A meeting was held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City Sunday evening to pray for the people around the world who have been infected by the coronavirus outbreak. “Millions and millions of people are going through tremendous suffering in China and outside China,” Rabbi Avi Berman, executive director of the Israeli branch of the Orthodox Union, told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the ceremony. “As Jews, we believe that God has the power to send healing. We are not doctors, but we can pray.”
“We look at our forefathers and see how when they saw trouble in the world, they prayed to God to take care of it, they prayed for the sick to recover and for the poor to find sustenance. The Chinese people represent one sixth of the world and many are affected also in the United States, in Europe, in Asia. We should all worry about what is happening and come together to do something about it. I can tell you that since the end of Shabbat my phone has not stopped for a moment to ring or receive messages from schools, communities or organization wishing to participate or to show their support. Every single person in the world has the ability to pray in their own words. King David, who went through very hard times, composed beautiful prayers that we can use.”
Also on Sunday, CEO of Hadassah Hospital Prof. Ze’ev Rotstein and Health Ministry director-general Professor Itamar Grotto gave an interview to the KAN News radio program in which they addressed fears related to the epidemic. Their thesis was that although the virus would almost inevitably arrive in Israel, the health care system is in excellent shape to manage it and there was more danger from panic than from the virus itself.
“Maybe one or two patients, even ten, will arrive. But our system is sharp, and viral diagnoses are made fast [here] – so there is no chance of [this virus] reaching an epidemic level,” Rotstein explained.
However, despite such assurances, there has already been a marked slowdown in Israel’s vitally important tourism industry, with Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association director-general Yossi Fattal reporting a 50%-60% drop in arrivals in February.
“We’re immediately holding emergency discussions, in which we’ll talk about how to deal with the possibility of mass cancellations,” he said. “The market is in shock. We’re getting dozens of calls from groups in Europe and the US. We’re worried about the cancellations, and also worried about the financial health of suppliers in Israel, given the cancellations of services that our partners abroad [tourism wholesalers] bought for the groups. It’s 10% cancellations now, but it’s obvious that this will increase.”
However, Israel is also playing an outsized role in responding to the crisis. Researchers at Bar Ilan University have touted a device they invented as a possible solution to the need for large numbers of people to be tested for the disease. The technology could potentially reduce the time needed for a test from an hour to 15 minutes.
“We need to present further proofs that it works and then we will be able to make it available. We are also hoping to find investors to allow us to accelerate the commercialization of it,” explained Dr. Amos Danielli of the Alexander Kofkin Faculty of Engineering, who led the team which first developed the technology to test for diseases in cattle.
Various other Israeli teams are also working on solutions to the problems posed by the outbreak, with many promising lines of work being reported.
This article originally appeared on ICEJ, February 17, 2020, and reposted with permission.