Israeli prime minister tells UN: Our national strategy on COVID is to recruit the public rather than lock them down
But is it a model worth following? Israel has not locked down lately, but restrictive policies bar some from public venues
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett encouraged the world to follow Israel’s model for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic: Keep the economy open, vaccinate early and recruit the public rather than lock them down.
“We are on course to escape the fourth wave without a lockdown, without further harm to our economy,” Bennett said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday.
“Lockdowns, restrictions, quarantines, cannot work in the long run. Our model, rather than locking people down in passive sleep mode, recruits them to the effort.”
Rather than implementing lockdowns – a hallmark of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s COVID policies which shuttered the nation three times – the new government has adopted stringent measures that ban unvaccinated citizens from venues without negative COVID tests.
Bennett outlined several steps that Israel has taken including the “tough" decision to offer a booster shot to all Israelis from age 12, more than a month before the FDA approved the booster for only those 65 and up.
“We faced a choice to either drag Israel into yet another set of lockdowns [and] further harm our economy and society, or to double-down on vaccines,” he said. “We chose the latter. We pioneered the booster shot.”
More than 3 million Israelis have received their third shot since the booster campaign began in late July.
“Two months in I can report that it works: With a third dose, you’re seven times more protected than with two doses, and 40 times more protected than without any vaccine,” Bennett said.
Of course, this comes after Israel experienced a harrowing surge in COVID infections late this summer presumably as the effectiveness of the first round of shots – administered between January through March – wore off.
In order to stay “open,” Israel implements a restrictive vaccine passport system by which only those with proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID in the past six months can access most public venues including restaurants (indoor and out), hotels, gyms, zoos and houses of worship, among several other facilities. Some workplaces also require a “green passport.”
The green passport is set to expire next week for anyone who is six months since their last injection or recovery from the virus and only getting a booster shot will extend its validity.
The government has recruited the public, including employers, restaurant owners and hotel receptionists, to enforce green passport rules on their employees and customers. The schools also require “recruitment” by parents in order to keep the education system open.
“For example, we asked Israeli families to carry out home-testing of their children so we can keep schools open – and indeed schools stayed open,” he said.
Testing on children was carried out at home prior to the first day of school on Sept. 1. The same will happen after the Sukkot holiday on Thursday – children from kindergarten through high school without a declaration that they tested negative at home will be turned away.
Bennett also praised the creation of a coronavirus task force that meets daily in order to “bypass bureaucracy.”
“Every day is a new day with new data and new decisions. When something works, we keep it. When something doesn’t, we ditch it,” he said.
He also recommended to the world body that the only person in a country suited to balance all aspects of a pandemic is not a doctor, but the national leader.
By averting new lockdowns, Israel has seen a decrease in its unemployment rate, but it still has not reached pre-pandemic levels. The nation remains closed to tourism after a brief stint allowing entry to pre-approved vaccinated tour groups over the summer.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.