Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the nation in a special message on Tuesday evening that he is doing his best to keep the economy going despite the ominous spread of the coronavirus.
Although he described the rapidly rising number of new omicron cases as an “unstoppable storm” of infection, he also called for calm.
“There’s no place for panic. There’s no place for hysteria. We will get through this together,” Bennett said, asserting that the government is handling a once-in-a-lifetime crisis “in the right and responsible way.”
He fended off renewed calls for lockdowns to contain the pandemic, which has been breaking records for new cases every day this week.
“Omicron is a variant that infects more than all the other variants put together…but the market will stay open as much as possible and the economy will still be working,” he said at a live press conference ahead of a meeting of the COVID cabinet later on Tuesday.
“I don’t want to see people losing their jobs, closing their businesses,” he said. He called on people to work from home as much as possible, and also notes that the state will compensate for quarantine days, including for the self-employed, as part of a new initiative agreed to by the Finance Ministry.
“Lockdowns don’t work,” he says, citing the experience of other countries where lockdowns did not mitigate the spread of the highly contagious variant.
Alongside that goal, the prime minister says, are the goals of protecting the elderly and most at-risk populations as well as children. Bennett says the rules for schools will be the same as for adults, and therefore many children will enter quarantine because many are not vaccinated.
The prime minister spoke empathetically about the hours-long lines at testing stations around the country. “The lines are long, I understand, I hate standing in line myself, I know how frustrating it is,” and advised that people under 60 should refrain from PCR tests.
Bennett also struck back at opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, accusing him of acting “unpatriotically” by issuing a video mocking the government’s difficulties in coping with omicron.
“It’s going to be unpleasant here [in the next few weeks],” Bennett said. “We’re in a situation that happens once in an era… the opposition is trying to create chaos and hysteria. It’s unjustified. We’re managing this better than almost anywhere in the world.”
After Bennett’s speech, the Likud party gave its own version of current events:
“Naftali lost control over COVID, abandoned the citizens of Israel to their fate and sent them to buy unreliable home testing kits out of pocket,” a statement read.
“Naftali also abandoned the business owners and the self-employed while we took care of generous aid that saved them from bankruptcy and kick-started the Israeli economy in spite of COVID,” referring to the government’s handling of the previous covid waves during the Netanyahu premiership.
Likud MK Miri Regev issued a statement rejecting the prime minister’s approach:
“Bennett, may I remind you how many people were killed in tsunami tragedies? You keep on absorbing the losses, so let’s get this straight: Your role is not to ‘identify’ with the long lines for tests or to issue recommendations. Your role is to make decisions and enforce them.
“But no one is listening to you – not within the government, and not among the general public either. Take responsibility, and resign,” Regev was quoted by Arutz Sheva as saying.