"[M]ore people died in two weeks of peace with Dubai than in 70 years of war with them." That was the unsuccessful attempt at a joke made by Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, ead of Public Health in the Israeli Health Ministry. Dr. Alroy-Preis made the statement Thursday morning while participating in a Zoom meeting with the heads of all of Israel’s hospitals.
Alroy-Preis was forced to apologize and indeed acknowledge that it was a bad joke and in poor taste. But there is much truth to what she said.
Just last week, on a single flight returning to Israel from Dubai, 14 people tested positive for the coronavirus. This week, a single person tested positive and created a chain involving and infecting 180 other people after returning from a trip to Dubai.
The "Dubai effect” is not limited to Israel. What is happening in Israel is happening in other countries as well – countries enticed by the lure of Dubai.
Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, was thought of as an escape from COVID. There are no restrictions in Dubai. Young people are able to be walk free and enjoy all that Dubai has to offer, luxuries that are no longer permitted at home – like dining with friends and partying. No masks, no social distancing. Paradise in the midst of the pandemic.
People from all over the world flock to Dubai for vacation. In Dubai you could pretend that COVID no longer hovered over our lives and our health. Until you went back home. And felt ill. Or were tested.
Truth is, all was not as it seemed in Dubai, all was not as people wanted it to be.
About 240,000 ex-patriots from the United Kingdom live in Dubai. And among their friends who came to visit and to party, there were COVID carriers. And along with their bathing suits and dancing shoes, they brought the new COVID variant with them. Many countries banned flights to and from the United Kingdom. But not Emirates Air. They fly five flights daily from Heathrow, London to Dubai. They only banned flights on Friday January 29.
Dubai opened to Israelis this summer with the signing of the Abraham Accords. And flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai took off. Some of those flights were even offset by government business assistance programs. What irony! In the midst of COVID lockdowns, when only Israelis could enter or leave their country, Israel was – albeit unintentionally and in the name of friendly relations, sponsoring flights to a hotbed of COVID.
Several experts, watching events unfold and passengers disembark, dubbed the Israeli/Dubai connection a ticking timebomb. They were so right.
So what do you do? You can try to make a joke about it as did Dr. Sharon Alroy Preis, or you can try to prevent people from going and coming until COVID numbers are more manageable.
In December Israel began discussions about shutting down all flights to and from Dubai and classifying it as a Red Country. But the counter argument, that a travel ban mandated by Jerusalem could create a diplomatic backlash with Dubai that would impact the peace momentum, prevailed.
Dr. Alroy Preis was one of the loudest people arguing that vacationers to Dubai would return from vacation and infect other Israelis. She argued that allowing travel to Dubai was a major tactical flaw in the crackdown Israel was so diligently enforcing throughout the country – including lockdowns and GPS tracking and school closures and business closures – to prevent the spread of COVID.
Some health officials in Israel go so far as to assert that the Dubai was the source of reinfection in Israel. But that is not absolutely clear and is difficult to prove.
Israel a different kind of democracy than the United States.
In Israel, the security establishment and the government have more control over movement than they do in the United States. Jerusalem can restrict civil liberties expressly because of the many security issues facing the country. And because these features are already in place to protect against terror and improve national safety and security, it was easy to tweak them to protect against COVID.
Israel has shut down all borders – air, sea and land.
They have tracked the cell phones of their citizens. Until very recently Israel tracked people who tested positive to make certain they remained in isolation. They contacted anyone who had come within six feet of a person who tested positive by tracking their phones and sent an SMS message instructing them of the need to quarantine.
This system was originally put in place to track terrorists. It was never used to track Israelis – until COVID. While it is no longer in place, until recently it was not unusual for one member of a family to get a message that sent the entire family into quarantine for 14 days.
Fundamentally, people should be free to make their own decisions – but ethical and medical questions arise when those decisions endanger the live of others, of many others. COVID has changed our lives in so many more and varied and far reaching ways than we could ever have imagined.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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