Health experts demand end of closure, claim economic damage will drive increase morbidity and be worse than coronavirus epidemic.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
A former director of Israel’s health ministry and member of Knesset said Monday the “monstrous hysteria” over the coronavirus pandemic is doing more damage to the country than the virus itself.
Prof. Yoram Lass of Tel Aviv University said a letter that he and a dozen colleagues sent last week to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ignored. The health experts wrote that the strict closures of schools and much of the economy would cause Israel’s morbidity rate to go up and over time would result in more deaths than from the coronavirus epidemic.
“There is a monstrous hysteria like in the rest of the world” that was being driven by panic in the media.
“This is the first time that a medical epidemic has been accompanied by a social media epidemic,” Lass told World Israel News.
Under the strict closures ordered by the government to prevent the spread of the virus, the education system was shut down and most Israelis have been restricted to their homes. In the space of a few weeks the unemployment rate has skyrocketed to a staggering 25 percent and there are fears of long-term damage to Israel’s economy.
In a Channel 13 interview last week, Lass and colleague Prof. Asher Elhayani pointed to a European study that showed that any 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate leads to a 0.4 percent increase in population mortality. Elyahani said the drop in standard of living results in a rise in depression, suicide and other factors that adversely affect public health.
“The number of people likely to die as a result of quarantine, unemployment, poverty and loneliness will be infinitely greater than the number of deaths expected from the virus,” the letter stated.
The professors said there is no data to support the claim that the coronavirus epidemic compares to the 20th-century Spanish influenza pandemic. Keeping healthy people at home who are not in high-risk groups was damaging the country, they stressed.
Elyani said he wasn’t advising to remove the conditions totally, but to be smarter in battling the epidemic by concentrating on those who were more susceptible.
He recommended immediately reopening schools while keeping older staff at home because they are in a more susceptible age group.
Lass also said immediate research was needed to look at both the people who had already recovered from the virus and the vast majority of the thousands who were tested positive for the virus but were showing no symptoms.
“They are healthy. They are not sick. Stop using that word,” said Lass, himself a former director general of the health ministry and a Knesset member from 1992 to 1996.
Lass and Elhayani, a member of the Israel National Institute For Health Policy Research, said the 585 Israelis who have already recovered from the virus could go back to work immediately with no problems.
Lass said the mass hysteria was driving the politicians and public to take drastic, unneeded actions because they were expecting the worst case scenarios to happen.
He noted that six weeks ago Netanyahu appeared to be on the verge of defeat, but by framing coronavirus as an existential threat to the nation, the prime minister succeeded in solidifying and stabilizing his leadership at the head of the campaign.
Lass lamented that in the atmosphere of hysteria that produced the crisis he had a hard time finding “rational people who are looking at the facts.”
“Most people are overwhelmed by the media coverage,” he said.