Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Sunday evening that Israel faces a fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, calling the spread of the Omicron variant a serious threat to public health.
Bennett said that the country’s decision in November to bar entry into Israel to nearly all foreign nationals was a “bold, brave” move which “bought all of us much-needed time.”
“But not everyone understood that in real-time. There were some people who thought we were exaggerating.”
“I’m happy that my peers in the government understood that we need to buy time and keep the [Omicron] variant away from Israel as long as possible.”
But, Bennett continued, “The time we bought is now running out. The Omicron variant is already in Israel - from kindergartens to the Knesset. And it is spreading fast."
“The numbers still aren’t high, but this is an extremely transmissible variant with a reproductive rate that has it doubling every two to three days.”
“We can say that the fifth wave is starting.”
“I’m not saying this to frighten or to create panic. We’ve passed that stage already. We’ve learned from our experiences in the four previous waves.”
“I also have identified some weariness in the public. That is understandable and natural.”
The Prime Minister said that his government’s goals for combating this new wave included maintaining the economy and education system “as much as we can” while containing the virus’ spread, “delaying the rate of spread and with the time we’re buying, to vaccinate the children as quickly as possible.”
“A reasonable, fair parent who got all three doses of the vaccine, is obliged to also protect their children. Don’t leave your kids unprotected and vulnerable to the Omicron that is coming.”
The government is set to release new COVID regulations, Bennett continued, adding that until then, Israelis should social-distance, avoid any mass-gatherings, and double-down on the use of face masks.
Workers able to carry out their jobs from home should be allowed to work remotely, Bennett also said, urging employers to find ways to cut the number of people in shared work spaces.
The Israeli government is set to vote on new possible COVID restrictions Sunday evening, including a ban on traveling to the United States.
The new restrictions come even as South Africa, the epicenter of the first reported outbreak of the Omicron variant, mulls ratcheting down contact tracing and quarantines for Omicron cases.
On Sunday, South Africa's Ministerial Advisory Committee wrote to Health Minister Joe Phaahla, advising him to drop the use of quarantine and contact tracing.
The committee cited both the mildness of Omicron cases and the difficulty in preventing the variant's spread, particularly when most cases go unreported.
"Crucially, it appears that efforts to eliminate and/or contain the virus are not likely to be successful. Therefore, it is critical that the role of containment efforts like quarantine and contact tracing is re-evaluated."
"In addition, among the small proportion of symptomatic cases, testing is far from universal, since patients may not seek testing when their symptoms are mild and when testing would be burdensome and expensive. Furthermore, the SARS-CoV-2 test sensitivity is suboptimal, sometimes leading to false negative results."