A Pandemic of Our Own Making

I greatly enjoy reading Joel Rebibo, whose writing is usually cautious, creative and compelling.

That is why I was so very disappointed at reading his column (“A Pandemic of Our Own Making,” Hamodia Prime, March 4). While there may be some measure of hysteria in the public’s response, his core argument against the Health Ministry’s policy is way off the mark, and smacks of a Western value system deeply antithetical to our own, which prioritizes economic prosperity over pikuach nefesh.

The measures ordered are the very minimum that can, with a tremendous measure of siyatta diShmaya, prevent or at least postpone mass contagion, chalilah. Is a fatality rate, chalilah v’chalilah, of “merely” 2% of the population (which may also be inaccurate) somehow acceptable to Mr. Rebibo, so as to not hinder the economy?! Not to mention that it, chalilah, would mainly affect our elders, the crowning glory of our families and the links to our glorious past, for whom the danger is much, much greater, chalilah.

There is another inaccuracy: He questions the efficacy of quarantines, since family members of those quarantined who come in contact with them, come in contact with the public. In fact, those family members are not supposed to have contact with the quarantined family member.

It is telling, and a tremendous kiddush Hashem, that only Israel is taking the necessary measures to protect its elderly and frail, whereas these are considered expendable by the Western world. Hamodia should be encouraging a meticulous following of the ministry’s directives, not providing excuses to ignore them!

Besuros tovos, a Freilichen Purim and every blessing,

Nosson

Mr. Rebibo responds: Thank you for your very thoughtful, well-argued letter.

I made two mistakes in the column. First, it’s too flippant in tone for a subject that is so serious. Second, as you correctly point out, an individual who is in quarantine is supposed to be cut off from his family (though I question how practical that is in the average Israeli apartment).

I also agree with you that pikuach nefesh comes before economic well-being. But I think there has to be a balance. For example, we’d save thousands of lives if we banned cars and forced everyone to take public transportation — both in accidents and pollution — but we wouldn’t think of doing that because it’s over-reaching, would change the way people lead their lives and would have a devastating impact on the economy.

The 2% fatality rate, as you indicate, is by definition inaccurate, since many people have the virus and don’t even know it. Prof. Ron Blitzer, a member of the Israeli Health Ministry team dealing with epidemics, says the figure is closer to 0.5%. The vast majority of healthy people could get the coronavirus and deal with it the way they deal with the flu.

I’m not chas v’shalom writing off the elderly, but surely there are ways to protect them without the hysteria. Students are out of school, people aren’t able to go to work, family members from abroad can’t come for weddings or other simchos. Perhaps we could focus on the vulnerable populations and figure out how to protect them.

In the end, if we cripple the world economy, as we are doing now, it will also cost lives. There will be terrible unemployment and less national resources for chessed and medicine and other things that people need.

Again, I thank you for your letter and this opportunity to clarify my views.