Britain beware: Israel living the consequences of trying to return to normal

Britain beware: Israel living the consequences of trying to return to normal
By: World News Posted On: July 03, 2020 View: 15

Britain beware: Israel living the consequences of trying to return to normal

I live in Israel.

It is a country praised for the way it handled the coronavirus outbreak in March. There was clear guidance and a swift, hard, lockdown.

But it is now a place living the consequences of trying to return to normal.

People wear masks on a train in central Jerusalem
Image: People wearing masks on a train in central Jerusalem

In the UK, Boris Johnson says "we are very much through the worst" of the pandemic.

While we all dearly hope he is right, there are salutary lessons to learn by looking at the experiences of others battling this global virus.

Is Israel's curve on the graph a warning for us all? Cases here are now at their highest-ever level.

It's just over a month since Israelis were allowed back to bars, restaurants, beaches and shops.

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I remember the euphoria clearly, and I shared it.

Our favourite restaurants were open once again and the beach our kids love was accessible at last.

Friends back in the UK were envious of our freedom: "You're going camping?!"

I remember too the mixed emotions as I drove down a packed Tel Aviv promenade. It was great to see so many people out again. Normality. But what would this mean for the virus? Its habitat had returned.

Restaurants have opened in Jerusalem using social distancing measures
How to social distance in a cafe

There were regulations in an attempt to block the virus. Masks were made mandatory in all public places: inside and out. The washing of hands, the two-metre rule and restrictions for large gatherings were all central to the Israeli armour.

On the morning bars and cafes were allowed to reopen we visited a Jerusalem coffee shop and were impressed by the way they were sticking to the regulations.

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.

We've already seen the images of packed English beaches. This weekend's images of pints being pulled in packed pubs will for many be very comforting; normality returning.

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - APRIL 19: Israelis light flash lights as they protest at a rally in Rabin Square on April 19, 2020 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Thousands of Israelis gather at an Anti-Corruption rally under coronavirus restrictions, decrying proposed unity government talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz.  (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)
Israeli protesters follow strict social distancing

But beware, the UK is a few weeks behind Israel. 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement to the nation on Thursday evening was blunt.

"Citizens of Israel, the corona crisis is continuing to hit the world," he said.

"There were those here who took this lightly. They said that the virus would go away on its own, but it has not gone away. They said, 'In summer, the heat will eliminate the virus'. However, reality has proven this assumption to be baseless. Summer is here and so is the virus in a big way, unfortunately."

In the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, a full five-day total lockdown has now been re-imposed.

Across Israel, new local lockdowns are being put in place.

As I write, most cases are mild but serious cases seem to be doubling every few days. Hospital overload is the fear.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Image: Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the virus 'has not gone away'

Mr Netanyahu said: "I want to tell you, citizens of Israel: The easiest thing to do would be to leave the situation as is, everything open, everyone apparently satisfied, but if we do this, we will very quickly lose control because the rate is exponential, geometric.

"What seems to you reasonable now would become thousands and tens of thousands of new cases. We cannot go there. If we do not take action, in another week we will have a record number of cases that includes more and more severe cases - and I do not want to reach the same hermetic shutdown that we were in."

As countries globally tackle their own crises and prepare their own responses, the tendency is to look only inward and not around us.

But this is a global crisis. We are all in it together. There is huge benefit, surely, in sharing our experiences and learning from others.

In Israel, the lockdown was rightly lifted. But then the armour against the virus fell away fast: the masks slipped down, the distancing got smaller, the gatherings grew larger.

We are suffering the consequences now.

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