COVID19 update, August 2, 2020: Has the second wave in Israel peaked; brief portrait of ‘coronavirus czar’, Prof. Roni Gamzu

(1) Has the second wave in Israel peaked? At least, that’s what the graph of active cases in Worldometers seems to show:

The media here have breathlessly been reporting “record” numbers of daily new cases, fueling speculation about the need for a 2nd lockdown (which nobody in their right minds wants). And indeed, daily numbers of new verified cases reached the 2,000 level — and now hold steady there (at least, if you smooth out the weekday/weekend reporting variation with a 7-day moving average):

What the media failed to notice was that the rising wave of new cases some weeks ago is now echoed by a rising wave in recoveries. For a variety of bureaucratic reasons, these numbers fluctuate strongly — with the somewhat anomalous result that on July 22 and 23, respectively, 3484 and 6944 new recoveries were logged by the Ministry of Health COVID19 dashboard (In Hebrew, but numbers are numbers).

At the lowest “active cases” point between the two waves, May 28, we had 16,872 verified cases, 284 deaths, for a 1.68% CFR (case fatality rate). As of the end of August 1, we had 72,218 verified cases and 526 deaths (0.73% CFR). If we use May 28 as the cutoff point between the waves, that translates to 55,346 cases but just 242 deaths, or a 0.44% CFR — about a quarter that in the first wave.

Now the new “coronavirus czar”, Prof. Roni Gamzu, has announced that the reproductive number of the infection in Israel has dropped to around one. He expects the death toll to keep rising for the next three weeks, then to stabilize. 

(2) A few biographic details on Roni Gamzu extracted from his Hebrew Wikipedia entry. He was born in 1966 in Israel to immigrant parents from Iran. (This was before the Khomeini revolution, when Israel had good relations with the Shah’s regime.) Following IDF service (as an officer), he studied medicine first at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, then at Tel-Aviv university (TAU), whence he got his MD in 1994, and two years later his Ph.D. in medicine for research in the area of fertility. He added to this a Master’s degree in health administration, an MBA, and a law degree, all from TAU. Somehow he also found time to get board certified as an OB-GYN following an extended residence.

Since 2002 he was a deputy director for economics, and since 2008 the director of the general hospital, at Ichilov Hospital (a.k.a. Sourasky Medical Center), the largest hospital in Tel-Aviv and one of TAU’s two main teaching and research hospitals (Tel HaShomer being the other).

From 2010 until 2014, he served as director-general of the Health Ministry; in 2015, he succeeded Prof. Gabi Barabash as the CEO of Ichilov Hospital. He has dual professorial appointments at TAU, the primary one in the economics department, the secondary one in the medical school.

It is clear, with his combined medical and economics/public health administration background, he comes to the job with a different mindset than most healthcare professionals: he explicitly said that the economic damage of the epidemic worries him more than the medical fallout. (It is being estimated by the Finance Ministry that it will take Israel’s economy 5 years to recover from COVID19.) 

Among other things, he apparently nixed the plan for a second lockdown during the High Holidays (when the whole country shuts down anyway), and he even mulls opening the country in mid-August to visitors from countries designated “green” on the COVID scale. 

The family name Gamzu presumably derives from the Mishnaic Era sage, rabbi Nachum of Gimzu, who was also known as Gamzu because it was his wont to respond to every setback with “gam zu le-tova” (that too is for the better). One day he was conveying a present to the king when he was robbed. “Gam zu le-tova”, he said once again. And indeed: unbeknownst to rabbi Gamzu, the gift had been substituted, and when the two robbers offered their stolen tribute to the king and the latter found only worthless junk, the monarch was not amused and sent both robbers to the chopping block….

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