Waiting in line for a COVID test in Jerusalem
Waiting in line for a COVID test in JerusalemYonatan Sindel/Flash90

My dear fellow-citizens, first of all, I understand all the frustration and I am aware of how hard this is. I also have young children in school, and we are also trying to maneuver through this complicated period.

I would like to explain a few things to help us all understand better what is going on. First of all, the Omicron variant is nothing like the Alpha variant and nothing like the Delta either. It is spreading faster than anything we’ve seen before.

In the United States, over a million new cases are being diagnosed every day. Data that were presented at today’s cabinet meeting reveal that here in Israel, between two and four million citizens are going to be infected in the current wave.

This is a storm that is engulfing the entire world, including countries that locked down entirely. However, even within this storm, our aim remains what it always was: to enable the economy to continue to function as far as possible, and to protect those most vulnerable – the elderly, the sick, anyone at high risk of progressing to serious illness and needing to be hospitalized.

This isn’t easy, but in the time that we bought we did our best to prepare – and these are the steps we have taken to date:

  • We have procured a supply of medications from both Pfizer and Merck for those at high risk of progressing to serious illness.
  • We have made it our uppermost priority to put in place protections for residential care homes where our most vulnerable live. Today alone, one-and-a-half million antigen tests were delivered to care homes.
  • We have prepared hospitals to admit large numbers of people.
  • We have made vaccine doses available to all children from the age of five upward.
  • We have made it possible for the elderly and those at high risk to receive a fourth vaccine dose – the first country in the world to do this, just as we were the first country in the world to bring booster shots with such high efficacy. Almost a quarter of a million people have already received a second booster shot – precisely those people who need an extra layer of protection.

When you’re standing in line, it’s hard to see the successes and all the preparations we’ve made – vital steps that will save lives. I understand the frustration, but I ask you to be understanding.

With regard to testing, when we have so many people infected, please understand that it is not possible to test everyone with a PCR test. There is simply not enough capacity at the laboratories which results in delays – and meanwhile, someone who is infected can be passing on the virus to others.

That is why we are making antigen tests available to schools and families. Today, we began to distribute tests to schools – three free tests per child and per staff member.

We are able to do this as we took care to prepare in advance and we now have a sufficient supply of tests. I am aware of the hardship, of the long lines, and the expense of the tests. Here in Israel, I am happy to note, families have a large number of children each, but naturally as a result, the expenses mount.

In the next few days, we will be taking further steps to ease the situation in this respect.

In conclusion, the Omicron variant is not something unique to Israel. The first days of each new wave of the virus are difficult and confusing, and certainly so in a situation where more new cases are diagnosed each day than we have ever seen before.

We are adapting our decisions to the behavior of the variant and to the level of contagion. I understand the confusion, the frustration, and the disruption to daily life. We are doing everything we can to make things as simple as possible, but we are all going to need a lot of patience and staying power.

Naftali Bennett