A Covid-19 testing booth enables medical workers in Tel Aviv to collect samples without exposing themselves to the virus. Photo: Jack Guez / AFP

An Israel professor does not believe the global approach of enforcing a lockdown to contain the coronavirus is the right solution, based on virus infection data he has analyzed. His finding shows that the coronavirus spread peaks after about 40 days and declines to almost zero after 70 days, a result that is at variance with health professionals in many countries, including the United States. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that “the virus makes its own timeline.”

“It doesn’t matter what you say: One week, two weeks, three weeks. You’ve got to go with what the situation on the ground is,” he told Cuomo. “So, when people say it may take months, I think what people are talking about is how long it takes to go all the way down.

“But you may see, in a relatively shorter period of time, when you’re seeing the inkling of the flattening, and coming down.  

By contrast, Professor Yitzhak Ben-Israel, who also is a retired Air Force Major General, says, “The data speak for themselves – there is a fixed pattern here: after six weeks the graph starts to decline and you see a declining trend of the plague.”

Regarding Israel, he says, “It turns out that the peak of the spread is already behind us for about a week, and it will probably be almost completely wasted within two weeks.”

While Ben-Israel says “he supports social distancing, the worldwide shuttering of economies constitutes a demonstrable error in light of those statistics.”  

Ben-Israel told the Jewish Journal: “This is how it is all over the world. Both in countries where they have taken closure steps, like Italy, and in countries that have not had closures, like Taiwan or Singapore. In such countries, there is an increase until the fourth to sixth week, and immediately thereafter, moderation until during the eighth week, it disappears.”

Professor Ben-Israel is not a medical doctor, but he has highly impressive credentials. His PhD comes from Tel Aviv University and was granted in mathematics, physics and philosophy. Born in 1949, he joined the Israeli Air Force after graduating from high school and stayed there until his retirement in 2002. He headed the Air Force’s Operations Research Branch, Analysis and Assessment Division and then was Director, Ministry of Defense for Research and Development. 

He rose to the rank of Major General and was twice awarded Israel’s Defense Award, also known as the Israel Defense Prize.  It is awarded by the President of Israel “to people and organizations who make significant contributions to the defense of the State of Israel.”

Ben-Israel joined Tel Aviv University as a professor and was the head of Curiel Center for International Studies (2002-04), the head of the Program for Security Studies (2004-07), Executive Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Technological Analysis & Forecasting at Tel-Aviv University and a member of Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies.

In 2002 he founded and headed the Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security. Currently, he is head of the Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, Chairman of Israel Space Agency, Chairman of Israel National Council for R&D and Professor at Tel-Aviv University, teaching in the Security Studies Program. He has authored numerous articles and books, among them The Philosophy of Military Intelligence, Science, Technology and Security: From Soldiers in Combat up to Outer Space and Israel Defense Doctrine.

Ben-Israel says he does not know why the coronavirus behaves the way it does. He has said the life-span of the virus could be caused by climate, or even that the virus has a life span of its own.

The most dramatic chart offered by Ben-Israel (from the Hebrew language monograph he posted in Status, Is the Corona Spread Exponential?) looks at the number of cases per day in Israel.

Ben-Israel says the US pattern is similar to that seen in Israel, although the numbers are higher because of the size of the US population.  

The Trump administration currently has a task force on how and when to open the US economy. Some European countries, Denmark, Spain and Italy are starting to loosen up their strict lockdowns while Germany is said to be considering doing so.  

In the US the argument is mainly between physicians, including Dr Fauci, who want to keep a strict lockdown policy, and US President Donald Trump who fears that the economy could collapse unless restrictions are moderated or lifted. Industry – and especially small business – is in desperate condition because of the freeze-in effect across the United States.  The problem has been further exacerbated by House leader Nancy Pelosi’s unilateral decision not to return to Washington and reopen the House of Representatives until May 4 at the earliest, blocking efforts for Congress to add additional financial support to small businesses (where the most recently appropriated funds have run out).

There is also growing concern of social unrest, highlighted in particular by questionable decisions made by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Whitmer’s lockdown went farther than most states in putting strict bans in place, and the result has been a major protest in Lansing, the state capital, with chants of “Lock her up” echoing in the streets.

Whitmer’s situation is not entirely unique. Policymakers are aware that protests could spread if existing lockdowns continue. Ominously, Washington DC and Virginia have just extended the isolation period until May 30. It is unlikely the public will accept these restrictions and the White House may be in a race against time with these cases alone.

Added to the confrontation are many lawsuits and protests involving the forced closure of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. The US Constitution protects the right of assembly and freedom of religion, as well as free speech. There is growing anger that these Constitutional rights are being violated by some politicians and states. In some cases, police have gone into churches and synagogues where they arrested church leaders or threatened to do so. Police are also auditing religious place parking lots, using license plate readers to track people who violate lockdowns.

Problems are also growing in the military. Sailors are being kept far longer at sea, and airmen and soldiers are being isolated from families during extended deployments thanks to a Pentagon travel ban. Port calls are also banned for ships, keeping sailors and marines on board for extended periods. While the Pentagon’s actions have yet to hamper operations, the inability to move personnel in and out of units and provide proper support will soon begin to take effect.

Taking everything into consideration, the ability to sustain a lockdown in the United States is reaching a crisis point. The same can be said with many other countries.

Ben-Israel’s assertions back up President Trump’s desire to begin lifting the lockdown. It remains to be seen if the President can override his doctors and detractors.

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