Israel is “in an arms race between vaccination and mutation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Davos World Economic Forum, held online this year.
“All the virus mutations you see, you are two weeks too late when you spot them. And the new ones, you won’t know about for a few more weeks. That’s why we had to close down flights.”
Israel closed its airports Monday for at least a week, the first country in the world to do so.
The country has vaccinated 82% of the population over age 60, so far, and aims to reach 95%, Netanyahu told Børge Brende, president of the WEF. “There will be more [mutations] in the future. That means we have to race as fast as we can.”
Statistically, it’s just a question of time before there is a strain that the current vaccines do not work with, he added.
Netanyahu expressed hope that Israel can serve as a “world laboratory for herd immunity”. He added that “Israel can serve as a global test case to understand what is the efficacy of using… inoculation to open up economies.”
Asked about Israel’s dominance in cybersecurity, Netanyahu replied, “the most important investment you can make in cyber is [teaching] mathematics.” He noted that Israel is moving its cybersecurity and intelligence units to the south of the country to allow an ecosystem to develop around it. “We are putting everything within walking distance, to create an environment where ideas can ferment.”
Taking a question from Merck CEO Stefan Oschmann about what Israel could teach other nations about using technology to solve its problems, Netanyahu said you need two things: education and free markets. “You have to take risks,” he said. “We invest a huge amount of national resources on maintaining a giant intelligence service. We put our best minds in these disciplines and then they go off and start their own businesses.”
Netanyahu stressed his focus on deregulation, saying that he meets with a committee every two weeks to slash bureaucracy. “We were second to last in the OECD on regulatory obstacles, and we moved up 18 places,” he said. “The best move for countries is to remove bureaucracy.”
On the topic of water resources, Netanyahu noted that while Israel’s natural resources are very limited, “We now have more water than we need,” due to technology.
“We have one of the largest desalinization plants in the world, and we are using solar technology, he said. “You can use technology to overcome the world’s water problems, and we are sharing it gladly, because as coronavirus has shown us, we are all in the same boat.”
As Khadim Al Darei of the UAE’s Al Dahra Holding asked Netanyahu about Israel’s agriculture and water tech, Brende noted that a year earlier a CEO from the UAE wouldn’t have asked Netanyahu a question at all.
Netanyahu said that the Abraham Accords represent “a new kind of peace that is changing the relationship between Arabs and Israelis and Arabs and Jews.” We barely signed the documents and tens of thousands of Israelis went to Dubai, and business relationships are blooming, he added.