Opinion

Stop Announcing Israel's Coronavirus Deaths

The coronavirus unit at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, Israel.
Eyal Toueg

Stop announcing the deaths from the coronavirus. There’s something very misleading about the nightly recitation of the names of the latest fatalities from the pandemic on prime-time news. It goes without saying that each and every person was an entire world  to their loved ones. But the detailed reporting of each new death, its circumstances and the person’s full history, as if it were newsworthy on the national level, places disproportionate value on the life of each individual at the expense of the larger picture of public health.

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Just imagine if throughout every winter, the evening news broadcasts opened with the number of people around the world who died from respiratory complications of the seasonal influenza virus. That number ranges from 290,000 to 650,000 each year. Just imagine if there were a giant digital display hanging over the talking heads in the studio, showing each new death. It would surely be quite frightening. As of the time of this writing, the global count of deaths attributed to COVID-19 is slightly over 24,000. The daily anticipation of this number’s rise is nerve-wracking and causes great anxiety. Just imagine what it would do to the fraught nerves of Israeli TV viewers, trapped in their homes, to hear that 500,000 people had died of the flu.

Benny Gantz attributed his decision to join the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to Israel’s 3,000 coronavirus patients. Of these, 95 percent are basically healthy, and the majority of those who will die are old people, who unfortunately could be expected to die soon in any event. I repeat, to their families each one is an entire world, and they will be mourned deeply. From the broader public perspective, we must say these deaths are insignificant and don’t merit the kind of news coverage that blows them completely out of proportion.

In any case we can assume that there are already around 100,000 people with COVID-19, and that it caused the deaths of a handful of old people who were not in the pink of health to begin with. This means the figures on the number of deaths as a proportion of the number of confirmed cases is misleading. The actual death rate from the new coronavirus is very close to that of the seasonal flu. The need to prevent intensive care units from being overwhelmed is understood. It is essential to prevent the health care system from collapse. But there’s no need to intentionally frighten the public.

Just imagine if the evening news broadcasts were to report the number of Israelis who died that day of cancer (more than 11,000 a year), heart disease (over 6,000), and from infectious diseases, traffic accidents, suicide and simple pneumonia not caused by COVID-19 (more than 11,000 a year). It would raise awareness about the deaths caused every day by routine illness.

More than 45,000 Israelis die from these and other causes every year. Just imagine if each one were reported. It creates anxiety. Life would suddenly seem much more fragile and temporary and the world would appear to be a scary place, crawling with disease and dangers that take the lives of tens of thousand of Israelis annually. You could, if you wanted, declare this banal routine of death a national disaster, an emergency situation.

How are these deaths different from those caused by the coronavirus? Why is the latter given a prominence that inflates its significance? Stop reporting each and every death. When the dead are reported, life is frightening.