Assessing the Efficacy of the Coronavirus Response

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The Jewish community has been hit particularly hard as a 50-year-old lawyer who had the virus attended the New Rochelle synagogue numerous times with Westchester County being on virtual lockdown with over 172 confirmed cases. Photo Credit: News12Westchester

By: Leiba Nesis

As the rates of death and illness in China fall precipitously is it practicable for Israel and the United States to use some of China’s draconian techniques to reduce the incidence of coronavirus? Upon Entering one’s apartment or workplace in China you are required to scan a QR code (a scannable square barcode), write down your name and ID number, along with your temperature and recent travel history.  China uses telecom operators at WeChat and Weibo to encourage people to report on others who are sick as well as offering money for this information.  In the southern province of Guangxi a cash reward of $606-$2,019 is given if someone has witnessed an arrival from abroad who has failed to abide by quarantine rules.  

China’s development of facial recognition technology to detect elevated temperature levels in a crowd and track citizens without a face mask while alerting others in close proximity to an infected patient has proven invaluable to its successful efforts which has seen 10 days of zero new infections in one of the pandemic’s previous centers-Hubei.  In fact of the 20 new confirmed cases in China reported on Saturday March 14th, sixteen of them were imported from overseas.  These swift measures were necessary as China has experienced more than 80,000 cases with over 3,100 deaths.  Many are furious over the government’s initial attempts to conceal the pandemic which first appeared on November 17th-if not earlier.  China’s suppression of the disease’s highly contagious nature as well as its ability to spread from person-to-person is undoubtedly responsible for the current crisis.  Chinese tycoon, Ren Zhiqiang, who recently called Xi Jinping a “power-hungry clown” has since disappeared after his social media accounts were deleted.  

Italy is currently the most ravaged country in the globe as more than 21,000 people have tested positive along with 1,441 deaths.  A significant part of the problem is the close proximity of individuals in Northern Italy and their failure to socially distance due to their affectionate nature.  Morever, Italy, unlike China, never radically enforced lockdown and quarantine procedures which led to an out-of-control situation where victims are currently being left to die due to insufficient medical equipment.  

Are Israel and the United States taking adequate precautions as mounting cases have produced widespread panic they could become the next Italy?  Israel, which now has more than 200 cases, has prohibited gatherings of over 10 people, shut cafes and restaurants, and quarantined over 2,500 medical officials.  Furthermore, in a nod to China, the Attorney General has approved the use of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, to enact cyber measures to track patient’s phones and determine who is in the vicinity of an ailing citizen.  

This Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “is an effective tool to locate the virus and isolate it… instead of isolating an entire country.”  These emergency measures, which will cost its economy $4 billion a month, include the requirement that all foreigners enter a minimum 14-day quarantine upon entering the country.  Ben Gurion will eventually see a virtual shutdown aside from El Al ferrying stranded citizens back and forth.  Israel’s survival is dependent on these actions as a massive outbreak could lead to unforeseen consequences for an already fragile country.  While coronavirus cases have jumped in the country there have been no reported deaths-a critical element in evaluating the effectiveness of a strategy.

The United States has similarly seen a rise in cases as at least 3,200 people in 49 states have tested positive along with 62 deaths.  Colleges have cancelled classes, businesses and school districts have closed and crowds of more than 500 have been prohibited.  A travel ban from Europe has been enacted for a minimum of 30 days and $50 billion will be freed to fight the pandemic.

 The Jewish community has been hit particularly hard as a 50-year-old lawyer who had the virus attended the New Rochelle synagogue numerous times with Westchester County being on virtual lockdown with over 172 confirmed cases.  His son, who attended Yeshiva University also tested positive as did his daughter who was enrolled at SAR.  Due to this exposure SAR has confirmed 29 cases associated with its academy and high school and Frisch has 6 positive cases including both students and teachers.  Frisch has closed its school until at least March 29th with SAR and Yeshiva University following suit.  De Blasio’s decision to keep Public Schools open is a complete dereliction of the duty to contain and mitigate this disease. Netanyahu’s proclamation prohibiting the gathering of more than 10 people should be enforced by the entire Orthodox community until this hard-hit group displays decreased vulnerability.