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Here's Why Daring and Innovative Israel Still Lacks a COVID-19 Vaccine

© REUTERS / Dado RuvicA woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020.
A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a Vaccine COVID-19 sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. - Sputnik International
Although Israel, which has already introduced a second lockdown due to an uptick in coronavirus cases, has developed a variety of products and services aimed at helping to get through the pandemic, little effort has been made in the area of vaccines.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned that the current lockdown, imposed on the country to contain the spread of COVID-19, will likely to remain in place for at least a month.

"I want to be honest - it will not be less than a month. It may take much longer", the PM said, adding that his government was working on ways to curb the disease, including implementing rapid tests and reducing the nation's infection rate.

Looking for Solutions

While the government is looking into ways to tackle the current health and economic crises, Israeli start-ups and hi-tech companies are teaching themselves how to live with the virus and come up with solutions that aim to improve people's lives.

Start-up Nation Central, a non-profit organisation that builds bridges to Israeli innovation and which boasts a list of some 6,000 companies in their portfolio, also offers an impressive amount of organisations specialising in solutions tailored to tackle the COVID-19 challenge.

Some are offering air solutions, like the new ProtectAir purifier that claims to neutralise over 99 percent of the viruses and bacteria in the air, others concentrate on improving the safety of masks and other hygiene materials, producing self-sterilising pieces that aim to protect medical personnel from potential diseases.

And there are also those, like Blue and White Robotics, who are transforming their existing technologies, adjusting them to the changing reality and providing solutions during this tumultuous time.

Abundance of Start-ups

Aviv Alper, senior director of research at Start-Up Nation Central, puts this abundance of start-ups and hi-tech companies down to the support the Israeli government has given them over the years.

A woman is reflected on a bus station as she wears a protective face mask amid concerns over the country's coronavirus outbreak, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, April 6, 2020.  - Sputnik International
Failure for Some, Success for Others: How Israeli Companies Cope With COVID-19
In 1993, Israel launched the so-called Yozma plan (Hebrew for entrepreneurship), a programme designed to encourage individual and government investments into the country's hi-tech industry.

That programme proved itself and now Israel is investing around half a billion dollars annually in its hi-tech industry, although that sector still employs only 9 percent of the country's working population.

With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic the government continued to pour money into that field and gave out grants to make sure it stays afloat, but the sums given were far from being enough to keep many of them, especially young and small companies, above water.

"Although there is a support from the government, and there are programmes that encourage Israeli entrepreneurs to invest in local companies, one shouldn't forget that Israel is a small country, so [start-ups and hi-tech companies realise that] the big money will never come from here. It will always come from abroad, specifically such big players as the US and China", Alper explained.

Yet, these financial hardships don't appear to be breaking Israeli spirit. In 2019, the country registered more than 6,600 start-ups and hi-tech companies and this number is expected to grow with time despite the pandemic.

Innovative But Lacks a Vaccine

The reason for this, thinks Alper, is the adaptability and flexibility of the nation, who recognises the changing reality and is looking for ways to adapt to it.

However, this isn't the only thing behind it.

"Israel is a nation of risk takers. Failure is not the end of the story because you can always lift yourself up again. It is part of our culture because the country was established by people who left everything behind and went on an unknown journey, full of adventures".

Nevertheless, despite optimism and Israel's creativity, adaptability, and innovation the country still doesn't have a vaccine, although testing on humans is set to begin in early October.

Meanwhile, the deadly virus continues to claim lives across the nation.

So far, more than 1,500 people have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic. Nearly 800 are in severe condition and Israel has been recently touted as topping the world's rating of highest daily infections per capita.

"The problem is", explained Alper, "that Israel has never had a competitive advantage in the sphere of pharmaceuticals and vaccinations. Here you need time, experience, and patience and this is something the country didn't invest in, preferring to rely on big foreign companies".

But what Israel also needs is funding without which many young companies will not be able to pull through and that might mean "bright and talented" people will try their luck elsewhere, most probably abroad.

"We have to invest in what Israel has been blessed with - our human capital, or else they will look for opportunities elsewhere. At the same time, I am optimistic because good start-ups will continue to get customers and that means they will keep on employing people including those, who have never worked for hi-tech companies before".
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