Don’t Panic, Pt. 2: Keep your distance

First and most importantly, I wish speedy and complete recovery to all those who are ill with COVID-19 and continued good health for those who are asymptomatic and in quarantine.

I delayed writing because the situation in Israel is changing hourly and while there will be more to come, now is a good time to catch up.

After the third election, there was still no coalition, but because of the coronavirus, elected officials understood that now is the time to act in unity to protect Israel and its people. Corruption and massive egos get pushed aside when Israel is under threat.

On Thursday, Israel closed its borders. Tourists are not allowed in the country unless they can prove they have a home (not a hotel) to self-quarantine for two weeks. Schools were officially closed until after Passover (mid-April).

Also on Thursday night, a huge storm blew across Israel with high winds and chances of flooding in the Dead Sea and Negev. Coincidence or Divine Directive to stay home?

On Friday morning, normally a busy time in Jerusalem even on rainy days, the streets were quite empty. There are images of a nearly empty Western Wall plaza, nearly empty Mahane Yehuda (the open air market), and few people on the outdoor shopping streets (Ben Yehuda and Mamilla).

As of Saturday evening (see sections of Netanyahu’s speech with simultaneous English translation), entertainment and cultural activities are closed, including cafes and malls. Gatherings of 10+ people are no longer allowed. We are asked to keep 2 meters (6 feet) away from others. Netanyahu said we are at war with an invisible enemy.

We are not in lock-down, but we’re getting there.

This is where we are now

The main article making the rounds right now is “Corona Virus: Why You Must Act Now” (available in 19 languages). It’s a pretty scary article backed by a lot of graphs, statistical models, and historical analysis of the 1918 flu pandemic. Bottom line: Social distancing, containment, early action.

I skimmed it and am quite comfortable with Israel’s policies – even if they get a lot more invasive (and they will).

Getting in touch with our humanity, virtually 

My friend in Milan is taking the lock-down philosophically. He can’t go anywhere for a month, so he thought it would be a good time for some self-reflection and life evaluation.

Facebook is filling up with quarantine support groups and offers of small group activities for children.

Asymptomatic but quarantined religious women in Israel are expecting to have more time to clean for Passover.

A Hebrew Ulpan is offering Hebrew classes online (free).

Economic safety nets are showing up using online technology. Tour guides have been hit hard by the closed borders and one company decided to try something different: virtual tours given by real guides on location to families in their homes around the world.

The main Tai Chi group in Israel is offering stress-relieving Qigong meditation classes online (for free).

Thoughts for now

Reasoned, thoughtful action is what will get the world through this mess.

Panic will only lead to irrational toilet paper and hand sanitizer hoarding. Let’s elevate ourselves above that.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Panic

If you have your towel, a Babel fish in your ear, and know that the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42, then you’ll probably be fine.

If not, you might as well quarantine yourself and read the six books in the trilogy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You’ll be safe from the coronavirus (COVID-19) and you’ll know it’s best not to panic.

***

Israel just had its third election and the government is pretty shaky, but they still have their act together doing everything possible to contain the coronavirus.

As of this writing:

  • Jerusalem Marathon – cancelled (ok, postponed until October, all being well)
  • Public Purim celebrations – mostly cancelled
  • Gatherings of over 5,000 people – cancelled
  • International travelers are not permitted to events with more than 100 people
  • Anyone arriving from mainland China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, France, or Switzerland must go into 14-day home quarantine. If you are coming from Taiwan or Australia, watch for symptoms. This applies to both Israelis and foreign nationals. And the government just made it retroactive – anyone who has been in any of those countries in the last 14 days. As of this writing, somewhere between 50,000 to 80,000 people in Israel are quarantined.
  • Flights have been canceled. Whole airline companies are not flying to Israel.
  • A specifically Jewish note: Chief Rabbis in Israel say not to touch the mezuzah when passing through a door (this is a custom for many Jews).

Israel’s Ministry of Health has a website available in Hebrew, English, Russian, and Arabic giving updated information and guidelines about the virus.

The primary guideline is not to visit your healthcare provider. If you have a fever of at least 100.4F (38C), cough, trouble breathing, or other respiratory problems, you can call a hotline and a medic will come to you.

Guess how many confirmed cases of coronavirus Israel has?

21 (no deaths)

Even more surprising: Palestinian territories are closed to tourists for the next two weeks. Bethlehem closed tourist attractions (Church of the Nativity), schools, universities, and mosques.

Guess how many confirmed cases?

16 (no deaths)

I’ve been listening to the US news and there seems to be so much outrage and panic about the lack of testing. I looked all over Israel’s website and found nothing about testing. If you’ve been exposed or possibly exposed, quarantine.

In fact, there was a press release detailing the itinerary of a woman who tested positive for coronavirus after she returned home to New York. Israelis were told to quarantine themselves if they had been in the areas she had been during that time. (She was near my work, but thankfully we were not in the same place at the same time.)

Apart from that, wash your hands, use common sense, and business as usual.

Israel is a small country with nearly 9 million people. We have one major international airport. Not every country can act so quickly and with such force. This lock-down will protect people, even if it is uncomfortable, restricts travel freedom, and will probably have catastrophic economic repercussions. Losing money and comfort is less important than losing life.

As I write this, I can hear children playing in the park behind my home. In spite of everything, it’s a pretty normal Saturday.

Tomorrow, I’ll grab my towel, take a bus to the office, and it will be business as usual. And most importantly, I won’t panic.