President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Note: Tel Aviv University Professor Isaac Ben-Israel is a prominent Israeli mathematician, analyst, and former general and is considered to be highly credible, but he is not a medical expert.
Tel Aviv University Professor Isaac Ben-Israel is the chair of the school’s Securities Studies program, the chairman of the National Council for Research and Development and also serves on the research and development advisory board for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. He appeared on an Israeli television program (Hebrew) earlier this week to discuss his latest project. The Times of Israel reported on this story.
According to The Times, Ben-Israel plotted the rates of new infections in nearly a dozen countries including: U.S., U.K., Sweden, Italy, Israel, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain, Singapore, and Taiwan. He concluded the following:
Simple statistical analysis demonstrates that the spread of COVID-19 peaks after about 40 days and declines to almost zero after 70 days — no matter where it strikes, and no matter what measures governments impose to try to thwart it.
Analyzing the growth and decline of new cases in countries around the world, showed repeatedly that “there’s a set pattern” and “the numbers speak for themselves.”
So, Ben-Israel claims that a country that has taken extraordinary measures to contain the virus vs. a nation like Sweden, which has been relatively lax, will follow a fixed pattern. The virus will peak and recede “in the exact same way. In the exact, same, way. His graphs show that all countries experienced seemingly identical coronavirus infection patterns, with the number of infected peaking in the sixth week and rapidly subsiding by the eighth week.”
The following comes from a translation of an interview Ben-Israel gave to Israeli media outlet Mako which was obtained by Townhall’s Marina Medvin:
It is a fixed pattern that is not dependent on freedom or quarantine. There is a decline in the number of infections even [in countries] without closures, and it is similar to the countries with closures.
Expansion begins exponentially but fades quickly after about eight weeks. I have no explanation. There are is [sic] kinds of speculation: maybe it’s climate-related, maybe the virus has its own life cycle.
When asked about the high morbidity rate in Italy, Ben-Israel replied, “The health system in Italy has its own problems. It has nothing to do with coronavirus. In 2017 it also collapsed because of the flu.”
Regarding what he considers to be Israel’s drastic measures, he said, “I think it’s mass hysteria. I have no other way to describe it. 4,500 people die each year from the flu in Israel because of complications, so close the country because of that? No. I don’t see a reason to do it because of a lower-risk epidemic.”
Data available on Worldometers as of 10:30 am on Saturday, shows that 158 people have died of the Wuhan Flu in Israel. The country has 13,107 cases out of a population of roughly nine million. Ben-Israel points out that, on a normal day (pre-Chinese virus), an average of 140 people die in Israel. Currently, one or two patients die every day from the virus. He argues that shutting down the Israeli economy, which he estimates will cost 20% of its GDP, “is a radical error.”
Hospital director and former Health Ministry director-general, Professor Gabi Barbash, appeared on last week’s television program to debate Ben-Israel. Barbash insists that the death toll in countries which shut down their economies and quarantined would have been greater had they not taken those measures.
The Times describes the back and forth between Barbash and Ben-Israel:
But Ben-Israel said the figures — notably from countries such as Sweden, which did not take such radical measures to shutter their economies — proved his point. (He also posted a Hebrew paper to this effect on Facebook, with graphs showing the trajectories.)
When Barbash cited New York as ostensible proof that Ben-Israel was mistaken, Ben-Israel noted the latest indications from New York were precisely in line with his statistics that indicate daily new cases figures peaking and starting to fall after about 40 days.
Asked to explain the phenomenon, Ben-Israel, who also heads Israel’s Space Agency, later said: “I have no explanation. There are all kinds of speculations. Maybe it’s related to climate, or the virus has a life-span of its own.”
He said the policy of lockdowns and closures was a case of “mass hysteria.” Simple social distancing would be sufficient, he said.
If the lockdowns instituted in Israel and elsewhere were not causing such immense economic havoc, there wouldn’t be a problem with them, he said. “But you shouldn’t be closing down the entire country when most of the population is not at high risk.”
Barbash, speaking after Ben-Israel had left the studio, insisted that “we’re going to be living with the coronavirus for the next year. I strongly urge that we not let mathematicians — who know nothing about biology — determine when we lift the lockdown.”
It would be great news if Ben-Israel’s conclusions are correct. I don’t believe it means that we killed our vibrant economy for naught.
While it’s hard to believe that the number of cases and deaths wouldn’t have been higher if we had taken Sweden’s approach, I don’t think that’s Ben-Israel’s point. I think he means that regardless of the number of casualties, the cycle of the virus follows this fixed pattern, peaking at around 40 days and subsiding at 70 days.
As some are predicting, the virus may come back in the fall. So, confirming or debunking Ben-Israel’s findings in the meantime would be extremely good to know, especially for those with compromised immune systems.
H/T: Marina Medvin, Townhall