Israel’s government wants to get through the powerful omicron wave without major restrictions on public life. “Lockdowns don’t work,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in an address to the public from army headquarters in Tel Aviv. The number of infections is increasing at an unprecedented rate. Almost 44,000 new cases were officially reported on Wednesday. However, due to the limited PCR test options, experts assume that up to 100,000 people are currently infected every day. Bennett expects that two to four of the nine million Israelis will become infected with the virus in the next few weeks.
In a military shortage, the head of government named the “three main principles” of his actions. First, keep the economy as open as possible. Second: ensure the protection of risk groups. Third, take care of the children’s well-being.
The renouncement of harsher countermeasures stands in clear contrast to Israel’s previous anti-corona policy. It was characterized by strict lockdowns and an entry ban for foreigners that lasted almost two years. In the meantime, the domestic secret service Schin Bet was even used for telephone tracking. Now the motto seems to be: keep your eyes open and through. Bennett demands more “personal responsibility” from the citizens and at the same time assures: “There is no need to panic or hysteria.”
400,000 citizens already have the booster booster
His course is supported by an expert committee from the Ministry of Health, which has described the omicron wave as “unstoppable”. A sharp increase in pressure on the healthcare system is also expected in the coming weeks. The number of serious cases is still low, but it has already doubled within a week to 250. Bennett instructed the health sector to prepare for the admission of up to 4,000 seriously ill people. At the peak of the pandemic so far, there were around 1,200 severe cases in Israel in February 2021.
Contrary to government plans, the rapid increase in numbers could de facto lead to a partial lockdown in the next few weeks. It is already much quieter than usual on the streets of Tel Aviv, for example – because many are obviously ill or in quarantine, others are staying in their home office or are doing without activities. In parliament, for example, eleven out of 120 members of parliament have currently been infected with the corona virus, and two ministers have tested positive. The shortage of staff in hospitals could have a far more dramatic effect.
When it comes to protection for risk groups, Israel relies primarily on a fourth vaccination. At the beginning of the year, it was the first country in the world to offer the booster for the booster, currently only for the over 60 age group. So far, more than 400,000 Israelis have made use of it.
Last week, Prime Minister Bennett announced, citing the first study results, that the number of antibodies would increase fivefold with the second booster. He hailed it as a great success. However, the head of the study immediately qualified that this was “good but not sufficient” because it only brought the immune system back to the level it was after the third vaccination.
Representatives of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) are also skeptical. Frequent booster vaccinations are not practical and could even weaken the immune system in the end. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had reacted evasively this week when asked whether a fourth dose of vaccine was necessary. More research is needed for this. “But we shouldn’t do anything that isn’t necessary,” he said. For March he announced a vaccine adapted to the Omikron variant.