APN COVID Report #8: What Israel can learn from countries with a similar incidence of the virus

Each country has its own unique challenges to deal with when it comes to combating the coronavirus due to the physical, social and economic make-up of the state. Therefore, comparing countries is never a like-for-like scenario but it can be useful in determining what actions are useful and harmful in the response. The UAE, Japan and Austria all have a similar number of recorded cases to Israel (16,289 cases), so what can be learned from them as Israel begins to reopen?

UAE – 15,192 cases (population 9.8 million)

The Emirates and Israel have had a number of similarities throughout the pandemic: quickly implemented lockdown, ban on all international flights and contact tracing. Many experts have said that contact tracing is one of the most important tools that can allow a country to reopen. Israel introduced contact tracing, largely coordinated by Shin Bet, in March. The Emirati Ministry of Health introduced contact tracing at around the same time and released an app for that purpose in mid-April. The relative success of both countries in using contact tracing indicates its usefulness. The challenge now for Israel is working out how to undertake contact tracing in a way that maintains the privacy of citizens. The Supreme court recently banned Shin Bet from contact tracing surveillance, so perhaps a voluntary app as has been suggested in many countries will be the way forward.

The area that the UAE is leading the world in is testing. They have already tested over one in ten people, enabling the government to open parts of the country a week earlier than Israel. There can be no harm in greater testing, but Israel does appear to be further along its curve than the UAE so at this point Israel’s testing rate may be sufficient.

Japan – 15,078 cases (population 126 million)

Japan has followed a very different path to Israel. The country never enforced a full lockdown and, crucially, has only tested a minuscule number of people. A policy to test only patients in hospital with pneumonia has meant that Japan has tested 30 times fewer people per capita than Israel. This major lack of testing means that despite having fewer reported cases than Israel, Japan will have to endure its partial lockdown measures for at least another month. Cases in the country seem to be falling, however, the level of testing means this data is simply not reliable enough. Japan is going to have trouble fully reopening any time soon as authorities are more or less in the dark about the location and severity of outbreaks. Testing has been essential to Israel’s coronavirus response and Japan shows this; Israel must continue to test widely to stay on top of the pandemic.

Austria – 15,650 cases (population 9 million)

Austria gives Israel some tentative hope about the post-lockdown future. The two countries have near-identical curves, with Israel ten days behind Austria. Both countries peaked at around 9000 active cases and have seen steady declines since. Over three weeks ago on April 14th, Austria began to reopen, starting with retail outlets of up to 400 square meters. There has remained a strict focus on social distancing and personal responsibility in Austria. So far, it appears to have paid off: cases and deaths continue to drop, and the government is starting to discuss the reopening of restaurants, bars and hotels in the coming weeks. If Israel can emphasize personal responsibility, and maintain social distancing, in the way that Austria has done, it can hope to follow a similar path.

Source for all COVID-19 numbers: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Prepared by Thomas Sweeney, APN Intern

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