here is a salutary lesson for the UK and elsewhere. The Israeli government, having done so well initially, dropped the ball and allowed people here to mistake the end of lockdown for the end of the crisis.