Bennett dismisses COVID restrictions, at odds with health officials

Bennett lowers rhetoric but continues to rule out restrictions insisted on by health officials.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

After attacking Israeli health officials in his UN speech, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sought to lower the rhetoric on Wednesday, saying he “greatly respects” the work of the medical community. But he insisted he would not approve restrictions sought by the health officials to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I greatly respect the medical experts and value their professional work, but placing new restrictions on Israel’s citizens is not the policy of this government,” Bennett told Israeli reporters in New York as he prepared to return to Israel. “Despite the pressures, we will refrain at this stage from placing new restrictions on the population.”

“The policy of this government is to keep Israel as open as possible, the economy as open as possible, alongside targeted efforts toward the unvaccinated and infection hotspots,” the Prime Minister added.

Tensions between the political leadership and health officials burst into the open during Bennett’s speech to the UN General Assembly on Monday. Health officials fumed after Bennett told the UN, “While doctors are an important input, they cannot be the ones running the national initiative. The only person that has a good vantage point of all considerations is the national leader of any given country.”

The Health Ministry has called for limits on public gatherings.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said that while he does not favor restrictions, Bennett’s remarks were “unnecessary and unfortunate.” He also blamed the previous government for the predicament of the hospitals lacking resources.

“The healthcare system and hospitals have been starved by [former prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [former Health Minister Yaacov] Litzman,” said Horowitz, who was visiting Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center on Sunday. “They have suffered from neglect and deliberate abandonment for many years. There is a shortage of beds, manpower and resources. I am working to fix this, to bring more permanent staff to the system and a change in the health budget.”

In particular, hospital administrators say they lack the specialized staff and equipment needed to care for critical COVID patients.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said he was “saddened” Bennett highlighted disagreements rather than “the great dedication of medical teams in their daily work to save lives under great strain.”

In a phone call with the directors of Israel’s four health care providers on Wednesday, Bennett insisted that increasing vaccinations and enforcing Green Pass regulations was the most effective way to combat COVID. He also told the HMOs to especially increase the Arab sector’s lagging vaccination rates.

More than one million Israeli Green Passes will expire on Sunday following a requirement for a COVID booster shot six months after receiving the first two jabs.

Meanwhile, the head of vaccine producer Moderna predicted that the pandemic would be over within a year.

Stephane Bancel, CEO of the Massachusetts-based Moderna told Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung, “If you look at the industry-wide expansion of production capacities over the past six months, enough doses should be available by the middle of next year so that everyone on this earth can be vaccinated. Boosters should also be possible to the extent required.”

He added, “Those who do not get vaccinated will immunize themselves naturally, because the Delta variant is so contagious. In this way we will end up in a situation similar to that of the flu. You can either get vaccinated and have a good winter, or you don’t do it and risk getting sick and possibly even ending up in hospital.”

According to Health Ministry figures released on Wednesday, 2,386 new infections were diagnosed on Tuesday. That brings Israel’s number of active cases to 53,994, of which 659 are considered serious. More than 3.2 million Israelis have been administered a third dose of the COVID vaccine.

Overall, 7,692 Israelis have died of COVID since the pandemic began.