From model to awful warning: How the world sees Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu / Photo: Knesset Spokesperson Adina Walman , דוברות הכנסת

The resurgence of Covid-19 in Israel has attracted worldwide attention, and led to real consequences for Israeli travelers.

Accompanying the recent sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in Israel is a rise in the interest taken by the press and media overseas in what is happening here. After Israel boasted of having reduced the number of new cases to just a handful daily, and of having closed its borders early, leading to a flattening of the infection curve, the second wave of the pandemic here has aroused speculation around the world: Was it caused by opening the schools or by allowing mass events? Or perhaps Israelis are failing to abide by the guidelines? And what can other countries learn from Israel's experience?

"Coronavirus: England beware - Israel living the consequences of trying to return to normal" ran the headline of an item on UK television channel Sky News at the end of last week, when most of the restrictions imposed by the British government on businesses and the public expired.

On Friday, pictures appeared of thousands of people thronging the streets of London, drinking beer and celebrating the end of lockdown. "It's just over a month since Israelis were allowed back to bars, restaurants, beaches and shops. I remember the euphoria clearly, and I shared it," wrote Sky News' Middle East correspondent, "But beware, the UK is a few weeks behind Israel," he continued, "At the beginning of this week, Israel (a country of only 8.6m people) had 450 new cases. By Thursday night it was recording 1,000 new cases - the most it has ever recorded in a single day. The peak now is higher than the first one."

Describing the guidelines that the Israeli government introduced in an attempt to prevent a renewed outbreak of the virus after the lockdown was lifted at the end of May, Sky News wrote, "But as the days passed, human nature set in. Masks were routinely round the chin, not the face. Two metres quickly turned into one, then half. And as the weather turned hotter, the beaches became even more crowded."

Other media outlets have also tried to explain why a second wave hit Israel, and what the implications could be for other countries. "1 month ago, NPR (National Public Radio in the US) highlighted the Israel school epidemics. Here is the update statis (sic) of Israel’s COVID epidemic today," a US virologist tweeted, referring to the network's reporting from Israel on the reopening of schools. In its report, NPR mentioned the rapidity with which the authorities in Israel had to send school pupils into isolation, and to close some schools after they reopened when coronavirus cases appeared among staff and students.

In an article on the spread of Covid-19 among schoolchildren worldwide, US magazine "Atlantic" mentions the speed with which restrictions were removed in Israel and the extent of the relaxations, saying , "Perhaps Israel is faring less well than European countries because it opened with fewer social-distancing measures." The article adds, however, "But even in Israel, the total count of cases tied to schools since they reopened stands at about 300-a very small share of the country’s students, teachers, and staff."

Germany: "The second wave is here"

The press in Germany has also rushed to report the worsening situation in Israel. "The number of cases is soaring - the second wave is already here", declared a report in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" this week. "It looked as though Israel was finished with the coronavirus and the government and the population behaved as though the pandemic was over," a correspondent for the newspaper reported from Tel Aviv, "But that was a mistake. The coronavirus has returned to Israel."

Rival Munich newspaper "Deutsche Zeitung" also reported on "the severe situation in Israel." "Israeli prime minister Netanyahu boasted that 'Israel is a model of success for many countries' and that 'many leaders have contacted us to find out how to act,' and now Israel has slid back," the report says.

German magazine "Der Spiegel" identified what it claims is a phenomenon unique to Israel - the fact that kibbutzim are protecting themselves against the coronavirus pandemic - and described how they had become "coronavirus-free islands in Israel." The magazine's correspondent visited Kibbutz Ginegar, where the members related how they blocked the entrance to the kibbutz with tractors during the period of the lockdown, and how the children and young people of the kibbutz took care of the elderly with food parcels accompanied by greetings. "There are 250 kibbutzim in Israel," the article says, "and for a long time they have been regarded as dusty old places, remnants of a faded pioneering dream. Nevertheless, during the battle against Covid-19, they have become fortresses against the virus."

France: "It looks like a tsunami"

The reports and statistics on the numbers of coronavirus patients in Israel resonate in Europe and have an effect there. At the end of last week, following reports of the steep rise in cases in Israel, the Robert Koch Institut, a German federal government agency responsible for disease control and prevention, added Israel to its "countries at risk" list. This means that anyone permitted to enter Germany from Israel (only German residents and citizens and people with special reasons) will have to spend fourteen days in quarantine.

As reported by "Globes" aviation and tourism reporter Michal Raz-Chaimovitz, Cyprus has also relegated Israel to its lowest status because of the level of infection, forbidding the entry of Israelis who are not Cyprus residents.

In the past twenty-four hours, global media have switched to reporting the u-turn by the authorities in Israel, which, after allowing mass events in closed spaces despite the evidence accumulated since March of the risk that such events pose, have now imposed substantial restrictions on them. "The Guardian" in the UK has also reported on the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) being required to resume monitoring contacts of coronavirus patients.

"Israel has instituted drastic steps to close public places, "La Repubblica" reported in Italy, adding, "The new regulations represent a significant step backwards from the situation in May, in the wake of the fact that Israel now has some 11,600 active cases, a peak since the pandemic began."

"The second wave is starting to look like a tsunami," wrote French newspaper "Le Figaro". "Israel was something of a 'model pupil' at the start of the pandemic, especially because it carried out an early closure of its borders and imposed a tight lockdown that was respected by the population. But the current stage, of gradual reopening and exit from the lockdown in the past few weeks, has turned into a disaster."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 8, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Benjamin Netanyahu / Photo: Knesset Spokesperson Adina Walman , דוברות הכנסת
Benjamin Netanyahu / Photo: Knesset Spokesperson Adina Walman , דוברות הכנסת
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