SIGNAL Note 70: Coronavirus and the Paradox of Social Distancing

Until the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of “social distancing” likely never crossed your mind. But today, from Singapore to the UK, it has become part of everyday vernacular. Here in Israel, people have been encouraged by the government to keep their distance from others, avoid public gatherings and, if possible, work from home. The logic: if people are less mobile and limit interaction, the contagion has fewer opportunities to spread. The slower it spreads, the less likely it is to overwhelm the healthcare system. However, as more and more people practice self-quarantine and social distancing, another public health threat is poised to emerge: loneliness.

While scientists are scrambling to understand how the coronavirus works, psychologists and other medical professionals have long understood the toll that loneliness and isolation take on both body and mind. People that feel disconnected are more likely to develop depression, experience sleep problems and abuse substances. Loneliness has also been identified as a risk factor for physical ailments such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, lupus, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. That depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy an estimated $1trillion annually, lends perspective to the magnitude of the problem. Loneliness is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease, comparable in scale to obesity and smoking.

The impact of the coronavirus in China: Implications for Israel

The coronavirus has so far infected more than 200,000 people and claimed almost 10,000 lives. Aside from the major challenge posed to public health systems across the world, it is already clear that China’s massive presence on the international stage and the interdependency of the global economy means the virus is likely to cause far-reaching economic and geopolitical consequences as it continues to spread, including here in Israel.

In an effort that has proven effective in containing the spread of the virus in China, factories and businesses have been shut down, and some 60 million people were confined to their homes in Hubei province alone. The city of Wuhan, where the virus originated, and Hubei province, in general, were effectively sealed off, in what has been described as the largest quarantine in human history. This dealt a major blow to productivity. In an attempt to stem the spread of the virus, many countries placed restrictions on movement to and from China, severely hampering the flow of trade. Economists predict that China’s economic growth could slow to as low as 4% in the first quarter of 2020, the slowest pace in over a decade.

Response to – Can China Replace the United States in Israel?

As the US – China competition has deepened during the past year, Israel has responded proactively to American concerns about Chinese acquisition of Israeli technology. This includes a strengthened review process for investments in Israel. Furthermore, Jerusalem acted swiftly with a security review when Washington expressed worries over China’s investment in the new section of the Haifa Port.

As America’s closest ally, Israel has no military-related exports and technology transfers to China. Economic relations between the two countries are concentrated overwhelmingly in agriculture, environment, infrastructure and other purely civilian spheres. Meanwhile, the Israel-American relationship never has been stronger. Israel’s growing relations with China take that into consideration.

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