Photo: Flash90

Israel holds COVID drill

The day-long “Omega Exercise, named for a fictitious strain of the coronavirus, was conducted in preparedness to ensure the country is equipped to cope with all future scenarios.

By Erin Viner

“Israel is safe and protected. In order to maintain this, and to safeguard the continuity of normal life, we must continue to closely monitor the situation and prepare for any scenario,” said a statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Civilian and military leaders underwent simulated mass testing, hospital admissions and curfews yesterday to test the nation’s capabilities. No mention of readiness for possible eruption of violence with enemy states during the potential outbreak of a lethal new COVID-19 variant was made in the government statement.

As part of the drill, Prime Minister Bennett was briefly sequestered with senior aides at the National Management Center in the Jerusalem hills. The war-time bunker was constructed over a decade ago out of rising concern about Iranian atomic development, in addition to missile attacks by Islamist terrorists in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The nuclear blast-proof complex was also used in March of 2020 to coordinate initial response when the pandemic first hit the country.

Findings from yesterday’s exercise will be shared with Israel’s allies in the international community.

While health officials see no indication that a new strain of the virus is imminent, they advise the public to remain vigilant.

Israel battled the 4th wave of the coronavirus with a world-leading vaccination campaign including a “Green Pass” system of digital certification, mask wearing and restrictions on public gatherings to keep the economy and schools open, contrary to 3 nationwide lockdowns earlier.

More than 4 million Israelis have taken booster shots, which in August were approved for anyone who had their second Pfizer jab at least 5 months before.

The Health Ministry is now expected to approve Wednesday’s recommendation by the government’s Coronavirus Cabinet advisory board to administer the Pfizer / BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to children between the ages of 5 to 11, with the first roll likely to begin later this month. Pfizer’s clinical trials show 90.7% efficacy against the coronavirus for children in this age group.

Israel greenlighted inoculations for the 12-16 last June.

The announcement follows lengthy consultations between the Coronavirus Cabinet and health experts in recent weeks.

The children would receive the United States Food and Drug Administration-approved dose of 10-micrograms, while until now those aged 12 and older have received 30 microgram jabs.

About 1.2 million children aged 5-11 are among Israel’s overall 9.4 million population – prominent health authorities to believe “herd immunity” cannot be achieved without inoculating them.

Meanwhile, Israeli President Isaac Herzog welcomed senior leaders of the major religions in the Holy Land to issue a joint call for mass vaccinations against COVID-19.

The event was convened in collaboration with the Jerusalem Impact Vaccination Initiative (JVI) as a measure “to share lessons from Israel’s unique vaccine drive with the world, by means of professional and interfaith collaborations,” said a statement from the President’s Spokesperson obtained by TV7.

Participating in the historic summit at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem were the Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, President of the Supreme Rabbinical Court Rabbi David Lau, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, Latin Patriarch Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, President of the Shari’a Court of Appeals Sheikh Abed Elhakim Samara, Druze Community Leader Sheikh Mouafaq Tarrif, Secretary-General of the Baháʼí Movement in Israel Dr. David Rutstein, Head of Muslim Department at the Interior Ministry of Interior Sheikh Ziad Abu Moch, Inspector of Imams at the Interior Ministry Sheikh Jamal Al Obra and Head of the Greek Catholic Church in Haifa and the Galilee Archbishop Dr. Yosef Mata.

“The sanctity of life is a supreme value for religions and the saving of the life of any human being—all created in the image of God—is the greatest religious obligation of all,” declared religious leaders in a joint proclamation.

They added that, “Together with prayers to the Almighty, we call on everyone to be vaccinated as soon as possible. The licensed vaccines that have been approved by the most important professional regulatory bodies in the world are highly effective and safe, proven by the notable number of over 3 billion vaccinated people worldwide, and have led to a drastic reduction of COVID-19 infections. In addition, we call on everyone to continue abiding by all the preventive measures demanded by science and medicine, in each place according to the situation.”

“There is no replacement for religious leadership, which has an immense influence on the public,” said President Herzog, underscoring that “Interfaith cooperation is hugely powerful. I think that the fact that this fantastic call is coming out of the Holy Land truly sets an example and serves as a model.”

Saying that it is critical to offer full support of the vaccination campaign, the Israeli President called on all who attended to “forcefully condemn anyone who attacks medical teams or healthcare workers.”

Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and COVID Coordinator Professor Salman Zarka also attended the event.

“COVID does not respect borders. Neither between states, nor communities, nor classes, nor religions. The success of the fight against COVID depends directly on religious leaders standing hand-in-hand, and all along we have seen responsible leadership that sees Pikuach Nefesh (the saving of lives) and the value of human life as a leading ideal,” said Minister Horowitz, adding, “I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart, leaders from all the religions and denominations in Israel, for your central role in the national and world struggle against COVID.”

JVI founder Dr. Inon Schenker observed that, “President Isaac Herzog is the first head of state in the world to underscore the role of religious leaders in collaboration with public health experts and authorities to combat COVID-19. Today’s declaration and seminar emphasize Jerusalem’s experience in vaccinations, which countries and organizations around the world will now enjoy.”