Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged world leaders at the United Nations to take risks to combat COVID-19, as he touted his plan to help Israel escape the fourth wave of the pandemic without a crippling lockdown.
Israel is “on course to escape the fourth wave without a lockdown, without further harm to our economy,” Bennett said on Monday in New York as he delivered his first-ever address to the opening session of a United Nations General Assembly.
He said that the Israeli model has three guiding principles: The country must stay open, vaccinate early, and adapt and move quickly.
“Our model, rather than locking people down in passive sleep mode, recruits them to the effort,” he said, noting how Israel asked parents to test their children before returning to school on September 1 but kept its classrooms open so far this year.
Children in Jewish Israeli schools have had less than 10 active days of school so far this semester because of the High Holy Days and Sukkot. They are expected to test again on Wednesday and return to school on Thursday. Those first few days sent more than 150,000 children into quarantine.
“Right from the start, Israelis were quick to get vaccinated,” Bennett continued, a push that was first made under his predecessor, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We are in a race against a deadly virus, and we must try to be ahead of it.
“In July, we were the first to learn that the vaccines were waning – which is what brought a surge in Delta cases,” he said. “It was then when my government decided to administer a third dose of vaccine – the booster – to the Israeli public.”
Bennett said Israel “pioneered the booster shot” instead of dragging citizens into yet another set of lockdowns, and now the country’s data show that the third shot works.
“With a third dose, you’re seven times more protected than with two doses, and 40 times more protected than without any vaccine,” he said. “I’m glad that our actions have inspired other countries to follow with the booster.”
Finally, he spoke about his decision to form a national task force that meets daily in an effort to “bypass slow governmental bureaucracy, make quick decisions and act on them right away.”
Using a reference from his hi-tech background, where start-ups are trained not to be afraid to fail, he said “trial and error is key” in managing COVID.
“Every day is a new day, with new data and new decisions,” Bennett said. “When something works, we keep it. When it doesn’t, we ditch it.”
ALTHOUGH THE National COVID-19 Experts Committee warned the government last week that its policy of relying on a third booster shot and minimal economic restrictions was not proving itself, the number of new daily and serious cases both appeared to be declining on Monday.
There were only 3,208 new cases of coronavirus diagnosed on Sunday, the Health Ministry reported shortly before Bennett’s speech – 4.26% of the roughly 80,000 people screened.
There were 671 serious cases, down an average of 30 people from previous days. Moreover, the reproduction rate or “R” has fallen below 0.8, the number that health officials have said ensures that the morbidity rate will decline.
Doctors are important, Bennett said, but pandemics can only be properly managed by a national leader.
“Running a country during a pandemic is not only about health. It’s about carefully balancing all aspects of life that are affected by corona, especially jobs and education,” Bennett said. Lockdowns, restrictions and quarantines cannot work in the long run; instead, “We need to make new discoveries, gain new insights and achieve new breakthroughs.”
The prime minister stressed that “both coronavirus and polarization can erode public trust in our institutions. Both can paralyze nations; if left unchecked, their effects on society can be devastating.
“In Israel, we faced both, and rather than accept them as a force of nature, we stood up, took action, and we can already see the horizon.
“Whoever saves one life, is as if he saved an entire world,” the prime minister concluded, quoting the Talmud. “And that is what we aspire to do.”