Leading Israeli tech entrepreneur Amnon Shashua, CEO of Mobileye and senior vice president at Intel Corporation, met with a Knesset special committee on Tuesday to discuss an “exit strategy” that he believes will allow the country to overcome the current coronavirus outbreak, avoid a recession, and resume economic activity within months.
Shashua, a co-founder of the Jerusalem-based firm that builds visual-assistance technologies for autonomous vehicles, and was sold to Intel for $15 billion in 2017, presented the plan to the Knesset Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus. It includes steps to slowly bring some of the population out of self-isolation and reopen businesses.
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The plan was first published last week on the online platform Medium in a post called, “Can we Contain COVID-19 without Locking-down the Economy?” The post was co-authored by Shai Shalev-Shwartz, a computer science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and CTO of Mobileye.
“I think that our message that ‘an exit strategy is required’ was well heard and the reaction of the proposed approach was overall positive,” Prof. Shalev-Shwartz tells NoCamels in an email on Wednesday morning. “The initial reaction of the decisionmakers was good. Now is the time to plan the next steps, and I believe that the ‘exit strategy’ should be transparent.”
Shashua and Shalev-Shwartz propose an exit strategy based on dividing the population into high-risk and low-risk groups and quarantining the former.
“Quarantine the high-risk and gradually release the low-risk population to achieve a managed herd immunity of that population,” they wrote in the post. “The managed phase is designed to allow the health system to cope with the expected number of severe cases.”
According to the pair, anyone aged 67 or older, “which represents the retired segment of society,” is considered part of the high-risk group. The low-risk group is “the remainder of society which is released to their daily routine while following certain distancing protocols that are aimed at slowing the spread.”
While the high-risk group would have to be quarantined for a longer period of time — as the low-risk group reaches a herd immunity level — the economy could remain largely undisrupted, they wrote.
It is also when this herd immunity is reached that the high-risk population can “gradually” be released from quarantine.
Prof. Shalev-Shwartz tells NoCamels that implementing the strategy could have the low-risk population getting back to normal “immediately.”
“We estimate that herd immunity will be developed in about a month. Once it will happen, the “high-risk” population can also get back to normal,” he said.
Shashua told Israeli financial daily Calcalist that executing this strategy could have the economy running and a majority of the population out of isolation in as little as three months
“On the other hand, if you say that we are going to have three difficult months, that the country will hand out grants so that the economy doesn’t collapse, but after that, it will all be over, people will be able to accept that,” he said.
According to the post, the issue would then be how to manage the release of the population from quarantine so as not to overwhelm the health system, not when will there be an exit.
“There will be some severe cases from the ‘low risk’ population and also, unfortunately, some fatalities,” says Prof. Shalev-Shwartz.
“To mitigate the risk, we propose a careful study that will bound the number of severe cases and will ensure that the health system will not collapse,” he explains.
Using mathematical and statistical methodologies, the pair set out to prove that the risk is no larger than other risk factors such as car accidents.
“As a comparison, we don’t lock down the population due to car accidents even though some people are being injured,” Prof. Shalev-Shwartz adds.
“The purpose of the math is to answer the following simple question: if our method would be applied, what will be, in the worst case, the number of severe cases in the “low risk” group. If the result is a number that the health system can contain, then we are “safe,” he says.
Israel unemployment rate climbs to 24.1%
Nearly one in every four Israelis are now out of work, according to an update published in The Times of Israel on Wednesday citing official figures. Israel now has over one million unemployed, with the vast majority of them laid off in the last month.
Since early March, as coronavirus cases increased and the government took steps to quarantine the population, a total of 843,945 people have registered for unemployment benefits, with 90 percent of them on unpaid leave.
Since the start of March, 843,945 people have registered for unemployment benefits, 90 percent of them having been put on unpaid leave. Adding this to the number of unemployed prior to the crisis totals the number at over one million.
Employment Service director-general Rami Garor said he expected around 20 percent of the newly jobless would not have a job to go back to when lockdown measures were lifted. While schools and universities are shuttered until at least after Passover vacation, there is no word on how long the lockdown will actually be in effect.
“There are several problems with the full lockdown solution,” Prof. Shalev-Shwartz tells NoCamels. “What is the time horizon? Do we really believe that people will be able to stay quarantined for a year and a half? I think it’s not realistic.”
“If we open the quarantine when the ‘curve is flattened’ but the population did not develop herd immunity, it is very likely that the pandemic will outburst again. Then what? Shall we go in and out of quarantine for a year and a half? What will happen to the economy? What will happen to the health system if it’ll be in an ongoing emergency for a very long time?” he adds.
Prof. Shalev-Shwartz said a proposed alternative to full quarantine could be accurate “contact tracing” and rapid isolation only for infected people and their closed proximity, but this too is just a partial solution.