COVID-19 continues to spread in Israel

Israeli workers decontaminate a bus

As of March 29, 2020, 13 people have died from COVID-19 in Israel. Novel Coronavirus cases in Israel sit at around 3,865, despite the government's measures aimed at controlling the spread of the virus. Early on, Israel closed air travel to affected regions and called for home quarantines of anyone returning from foreign countries. Now, it appears that those measures were not enough to prevent the virus from spreading throughout Israel.

The rules aimed at stopping the spread have expanded in recent weeks. All non-essential businesses, schools, and public gatherings have been closed, people are instructed to remain 2 meters apart, and even walking has been limited to 100 meters from residences. Despite these measures, the virus seems to still be spreading exponentially with more than 300 new cases daily, and many are asking why.

A recent report released by an advisory group to the Health Ministry may shed light on the issue. In the report, they outlined that one quarter of all Israelis contracted the virus at synagogue, with another 5% in yeshivahs. Until recently, synagogues have been given autonomy as to whether they would remain open, with recommendations that prayer groups do not exceed 10 people and that people maintain a distance of 2 meters. After the report, the government backtracked on those measures, with prayer groups now congregating outdoors only, practicing proper social distancing.

However, some in the Haredi community have not seen eye to eye with the government with these new measures, leading ultimately to the closure of entrances to the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mei Shearim.
Crowds chant as police move to disperse

The economic effects are difficult to estimate. With unemployment already up to 20% and cases continuing to rise, the future seems very uncertain. With most countries expecting the economic crisis to deepen over the next two quarters, it would seem that hope is far away. However, unlike most economic downturns, this one is caused by external factors as opposed to systemic internal ones, likely leading to a swift recovery once the worst of the virus is behind us.

Much will depend on whether people listen to the government recommendations, and on government actions to preserve the economy in the meantime (Bank of Israel's QE program for example). With some Rabbis still questioning the validity of the quarantines, it remains to be seen if the Israeli government can convince its populace of the severity of the situation. Failure to do so could be disastrous.