Israel is on the way to a full lockdown. The government decided last night to impose a full lockdown starting Sept. 25 until the end of the Sukkoth holiday on Oct. 10. The debate that preceded the decision lasted for eight hours. The main disagreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners from Blue and White was around the question of protests. Reportedly, Netanyahu pushed to impose a complete closure in order to prohibit and limit protests against him by the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
But while Israel’s prime minister is busy stopping protests against him even at the economic price of a full lockdown and stopping all commercial activity, some cities have taken their own measures and decided to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 within the city bounds instead of waiting for the state.
One of the cities that has excelled at this task is Kafr Qasim. Shortly after his nomination, coronavirus tzar Ronni Gamzu decided on a "traffic light plan," categorizing Israeli towns and villages into red, orange, yellow and green, according to the rate of infection. Kafr Qasim was declared last month a “red city," but today it is already designated a yellow city, and the mayor hopes that it will turn green in a week. This success story even won praise and a visit from former Minister of Defense and current Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, for whom the fight against COVID-19 in Israel has become a goal on the way to the next election, as today he has 21 mandates according to a Channel 12 poll.
So what is the secret to the success of Kafr Qasim? In a conversation with Al-Monitor, Mayor Adel Bdir said, “A month ago we were labeled a red city, and we were even a hot red city with an infection rate of 10.6%. Today we are classified as a yellow city with a 6% infection rate, according to the traffic light plan. We all hope we are on the way to becoming a green city, as we are already down to 149 active patients."
In regard to the action plan the city has adopted, he said, “We developed a plan called 'Moving from red to green in seven steps,' which was formulated in cooperation with COVID-19 czar Ronni Gamzu, to deal with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the city. The plan is based on seven steps that include creating action staff and delegating roles, training the staff, creating a database, frequent meetings to assess the situation, drafting residents to comply with the plan, starting work and adjusting in real time, and an information system that supports full control of the data."
Bdir added, "The plan’s emphasis is on raising awareness of tests, cutting off chains of transmission by reaching all residents and clarifying the need for isolation, full control over illness data by building a database, supervising and enforcing health guidelines, and frequent evaluation of the situation by means of cooperation between all the parties like the local authority, the Home Front Command and the health maintenance organizations.”
In view of this plan and its success in lowering the number of coronavirus patients in Kafr Qasim, which had become a national hot spot a few months ago, one might ask if the time has come to transfer authority from the government to local authorities. Indeed, the southern town of Yeruham has also turned from red to green within two weeks, not least because of Mayor Tal Ohana, who decided to take the reins and deal personally with the fight against the coronavirus, with great success.
Back to Kafr Qasim: There’s no doubt that one of the main factors that led to the rise in infections were the many weddings in the town of Kafr Qasim specifically and in the Arab population in general, as I wrote in a previous Al-Monitor article. According to the mayor, he decided personally, together with many physicians and public officials, not to participate in weddings. Their example, among other things, led to a decrease in the number of weddings in the city.
And what do city residents say? It seems opinions are divided regarding the success of the plan, despite the data that shows great success.
On the one hand, Mahmoud Frej, a supporter of the plan who works in the high-tech industry, said, “As of now Kafr Qasim is classified as a yellow city. If we continue at this rate, I believe that in a few days we will also become a green city. We had 450 active patients and we went down to 138, and today there were only four positive cases out of 60 tests, as of this evening. There’s no doubt that the plan isn’t perfect and there are sometimes failures, but there’s a decrease in the number of patients, where the main source of infection was weddings. The municipality got on top of the fight against COVID-19 with the help of quite a few volunteers and the Home Front Command, which opened a center in the municipality and recruited a private medical center in the city, convinced patients to move to a motel and promised to financially assist families with the budget the municipality received from the Home Front Command.”
On the other hand, there are some who argue that despite the positive data the celebration in the city is premature. In conversation with Al-Monitor, Donia Abu Zayid, an educational consultant, said, “The intent behind the plan is good but unfortunately the implementation isn’t always right. I feel that there aren’t enough [health] professionals in town who are involved in the plan, and it depends too much on public information. It’s true that the rate of infection in the city declined, but we have to remember that it happened with the beginning of the school year when they mandated that all teachers be tested, and this lowered the positivity rate in the results. Indeed, the direction is positive, but as I said they are celebrating too soon, because there’s not 100% compliance on the part of residents, especially since many residents are living with the sense of denial of the situation and the virus.”