"There you go again" (candidate Ronald Reagan, summer of 1980, as Reagan caught President Carter making a misstatement during a debate before the presidential election).
And here WE go again: the Omicron Special is leaving the station, heading full-tilt to a collision with Israel's tourism industry- a collision engineered by PM Bennett and MOH Horowitz.
As of this writing (Sunday, November 28 11:30 am), the Ministry of Health has identified 7 cases of the Omicron mutant of the virus causing Covid-19. It turns out that this virus was found in a tourist from Malawi who entered Israel last week, and took a bus to Eilat. On that bus were 28 other passengers; 16 of them have been identified via Egged Bus Company records. Therefore, the MOH is hunting for the other 12 passengers on that bus. Of those 29 people, seven have been found to be infected with this Omicron virus.
What is known about this virus? During this month, Omicron has spread rapidly throughout several provinces in South Africa . Since yesterday, there have been reports of the variant throughout Africa, and it has been spread by travelers to the UK, Italy, Germany, and especially the Netherlands (where dozens of South African tourists have spread the virus).
What is not known? Is the Omicron virus more dangerous than the existing, dominant Delta variant of Covid-19? Unknown. Omicron does have many more spike-protein amino-acid changes than Delta. However, even Dr. Ash, our Corona czar, admits that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines probably will provide adequate protection against Omicron. There is even a report (Nov. 27, 2021) from a Dr. Coetzee of South Africa, in The Telegraph (available on a simple Google search), that the disease caused by Omicron is a mild version of Covid-19. That is anecdotal, but no large-scale research is available.
Despite Drs. Ash and Coetzee, and despite answers to the above questions, Drs. Bennett and Horror-witz are shooting from the hip, based on Ministry of Health fears. Indeed, the dynamic duo were correct when they advocated (without substantiating statistics) vaccinating Israel's under-65-year-olds; this smart move, taken in August, stopped the 4th surge of Covid in Israel, by October 15.
This time, however, they've gone too far. Indeed, they blew it when they closed Israel to tourism on July 1, killing the tourism industry for the entire summer tourist season, and for the Jewish holidays. As President Reagan said: "And there they go again". They've now shut down the Israeli tourist industry just in time for the Hannukah and Christmas tourist peaks- and with inadequate information to warrant this shutdown:
Since all cases originated in Africa, then the prudent move would be to shut the door to travelers from Africa, or who arrive from 3rd countries but were previously in Africa. There is simply not enough known about Omicron to warrant the draconian measure of a total prohibition of entry to tourists.
One has to keep in mind the mini-panic our MOH engaged in two weeks ago over the dreaded "Tanzanian variant"-which turned out to be a dud, no danger at all. Omicron could turn out to be just as harmless, or mild, or totally susceptible to the mRNA vaccines (as Dr. Ash has surmised). However, even if Omicron is dangerous, a shutdown of African tourism is warranted- a total shutdown is not. Not at this point.
One really has to wonder about Bennett and Horowitz. Panicky behavior over the new strain of Covid has now followed their panic over climate change. They sent a bloated delegation to COP26, the UN climate change extravaganza.
I ask readers to compare the Covid pandemic to climate change policy. The results of the Covid: 5 million documented dead worldwide; 700,000 dead Americans; 8,000 dead Israelis. The results of climate change: arguably more forest fires, which happen anyway; damage to sea corals; and in the US alone, myriad unemployed oil, pipeline and coal workers, as gasoline prices soar, and as China and Russia continue to pollute while they produce and profit, laughing at the West, all the way to their banks.
I am no climate scientist, but it seems clear that the results show that human poverty and suffering from climate change are trumped by the suffering of sea coral; and results show that, on the other hand, the Covid pandemic is a real danger that must not be underestimated.
But it must not be overestimated, either; and that may be occurring with Bennett and Horowitz's policy on Omicron.
Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch is a physician residing in Beit El who works at Hadassah Hospital. He recently completed Rabbinical ordination of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel through an adult study program at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav