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Are the minimal restrictions passed by the coronavirus cabinet to stop the spread of the Delta variant outbreak risky or responsible?
Health officials seem divided.
“These are good decisions and the right way to deal with the current situation,” said Prof. Dror Mevorach, a senior physician from Hadassah-University Medical Centre.
“I believe we should have taken more steps,” countered Prof. Eli Waxman, chairman of a committee of expert advisers to the National Security Council, who attended the coronavirus cabinet meeting at which these decisions were made.
The cabinet ruled on the following strategies:
- Increasing the national vaccination campaign through a concerted public relations effort.
- A push to wear masks and social distance.
- Carrying out rapid tests at the entrances to geriatric facilities.
- At summer camps that serve more than 100 children; requiring quarantine for people returning from abroad until test results are received.
- Evaluating whether the quarantine period could be reduced in order to improve adherence.
Around the world, there seem to be different approaches.
In the United Kingdom, for example, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has decided that on July 19 nearly all COVID restrictions will be removed, as more than 85% of the population has received at least one shot. It’s a move that Mevorach described as “a little too liberal and too quick for my taste.”
In contrast, Japan has declared a state of emergency over only around 900 new cases per day. It has said the state of emergency will last at least until August 22, meaning that the Olympics will be held without an audience.
Israel is somewhere in the middle.
Currently, Israel has less than 50 serious patients, and the majority of them are over the age of 60 and were suffering from underlying medical conditions before being hospitalised.
Medical professionals believe that the Pfizer vaccine, of which more than 5.6 million Israelis have received at least one shot, continues to offer strong protection against developing severe disease, and “if 99% of infected people only develop mild disease, we should not get hysterical,” Prof. Jonathan Halevy, Director-General of Shaare Zedek Medical Centre, told The Jerusalem Post.
In an interview on N12 , Prof. Gabi Barabash – a former Health Ministry Director-General – expressed outrage at the cabinet decisions, saying that additional steps were required to stop the spread of the virus. He even warned that if the government did not take action, it was likely that schools would not open in full on September 1.
Barabash recommended requiring masks in open spaces, doing more to catch sick people at the airport, requiring isolation even for people who are vaccinated if they have been alongside a sick person, implementing fast coronavirus testing for entry to all large events and investing in research to determine if the vaccine’s efficacy is waning.
Mevorach, too, said that there is one area where he thinks the cabinet fell short: The airport.
“I think they would have done better initiating rapid tests at the airport,” he said. “If a passenger is potentially infected, we don’t want him to have to wait to get an answer until he gets home, because he takes the train and he could transmit the virus and make people sick without knowing it.”
And finally, health officials themselves seem to be conflicted on how to determine when additional restrictions would be required: based on the number of new daily cases or the number of serious cases?
Several numbers have been floated around. Waxman said that the coronavirus cabinet would reconvene if Israel hit 1,000 new cases per day. Others have said the red flag would wave at 100 serious cases.
Horowitz said in a TV interview that both are important, and the model they are using consists of both. But Ash said differently; he said, “If we see more serious patients, we will have to see that we do not reach a situation where we endanger the system… if we see an increase in serious illness, we will have to take further steps.”
Waxman is advising the cabinet to focus on the reproduction rate – the “R” or number of people that a sick person infects. “Using the number of people in the intensive care units is not the right approach,” Waxman said. “When there is already a significant number there, it is too late. If you wait to see a surge in serious patients, you have already lost control and will be forced to take stricter measures.”
‘’It would be much better to take slightly stronger measures now to reduce the daily rate rather than wait. But even then, there is no guarantee, as more and more variants are being discovered.’’
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