Background: Early in the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, governments implemented exceptional public health measures (PHMs) in the face of uncertainty. This study aimed to compare mitigation policies implemented by Israel and their timing in the first wave of the pandemic to those of other countries, and to assess whether country characteristics such as democracy, trust, education, economic strength and healthcare reserve were associated with decision-making. Methods: PHMs and pre-pandemic characteristics, using internationally accepted indices, of 50 countries were collected from 1/1/2020-30/06/2020; and associations between them were assessed. Time to implementation of these measures was compared among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) nations. Log-rank test was used for univariate analysis. Cox regression was performed to assess the independent contribution of pre-pandemic characteristics to time-to-implementation of measures. Correlations between timing of specific measures and COVID-19 mortality at 60 days were assessed. Results: Israel ranked in the upper third of the OECD in swiftness to implementation of eight of the ten measures compared. In univariate survival analysis, countries with an education level below the OECD median were more likely to implement a lockdown (p-value = 0.043) and to close restaurants and entertainment venues (p-value = 0.007) when compared to countries above the OECD median. In Cox regression models, controlling for geographic location, democracy level above the OECD median was associated with a longer time-to-implementation of a lockdown (HR=0.35, 95% CI=0.14-0.88, p-value=0.025). Similarly, a high level of GDP per capita was inversely associated with closing schools; and a high level of education inversely associated with closure of restaurants and entertainment venues. Earlier initiation of all PHMs was associated with lower mortality at 60 days, controlling for geographic location. Conclusions: Israel's initial response to the pandemic was relatively quick, and may have been facilitated by its geographic isolation. Countries with lower pre-pandemic socio-economic indices were quicker to initiate forced social distancing. Early initiation of PHMs was associated with reduced mortality in the short run. Timing of initiation of measures relative to the country-specific spread of disease is a significant factor contributing to short-term early local pandemic control, perhaps more than the exact measures implemented. It is important to note that this study is limited to the initial pandemic response. Furthermore, it does not take into account the broader long-term effects of certain PHMs, which should be a focus of further research.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This project was funded by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research (NIHP) as a comparative study of public policy in the face of COVID-19 in Israel and the world. Six reports comparing PHMs in Israel and select countries were published in Hebrew on the NIHP website during April-June of 2020 . Initial findings were presented at a conference held by the NIHP on 6/7/2020 .
© 2023, The Author(s).
- Public health measures
- Social distancing