Doctors, Scientists Petition Against Lockdowns

YERUSHALAYIM -
Professor Michael Levitt, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, one of 90 signatories to a letter urging against coronavirus lockdowns. (FLASH90)

With the government poised to announce a list of cities and towns to be put under curfew, and lockdowns looming in the approach of Rosh Hashanah, dozens of doctors and scientists published an open letter on Monday urging against new closures.

Some 90 signatories, including Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Michael Levitt and senior hospital officials, cited evidence that the lockdowns are ineffective in containing the coronavirus, which is not as dangerous as claimed, and that it does not warrant the damage caused to the economy.

“Given the large amount of information piling up about the low danger of mortality among the healthy population, and given the lack of certainty about the efficacy and safety of a vaccine being developed soon, and in light of the research done until now, it’s clear that the best way to get out of the crisis quickly with a minimum of death (and also damage to health and the economy) needs to center on developing deep immunity by preventing the elderly population at risk from being infected,” the letter reads.

“A closure is thus a strategic mistake, based on a lack of basic understanding of the mechanisms of a pandemic,” it asserts, as quoted by The Times of Israel.

As an alternative, they propose the government adopt the Swedish policy, which eschewed lockdowns in favor of a modest bundle of restrictions in a bid to develop herd immunity, which occurs when enough of a population develops antibodies that infection rates drop to insignificant levels.

“We are calling for taking the possibility of a lockdown off the table. At the same time, we are calling to line up Sweden’s policies with Israel’s reality by diverting infections away from at-risk groups toward those not at risk,” the letter reads.

However, their advice appears to conflict with recommendations from the World Health Organization and many health experts in Israel.

Prof. Mark Last, head of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Software and Information Systems, whose name is on the letter, recently told The Times that he believed Israel was nearing herd immunity, calculating that 9 in 10 cases had gone unreported.

“We should be at the peak within the next two or three weeks, and start a slow decrease in the number of new cases, assuming there is no change in the current restrictions,” he said last week.

COVID-19 has tended to foil predictions, though.

As in the case of Levitt, who told the Kan public broadcaster in March that he would be surprised if more than 10 people died from the virus in Israel. On July 25, he said the pandemic would be finished in the U.S. in four weeks, with a total number of reported deaths below 170,000, a figure he admitted on August 25 was too low an estimate. (On September 7, the U.S. reported the death toll from COVID-19 stood at 188,941, according to data from Johns Hopkins University).

Meanwhile, the mayor Eilat made a bid to keep his city off the “red” list for curfews.

“A nightly closure on Eilat will lead to the destruction of the tourism industry and inevitably destroy the city, with irreversible damage to its economy and its social fabric,” Meir Yitzhak Halevi wrote in a letter to coronavirus czar Roni Gamzu on Monday.

“We are still licking the wounds from the first closure [earlier this year], and even today we have around 35 percent unemployment. A nightly closure will return the city to 80% unemployment,” Halevi wrote.

He further questioned the decision-making process, saying, “It’s not clear to me how we changed into a ‘red’ city — it’s a bizarre decision,” Halevi told Ynet, noting that as late as Sunday, it was classified as “green.”

The list of cities to be put under nighttime curfew was expected to be published on Monday night and to go into effect on Tuesday.