The Irish Times view on Israel’s Covid-19 crisis: stuck in lockdown

The Netanyahu government is learning that imposing a lockdown is easier than lifting one

In the Spring, Israel set an example for Covid-19 containment that other countries sought to emulate. Now it is a case study in how states can botch the second phase of the pandemic.

Through strong public adherence to public health measures and decisive steps to halt the progress of the disease, including one of the earliest air travel shutdowns, the state succeeded in arresting transmission of the virus in the spring. Infection rates remained low by global standards. By May, hospitals were closing their coronavirus wards and prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was urging his compatriots to go out and "enjoy yourselves".

Netanyahu tried to spin the lockdown as a positive, decisive act, but in fact it was an admission of failure

Through a combination of complacency, fatigue and government laxity, the exit from lockdown was too fast and too wide. Instead of gradually loosening the rules, many of them were thrown out overnight. By August, infections were rising at an alarming rate, at one point reaching 7,000 new confirmed cases a day. The government’s response was chaotic and confusing. Rules changed almost on a daily basis, and none of those adjustments appeared to be informed by any particular strategy.

On September 25th, Israel became the first country to reimpose a lockdown. Schools, universities, restaurants and non-essential businesses were closed, public gatherings were banned and Israelis were ordered to stay within one kilometre of their homes. Netanyahu tried to spin the lockdown as a positive, decisive act, but in fact it was an admission of failure.

Many Israelis accuse Netanyahu of allowing his own political considerations influence public health policy. They suspect his ban on public gatherings was aimed at ending the protests that were taking place daily outside his residence in Jerusalem. Now Israel finds itself struggling to find a way out of lockdown. Infection numbers are falling, but slowly. Public adherence is waning. And the government is learning a lesson that many others, including Ireland's, will note with interest: imposing a lockdown is much easier than lifting it.