Israel: How Is The Current Virus Wave Different Than The 1st Wave?

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Ambulance for coronavirus patients (MDA spokesperson)

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A report released over the weekend by the IDF’s Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center saying that Israel is well in the midst of a second wave of the coronavirus and warning of the possibility of thousands of daily infections and hundreds of fatalities was met by some Israelis with fear and others with skepticism.

Although the report’s publication was reportedly overseen by the IDF’s Military Intelligence Division in cooperation with the Health Ministry, the authors of the reports were not named and media reports said that the IDF and the Health Ministry were distancing themselves from the report’s alarming conclusions. According to a Walla report, both the IDF and the Health Ministry claim that the other body is responsible for the report.

Dr. Chagai Levine, an epidemiologist at Hebrew University and chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, claimed that the Coronavirus Knowledge Center’s staff does not include epidemiologists and therefore the report is not “professional.” Furthermore, he claimed that the report is based on data from a month ago.

However, Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, Director of Sheba Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit, told Channel 12 News that the report “was very accurate and very concerning” and that the government may have erred by reopening the economy so quickly.

Regev-Yochay also said that unlike the first wave of the coronaviurs in Israel, which had defined hotspots, this second wave does not, a concern that has also been mentioned more than once by Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services. According to Sadetsky, the lack of clear hotspots makes it more difficult for the government to control the spread of the virus since it doesn’t know where to focus and where more testing should be carried out.

Another concern about the second wave was mentioned both by Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch on Motzei Shabbos and by Sadestsky last week – the fact that Israel’s tracking capabilities are not as efficient as they were at the beginning of the pandemic, partially due to the fact that the Shin Bet ended its tracking of coronavirus patients earlier this month.

Kisch told Channel 13 News on Motzei Shabbos that he thinks the Shin Bet’s tracking program should be resumed. The tracking of Israeli civilians by the Shin Bet proved controversial and the Supreme Court ruled that the government must advance legislation in order to continue using it. However, when virus cases dramatically decreased in May [before the new wave began], Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman halted the program, saying that he opposes the use of the Shin Bet to track Israeli citizens in light of the low infection rates. He did add that the Shin Bet is ready to resume its surveillance if necessary in the case of another virus outbreak.

Another difference of the current wave versus the first one which contributes to the current difficulty of tracking patients is the fact that during the first wave, a significant number of coronavirus cases were diagnosed in Israelis returning from abroad and those in contact with them, making it easier to identify virus patients and contain them. In the current wave, “the outbreak is from within the community and is, therefore, harder to control and limit,” the report said.

The report did state some positive differences about the current wave versus the first one, one being that “the health system is better prepared with information [to treat coronavirus patients], treatment protocols and medical treatments.”

Another positive difference is that the number of coronavirus cases being diagnosed in people over age 65 during the current wave is lower than the first wave, which should contribute to lower mortality rates. About 13% of coronavirus patients were over 65 in the March-April outbreak versus 7.8% in the current May-June outbreak.

According to Kisch, the government is aware of the information in the report and is taking steps to address them.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)