Saturday, April 18, 2020

Did Netanyahu’s technical/math background save Israel in the coronavirus crisis?

According to I24news, the US warned Israel about COVID-19 in mid-November, 2019:

“The information was also handed over to the White House, 'which did not deem it of interest'

The US government reportedly gave Israel advanced warning over the emerging threat the coronavirus posed in China around mid-November. 

According to Israeli broadcaster Channel 12, US intelligence agencies became aware of the danger posed by COVID-19 as it battered the central city of Wuhan in China's Hubei province. 

The information was then handed over to the White House, “which did not deem it of interest,” according to Channel 12

Despite the Trump administration's dismissal of the information, US intelligence decided to warn its close allies of the contagious disease, specifically NATO and Israel.

So Trump, Boris Johnson and Netanyahu had the same information in mid-November, 2019 and yet Bibi reacted much better than both Trump and Boris Johnson and imposed stricter restrictions early on. Why such a different reaction?   
I think that the main difference is that Bibi has a more technical background (he’s got a Master of Science degree from MIT) whereas Boris Johnson studied humanities at Oxford and Trump has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton school.

So how does this matter?   I matters in that I think Bibi was probably more responsive to the scientists’ advice to impose strict sanctions early on since he felt and fully understood the way exponential functions like y = e**x  work, and the significance on imposing restrictions early on while there are only a few cases and that waiting would have huge consequences.

 Both Boris Johnson and Trump did not seem to understand that. From The Guardian:  “Prominent US public health adviser Dr Anthony Fauci appeared on Sunday to confirm a bombshell New York Times report which said he and other Trump administration officials recommended the implementation of physical distancing to combat the coronavirus in February, but were rebuffed for almost a month.

In Boris Johnson’s case it seems that there had been a disconnect between the scientists who were advising him and the cabinet, and that the scientists failed to convey the danger of the initial goal of reaching herd immunity.   

It was only after the publication of the Imperial College London Report published on March 16 that both Trump and Boris Johnson changed policies, but by then they had already lost precious time.

I believe that understanding math played a role in this case. Here is a reminder: 

And just now on the 9 o’clock news,  Bibi consulted epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch  whose podcast from Feb 28, which I heard on March 5 (and transcribed), gave me the right understanding of the magnitude of the problem.  We in Israel are being well informed!  

So Israel is in the best position of the three countries and has 10 times less death per 1 M than the UK and 5 times less deaths per 1 M than the US, is testing twice as much as the US and three times as much as the UK.   

Data as of April 19, 2020 from