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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

COVID-19 litmus test will determine if Bennett keeps his seat – analysis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett proved Thursday that he has grown up as a leader alongside the coronavirus.

A year ago, when Bennett sat in the opposition, he grabbed the coronavirus by the reins and rode it into the limelight, developing a well-developed reputation as a professional able to manage the pandemic, rather than simply being another far-right politician.

Bennett worked hard to show that he could be a universal figure, forming a civil coronavirus cabinet and publishing a book on the subject.

Even just a few months ago, during the talks to form the government, when the majority of Israelis had gotten two jabs of the miracle vaccine, Bennett’s coronavirus obsession factored little into Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s decision to work together. The coronavirus was a distant afterthought as former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu led people to believe that Israel had beaten COVID-19 forever.

Two weeks after he took office, the danger of the Delta variant became apparent. Since then, Bennett has been trying to keep the country calm and make decisions based on data and expert advice that will enable Israelis to live long-term alongside COVID-19.

The measured decisions made on Thursday were a good example of being cognizant of the data; there are only 19 patients in critical condition, including two on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).

Rather than slap seven days of isolation on every returnee from abroad, the coronavirus cabinet ruled to add more countries to the list of places Israelis are banned from traveling to and to reinforce the need for testing.

Moreover, the coronavirus cabinet was careful to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers to “incentivize” and convey the message that vaccination is still paramount and rewarded, even though health officials know the virus can still be transferred by vaccinated people.

Furthermore, instead of effectively banning hundreds of thousands of children under the age of 12 and their parents from any large summer event or activities because the children cannot get inoculated, the coronavirus cabinet said the Green Pass system does not apply to them. This was also likely because the cabinet understood that such a rule would be nearly impossible to enforce, and a rule is only as good as it can be followed.

Finally, Bennett maintained the more stringent Happy Badge policy, which requires children to be tested, knowing that in previous waves, mass indoor and outdoor weddings and other celebrations became super-spreader events.

He also did not give in to Netanyahu’s trolling video in which he tried to push Bennett to buy millions of vaccines for a third booster shot, which the Health Ministry director-general says is still unneeded. Moreover, he and his staff totally ignored the video a week after Bennett went head-to-head with the opposition leader in the Knesset.

In its statement after the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office credited Bennett’s entire week of in-depth meetings with health experts in Israel and around the world, the health minister and the professionals who advise them.

Coronavirus is proving itself to be here for the long haul.

Bennett’s continuing to allow Israelis to live under the shadow of COVID-19 could determine the prime minister’s staying power.

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