Opinion: Is Israel’s corona czar a corona bust?

On Monday, Israel reported 1,660 new cases – hardly a dent from the 1,770 on the day the corona czar took office.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

The verdict is still out on Israel’s new corona czar.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu took up the position just over three-and-a-half weeks ago on July 23. With a sparkling resume, including as former director general of the Health Ministry, he seemed like the right man for the job.

But that sparkle has dulled as the numbers fail to improve.

On Monday, Israel reported 1,660 new cases – hardly a dent from the 1,770 on the day he took office.

The number of dead is 698 (five more since midnight) and the number of patients in serious condition has hit a new high since the pandemic began – 410. Of those, 113 are on ventilators.

Gamzu has said he wants to do everything he can to avoid another lockdown. It’s understandable that he would want to take into account the impact on Israel’s economy, but it also partly explains why he hasn’t gotten the infection rate under control.

On Thursday, Gamzu will propose to the Corona Knesset Committee a “tightening of the reins” plan – restrictions that fall short of a lockdown. He is discussing the plan with economists to judge the best timing for any new steps “in order to achieve the highest health effect at the lowest economic cost,” one of his colleagues told Israel Hayom on Tuesday.

In early August, the government approved Gamzu’s “Traffic Light” plan, which rates towns and neighborhoods according to their rate of infection, with restrictions becoming increasingly tougher as the ‘traffic light’ goes from green to red. In fairness to Gamzu, the program won’t be implemented until September 1.

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What is worrying is that the number of areas in the “red” continues to rise. There were four – Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Emanuel and Kfar HaOranim – on August 6. There are now 12.

Gamzu has come under criticism. He took heat for changing his position regarding the entry of 15,000 yeshiva students from abroad. At first, he opposed their entry; then, after coming under pressure, he permitted it.

And his determination to avoid further lockdowns has reduced his efforts to entreating and hectoring Israelis to obey current health guidelines on masks, social distancing and gatherings.

This has led him into trouble. On Sunday, for instance, in a Ynet interview, he used an unfortunate choice of words when referring to the Israeli-Arab sector’s failure to adhere to the rules during a Muslim holiday, saying they almost committed an “attack that would have resulted in hundreds of sick.”

His remarks led to criticism from Arab politicians.He later apologized for his gaffe.

More disconcerting in the interview was his failure to provide any details on how to reduce the infection rate. In answer to the question, “What’s the biggest challenge is at the moment,” Gamzu appeared to struggle, saying only “to succeed in the coming two weeks, the next three weeks, by the first of [the Hebrew month of] Elul… the opening of schools, creating  a continued, gradual decrease in sickness.”

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Gamzu may have just picked his poison. If so, in a very short time, Israel will be able to judge Gamzu’s success.