JERUSALEM, Israel – A team of business and infectious disease experts at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University (HU) released a new study arguing that Israel and other countries could have controlled the COVID-19 outbreak without enforcing a lockdown.
Prof. David Gershon and Prof. Alexander Lipton from the Jerusalem Business School at the Hebrew University and Prof. Hagai Levine from the School of Public Health of the Hebrew University, a leading infectious diseases epidemiologist and public health physician, developed a model based on real-life data from the COVID-19 pandemic to determine if countries really need to lockdown.
Based on their model, they determined that if a country takes early steps to adopt hygiene measures like face masks, social distancing, a 14-day quarantine period and testing for anyone with symptoms, there is no need for a lockdown in most cases.
They also found that the more ICU hospital beds a country has, the less likely its healthcare system will be overrun and require a lockdown.
“The parameter that we decided to focus on is the number of ICU beds that are required. We looked at how many ICU beds you need when the pandemic enters a certain country,” Prof. Gershon told CBN News.
According to their report, a country can prevent a total lockdown “provided that the number of spare ICU beds per million is above the threshold of about 100.”
Even in countries where the total number of ICU beds is below this threshold, a total lockdown is still unnecessary except for in extreme cases, they argue. Instead, “a limited period quarantine to specific high-risk groups of the population suffices.”
The researchers explain in their report that pandemics only attack a very specific portion of a given population. Governments should focus on protecting those that are high-risk while those that are low-risk can continue to work and keep the economy running.
“In theory, authorities can arrest an epidemic by quarantining all the population for a prolonged period, provided that such quarantine is technically feasible. However, the economic and social price of such quarantine is too much to bear, not to mention its decisively medieval nature,” the study says.
When the researchers tested the model on Israel, they found that even in the worst-case scenario, the number of ICU beds needed for the entire country will not exceed 600. Before the outbreak began, there were at least 2000 beds. Therefore, the lockdown policy was unnecessary and could have been replaced with hygienic behavior, social distancing of high-risk members of the population, and testing and quarantining those who exhibit symptoms, the team argues.
Furthermore, based on the infection rate Israel had before the lockdown, “Israel never would have reached a situation where there is an overflow of the health system,” said Gershon.
The infection rate in Israel was too low to overwhelm the nation’s hospitals because “the level of concern for the disease was already high” and “the natural reaction of the population was to be careful, and super careful when it comes to people who are high-risk,” Gershon explained.
The researchers point to countries like Sweden, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea who never locked down. Instead, they implemented early hygiene policies to make sure the most vulnerable are protected. These country’s healthcare systems were never overrun, even though the number of ICU beds per population is less than Israel.
However, Gershon told CBN News that countries like the United Kingdom “definitely” needed to have a lockdown because the country did not have enough hospital beds and did not have enough access to hygienic measures like face masks.'
What does their model say about America?
Gershon's team says each state must be analyzed on its own because they face their own unique challenges. The researchers said the COVID-19 outbreak was severe in New York because the state did not take enough preventative measures early on.
“At the beginning, they told people it was just the regular flu and people continued to behave as usual. They didn’t use any hygienic measures, they didn’t keep their distance. They did exactly the opposite and so they had a very high infection rate,” said Gershon.
He believes New York could have avoided a lockdown if the hygienic measures were taken in January.
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Countries that impose a lockdown pay a high financial and social cost.
Israel implemented a strict lockdown of the country to curb the coronavirus. The unemployment rate went from 4 percent to more than 26 percent in a matter of weeks, prompting protests from business owners.
The government is slowly starting to ease restrictions after the Finance Ministry warned the economy would not recover from the economic impact the lockdown is having on the country.
“Instead of lockdown, the government should have requested the population to behave in a responsible way, should have asked people to wear a face mask, and keep all the hygiene measures…and that would do the job and we would never reach overflow in the health system here," said Gershon.
Gershon, Lipton, and Levine argue that a lockdown has deadly consequences and people can die from the financial and economic ruin it triggers.
Israeli media reported Sunday that a veteran merchant at Jerusalem’s famous Machane Yehuda market committed suicide about a week and a half ago due to the financial hardship the virus outbreak has caused.
"We will see the consequences in many areas that people don't think. For example, domestic violence, drug abuse, crime - we'll see horrible things," Gershon said.
The HU team plans to take their study farther and analyze just how many casualties a lockdown causes.
Gershon, Lipton, and Levine know they cannot change the past, but say their model is a warning for the future in case a second coronavirus wave hits in the fall.