Opinion: As Israel slips out of its fourth infection wave, it seems the government is too eager to open the country’s skies, risking new variants coming in by allowing tourists from virus hotspots to enter pretty much unabated
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (Photo: Marc Israel Salem)
The timing of the Health Ministry’s announcement on Tuesday that homebound Israeli travelers and inbound tourists will be allowed to present an up-to-date rapid antigen coronavirus test to enter the country — this despite the tests’ debatable efficacy — seems questionable at best.
Many countries in Europe — among them Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and others — are seeing their coronavirus morbidity breaking new heights, with each person returning from there not only a potential carrier of the virus and its variants, but more disturbingly, also of mutations yet unknown.
However, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thinks this is the perfect time to start boosting tourism to Israel.
This move joins another decision made last week to allow groups of foreign tourists to enter the country even if they have not been vaccinated with the COVID vaccine booster shot and are fewer than six months out from their last jab.
It should be noted that the state of Israel does not recognize its citizens as “fully vaccinated” unless they have received their booster.
Both of these steps, which the government boasts of as successes, mainly show Bennett’s dangerous indifference to the pandemic.
Tourists from coronavirus hotspots can now enter the country pretty much unabated now they’re exempt from one of the most crucial tools in the battle against the disease.
Israel last week held a national exercise simulating an outbreak of a lethal new COVID-19 variant.
With all due respect to drills (which are mainly PR stunts at the end of the day), it doesn’t seem like the government is really making any serious effort to prevent the entry of this hypothesized mutation. In reality, they are only fast-tracking its arrival.
The single reason behind these outrageous decisions, like similar ones made before, is economic.
The Finance Ministry is not interested in compensating businesses affected by the crisis, as you would usually do in the event of a global pandemic, so the government is willing to take blatantly irrational risks to keep the economy open.
Bennett argues that Israel dealt with the Delta variant responsibly and without lockdowns, but the truth is that the prime minister took a massive gamble with our lives, and somehow, with a lot of luck, got out of it relatively unharmed.
With Israel facing growing risks that our prime minister is willing to take on without hesitation, the past week showed the first possible signs that the fourth infection wave might have not completely faded away and that we might be on the cusp of a new one.
Confirmed cases continue to climb, along with the virus’ R reproductive number, which edges closer and closer to 1.
Ahead of the start of the vaccination campaign for children aged 5-11, the disease is mainly centered in schools and kindergartens.
Most of these unvaccinated kids become ill, return home and run the risk of infecting others.
Add to this the warning news that by Sheba Medical Center that they have witnessed a decline in the number of antibodies in people who had received the booster, this despite claims by politicians that the third jab is impenetrable.
While the hospital stressed that this is a small number of people, it further reinforces worries that there is no magical solution to the disease.
Either way, Israel’s leaders must wake up from their indifference and make sure that the grim realities of the past nearly two years do not return.