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Israel conducts first-ever pandemic drill in anticipation of potential 'new, lethal COVID-19 variant'

"War games" format will test nation's ability to implement lockdowns, testing and vaccination against potential deadly epidemic

Hospital staff wearing safety gear as they work in the COVID-19 ward at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, Oct. 14, 2021. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel is conducting a “war-game” drill today “to test nationwide preparations for the outbreak of a new, lethal, COVID-19 variant,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Media Advisor.

“The drill will be conducted in the format of a war-game and will consist of a senior-level, inter-organizational simulation that tests the national management of a new strain, the ‘Omega’ strain, that has yet to be discovered in the State of Israel,” the statement said.

In what Israel says is the first-of-its-kind drill in the world, military and government agencies will simulate aspects of pandemic management such as restricting movement; implementing quarantines, lockdowns and curfews; and carrying out mass testing and vaccination.

On Oct. 18, 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hosted an international pandemic exercise called Event 201. The massive drill “was a 3.5-hour pandemic tabletop exercise that simulated a series of dramatic, scenario-based facilitated discussions, confronting difficult, true-to-life dilemmas associated with response to a hypothetical, but scientifically plausible, pandemic.”

The current COVID-19 pandemic began just months later, at the beginning of 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also offers online courses and drill guidelines for preparedness in response to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The Israeli exercise is taking place at the National Management Center in Jerusalem.

“In order to simulate a real situation, the exercise will be held in three sessions that will simulate the passage of time between the various scenarios,” the statement said.

Israel is currently experiencing a lull after the fourth wave of COVID swept the country late this summer. With booster shots offered to the entire eligible population, the country managed to tamp down infection rates and drastically reduce the number of patients hospitalized in serious condition.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that while Israel has beaten the fourth wave and is on its way “toward exiting the Delta variant … we are always looking ahead and preparing for the continuation of the campaign.”

“We are not ‘closing up shop.’ Neither are we closing down the management systems and the order of battle against the virus,” Bennett continued. “On the contrary, we are continuing to hold drills and to challenge ourselves. While the situation of coronavirus in the world is deteriorating, Israel is safe and protected. In order to maintain this, and to safeguard the continuity of normal life, we must continue to closely monitor the situation and prepare for any scenario."

Here are details of the drill: 

The drill will deal with several aspects and will test the professional systems in extreme situations over the stages of the exercise:

  • Policy aspects: Restricting gatherings, restricting movement, quarantine policy, event plans (holidays, etc.), selected or nationwide lockdowns/curfews and tourism. 

  • Health aspects: Monitoring, follow-up, oversight and warnings during the development of a new and dangerous variant, continuity, testing the protection provided by vaccines, epidemiological investigations, tests, hospital capacity, designated procurement, the carrying out of mass-testing, vaccines (booster doses, other vaccines, etc.)

  • Legal aspects: Local or regional lockdowns/curfews, restrictions policy, approval of designated regulations

  • Economic aspects: Assisting the national effort, economic support for the population

  • Public security aspects: Enforcement of quarantines, local lockdowns/curfews, enforcement of regulations

  • The education system: Safeguarding the health of pupils, reducing the size of classes, closing schools in outbreak centers, changing education plans (capsules, remote learning)

  • Ben-Gurion International Airport and the border crossings: Departure and arrival policy, control, selective closings.

  • Public diplomacy and media: Informing the public and increasing transparency, responding to discourse on the internet, simulating the National Public Diplomacy Directorate

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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