Israel’s second wave in international perspective
Author: Alex Weinreb

Israeli exceptionalism now extends to coronavirus. Between late April and early June, the coronavirus infection rate in Israel was stable at around 200 confirmed cases per 100,000. That rate then started to increase and has now shot up to 600 confirmed cases per 100,000, with only the slightest signs of deceleration in the trend.

We need to be absolutely clear about this: No other developed country has experienced anything like this in the current pandemic, not yet at least.

Our first graph plots these rates of infection across an informal club of developed countries that were most successful in minimizing infections. The data—in this and subsequent graphs—are from the CSSE at Johns Hopkins University, updated to July 20.

In the glory days of April and May, Israel was a proud member of this club. Our leaders boasted about calls received from counterparts elsewhere. Our fellow citizens began to plan trips to other high-performing countries eager to revive their tourist industries with our help. It’s true that our infection rates were always higher than those of other countries in the club, but we’d controlled the initial outbreak. We’d “flattened the curve.”

All that, to paraphrase Trotsky, now belongs on the dustheap of history. Israeli tourists are no longer wanted in Europe. Israel is now held up as the example of how not to open. Demonstrations are spreading. And our leaders will soon begin to appease us with panem et circenses (or another round of elections, which appears to be the local version of the moment, equally costly and ineffective).

It’s not only that our infection rates are now much higher than the good performers. Here we graph the rates against larger OECD countries, most of which are poorer performers. Confirmed infections per capita in Israel are now not only double those of Germany. They are higher than those of Italy, the UK, Belgium and Spain. Within a week we will close in on much-maligned Sweden.

The only other country on a similar track to us is the US. But there, rates are not increasing because of a second wave, but rather because the first wave is still slowly washing over southern and western states.

A final useful comparison is with our neighboring countries here in the Middle East, or wealthier Gulf countries that also have high quality medical infrastructure.

As can be seen below, we appear to be much higher than most of these countries—though that is in part due to much higher testing. All countries in the region with higher infection rates than Israel’s are wealthy. More important, coronavirus appears to have hit them later but has been climbing steadily, with no curvilinear trends. It’s all first wave. Only Israel plateaued before the subsequent rise.

We return to our central point. In its experience of coronavirus, Israel is in the vanguard. We are the first developed country to truly experience a second wave. We will probably not be the last. But this is not a moment of national glory. It’s a moment for serious reflection about how we got here, and how we can forge a new path forward: we need a new strategic and tactical approach.


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