In mid-April, PERF spoke with Micky Rosenfeld, National Spokesman to Foreign Media for the Israel Police, about the COVID-19 pandemic in Israel.

At that time, Israel had COVID under control.

However, during the last two months, Israel has experienced a severe outbreak of the virus. Many experts are warning that the United States could experience what Israel is currently dealing with.

So PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke again this week with Mr. Rosenfeld about Israel’s spike in cases – and the lessons it may hold for the United States and the rest of the world.

Specifically, as of yesterday, Israel reported 459 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week, which is the highest per-capita rate in the world of new cases identified in the last seven days.

Source: New York Times

Some European countries, particularly France and Spain, have also seen a recent spike in cases. In mid-September, England, Wales, and Scotland banned gatherings of more than six people, and this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK is at a “critical moment” and raised the possibility of further restrictions.

Many Latin American countries also are currently experiencing high rates of infection, as they have in prior months.

Source: New York Times

In the United States, cases have been increasing since mid-September, with a particular increase in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Source: New York Times


Chuck Wexler: We last spoke in mid-April. How have things been since then?

Micky Rosenfeld: The situation across the country here in Israel was relatively positive and relatively good throughout the first wave, which was until July. I think Israel dealt with the situation very well, in terms of the Israeli government’s decisions, which were implemented by the Israeli National Police, in order to support the communities and the huge number of people who were affected.

Toward the end of July and the beginning of August, Israel was hit with the second wave. I think the second wave in Israel was like the first wave in the United States. The situation over the summer was very intense, in terms of the numbers that slowly but surely increased. The number of people who were taken to a hospital increased. The number of people affected by COVID-19 within the different communities, including the Israeli Arab community, the Jewish community, and the Christian community, was quite phenomenal.

A strategic decision was made by the Israeli police to try to take hold of the situation. Since the summer we’ve been through a number of different phases. Phase 1 was when the Israeli National Police stepped up patrols and activities in the different communities, but not a full lockdown. There was a lockdown in the evening hours, from 5:00 in the afternoon until 5:00 in the morning. That took place in 40 cities across the country that had become “red zones.”

Unfortunately, we saw that the numbers on the graph were still rising, both in terms of the number of people who were infected and the number of people who were arriving at the hospital.

Wexler: What do you think caused this increase?

Rosenfeld: I think the key factor here is that within the communities, there were still a lot of meetings taking place. A lot of weddings took place. And a lot of protests took place. That led to an increase in the spread of COVID-19.

Wexler:  Were people trying to live a more normal life between the first and second waves?

Rosenfeld: Yes, people were going to restaurants all across Tel Aviv, which is a phenomenal city full of life and activity 24/7. People were meeting at bars. People were sitting very closely together at restaurants. People were not keeping social distancing. But people didn’t think they had a reason to keep social distancing, because the general situation was relatively calm and good, and fortunately, only 200 Israelis had passed away in that first wave.

Israel is the first country to have a full lockdown for a second wave. I think that is exactly what is going to happen in Europe, country by country.

Wexler: What does a full lockdown mean in Israel?

Rosenfeld: We began a full lockdown five days ago, just before the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah, which is the New Year’s festival. The government decision was that there would be a three-week lockdown, until October 11. That includes minimizing the movement of people to one kilometer from their houses. Nobody is allowed to leave any areas.

The Israeli National Police has set up roadblocks inside neighborhoods, surrounding neighborhoods, and in between communities. There are many roadblocks set up between the main cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The highways are relatively shut down. We’re checking vehicle by vehicle and person by person to ask where they’re heading. The only members of the public who are allowed to expand on that one kilometer area are doctors, nurses, medical staff, people who need to get to hospitals, or people who have to do vital necessities.

Wexler: Were people prohibited from going to synagogues during your high holidays?

Rosenfeld: Synagogues across the country were shut down for the full period of the lockdown, from before Rosh Hashanah until the 11th of the month, except for Yom Kippur. So the synagogues are now shut down again and will continue to be closed. On Yom Kippur itself we allowed gatherings, and that’s still under the laws and regulations of the Ministry of Health and the Israeli National Police. People are allowed to gather inside a building of up to 10 people maximum for prayers, or 20 people outside.

Wexler:  How have you handled demonstrations?

Rosenfeld: Until now, the government decision has been that demonstrations are allowed to take place. The Israeli Police have coordinated and allowed that to take place. We’ve never prevented demonstrations from happening.

Our main emphasis was, number one, health and safety, and then security. So we would make sure that there would be social distancing. People would wear masks at all times and keep two meters apart. That has been the policy the Israeli Police implemented. Unless there are changes in the government policy, that is what will continue to take place.

Obviously we’re trying to find ways to make sure people gather to protest in specific areas. We’re trying to break down the areas into 10 or 15 different sections, like we’ve done, for example, at the Western Wall for prayers. There are 18 different sections of the Western Wall, where 10 people can gather for each praying session. That is done in full coordination to make sure that there aren’t too many people gathering, and social distance is being kept. That’s something we’re considering and assessing how to implement at future protests.

The Israeli National Police have continued to implement social distancing. We have found that everyone who is wearing a mask and practicing social distancing is preventing the coronavirus from spreading. Our units are implementing that on the ground. Our units are making close contact with people but keeping social distancing at all costs.

Another emphasis is keeping our police officers safe, especially in this period, because the epidemic is everywhere basically. In the first round it was here and there, and someone would know someone who was infected. But at the moment, it’s absolutely everywhere.

For example, we have 500 police officers who have been confirmed (positive), and, at this moment in time, 3,000 are in self-isolation in order to prevent them from becoming ill.

Wexler:  So this is much worse than the first wave?

Rosenfeld: Yes, the situation is much more serious. There are many more serious government decisions that have to be made.

Personally, I think we’ll have another month, or two months of this period. I think things will calm down and get slightly better. But we’re going to have to think ahead to the winter, with the flu plus the COVID-19. Things could get complicated again.

Wexler:  What advice would you give the United States, given what you’ve experienced in Israel?

Rosenfeld: I think that America is in a very rough and tough situation at the moment, in terms of the numbers. More than 205,000 people have passed away, which is a tremendous number. Millions are already confirmed with COVID. So the situation in America is not good. I think American policymakers and decision-makers have to work together with the states and governors to make sure the message gets out, not just to the middle-aged and elderly population, but also to the younger population as well. We’ve seen that COVID is hitting everyone of all ages.

I think that the public has to take full responsibility. It’s up to the public working together with security, police, and the government. Coordination is also key. Once there is coordination and understanding, then those decisions can be implemented.

Wexler: Did Israeli students go back to school in person?

RosenfeldYes, about three weeks ago students began the school year. They went back for about two weeks, but within a week we saw COVID rapidly spread among the classes and teachers. Immediately a decision was made by the Ministry of Education that the students were switching to distance learning on Zoom and other platforms. That is continuing to take place. 


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.