By Larry Gordon

Whichever way COVID is going to manifest this year, the reaction will likely be different and even creative. And considering that Israel has been at the forefront of so much of the COVID response, the eyes of the world, medical and otherwise, are watching the Jewish state.

We had all hoped that this international public health crisis might have been long behind us by now, but, unfortunately, that is not the case. The objective here is not to turn this into a political commentary on the vaccines that are available. But one has to want to purposely deceive oneself to believe that the availability of these lifesaving vaccines is anything but the result of the efforts of Donald Trump and his administration.

If you disagree, then you’ve just fallen prey to the propaganda set out by the Biden administration that has assumed a deceptive position because they live in absolute fear that Mr. Trump is going to run for the White House again in 2024.

But it is Israel—more than any other country—that seems to be at the cutting edge of the response to the COVID-19 virus and its various mutations traveling the globe.

There is no question that there is a uniquely close relationship between the U.S. and Israel. For those of us here in the States, if we do not have parents or children living there, then we have siblings or nieces and nephews and so on. Others have children studying in yeshiva or seminary there. Compounding that distance, the COVID restrictions have created a series of obstructions that made a once-simple and indeed pleasurable trip to Israel both arduous and challenging.

Last year, as the epidemic reached unanticipated heights, there was no choice but to close down the airport and virtually the entire country. At one point last year in Israel there were about 10,000 new cases of COVID reported daily. The healthcare system, particularly the hospitals, was facing crushing pressure. Something had to be done to try to gain a grasp of the situation.

Then the vaccine made it onto the market and things began to improve. You know that part of the story—that is, until the Delta variant made its debut, a mutation of the virus that emanated from India and has caused all kinds of havoc the world over.

Everyone involved in dealing with this pandemic—and that means everyone on planet Earth—is trying to figure out how to stay one step ahead of the virus. Israel is a small country, which makes it a suitable example to see how a society can deal with corona effectively while trying to maintain daily routines in a relatively open country.

One thing we learned from last year is that this ideal of locking down entire cities and countries may provide a short-term solution but, as we can see, the virus keeps coming at us from new directions.

The Israeli government is still considering measures against the virus—short, however, of a full lockdown. During the last lockdown, chareidi leadership felt that the authorities were overbearing in their communities while lax on enforcement in Palestinian areas. When asked about that, Ze’ev Elkin, minister of Jerusalem Affairs, said that cracking down on Palestinian communities “is complicated.”

In Israel, the original plan, as summer approached, was for tourism to be close to normal by July 1. The appearance of the Delta variant pushed that date to August 1, and that was scrapped too. Health officials in Israel are in the process of coming up with a formula to live side by side with the virus until it somehow hopefully disappears.

When I was in Israel in late June and early July, the protocol consisted of taking a PCR test within three days of your flight from the U.S. to Israel and then taking another PCR test on the ground in Ben Gurion Airport.

With the drastic uptick in the number of new infections these last few weeks, the government has decided that, beginning this week, anyone arriving in Israel from anywhere will have to be tested and, regardless of the results of the tests, will have to quarantine for up to seven days.

That restriction—to live in relative isolation in your home or hotel room for seven days—has caused an uneasy stir in the tourist industry that was looking forward to a resurgence over the next few weeks.

In order to streamline the testing process, El Al is now introducing PCR testing midflight on the ten-hour trip from New York to Tel Aviv. Also in the works, according to El Al Vice President of Operations at Ben Gurion Leehu Hacohen, is a plan, to be instituted shortly, to swab passengers at JFK and Newark Airports, with results available by the time the traveler lands in Israel.

So what happens if you test positive for the virus by the time you land? Well, it’s unlikely that you will be put on a plane and immediately returned to your country of origin. Rather, those testing positive will have to go directly into quarantine for perhaps a longer period than seven days.

Still, the advent of all this testing and the possibility that something will go wrong has people setting aside their travel plans for the yomim tovim. And that is the obstacle that Israel is trying to deal with over the next few days. According to some in the Israeli travel industry, while the need to quarantine is scheduled to begin this week, that deadline might be pushed to next week while new plans are formulated.

Meanwhile, Arab MK Issawi Frej said on Sunday that Israeli Arabs are traveling to and from Turkey and Greece with forged vaccine cards and nothing is being done about it.

In Israel, 90% of the population has been vaccinated. Even with that overwhelming compliance with the request to vaccinate, over 3,800 people were diagnosed with the variant last Sunday. Those numbers are way up compared to the number of daily infections a month ago that were under 100 per day.

The good news is that for the last week or so so those numbers have been stable. Jerusalem Post reports, “On Wednesday morning, the Health Ministry reported 694 people were being treated in Israeli hospitals for the virus, among them 400 in serious condition.” Those who have been vaccinated and who are still testing positive are mostly experiencing no symptoms or very light symptoms. The concern, just as it is here in the U.S., is that those who are vaccinated but are carrying the virus will infect the unvaccinated.

I asked Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King what he thought the plan would be going forward, to which he quickly responded: “No one knows.”

Over at the famed Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem, General Manager Avner On said: “We are getting ready for the holiday season, with business almost as usual. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we expect to be busy mostly with Israeli guests and still hope that we will have guests from abroad for Sukkot. Although at present there is uncertainty regarding the near future, we are working toward a busy High Holiday season.”

Israel is currently offering a third or booster shot. The Jerusalem Post reports that, “More than 650,000 citizens over age 60 or who are immunosuppressed have received a third shot of the vaccine” and 14 people who received all three shots have had a positive diagnosis.

This has been the problem with the way COVID has been handled from the start. We are instructed to expect 100% results from every vaccine or quarantine effort. That type of expectation is unrealistic and plays to the media’s need to sensationalize everything about COVID so as to keep us as close to panic mode as possible. That is true of Israel as well as those reporting to us on COVID ups and downs here at home.

In the meantime, here in the U.S. the Biden administration is offering up a policy of extreme damage and hypocrisy. A steady stream of immigrants is flowing through our southern border daily, many of them infected with COVID. The Biden administration has made no effort to stop them, test them, or treat any of them. Instead they are providing travel for the illegal immigrants to states all around the country.

Also, the Biden administration is not considering as valid those who resolved the virus and now have antibodies and natural immunity, which many doctors say are stronger than the antibodies from the vaccines.

It looks like we are going to have to learn to live with this thing going forward, for a while anyway. Let’s hope that the numbers stabilize and we do our best to live normal lives with COVID, for now.

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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