Israel’s official coronavirus advisory panel on Wednesday took the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to task for what it called a “dangerous” approach to curbing the current fourth wave of COVID-19 infections.
An unnamed government official then fired back in remarks to Channel 12 by accusing the panel, and in particular Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services, of being unreliable and having an “agenda.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, the panel of experts told Bennett’s cabinet that the present policies for combating high infection rates in Israel were not working, and that a change of course was required.
Israel has been logging over 8,000 new coronavirus infections daily for over a month. But the government has focused its attention on the number of people hospitalized in serious condition, which has remained relatively stable. Bennett has at the same time been aggressively pushing the line that administering a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot to the general public will bring the crisis to an end.
The experts on Wednesday disagreed.
“The approach of relying only on the booster (3rd dose) with a minimum of restrictions on the economy has so far not proven itself,” they warned in remarks carried by Channel 12.
Their recommendation is that the government immediately do what it should have months ago, namely reimpose certain restrictions on the public, such as limiting the size of gatherings. They were also in favor of canceling the “Green Passport” of any vaccinated Israeli who has not taken the booster shot, something Bennett has already said he would do from October 1.
Bennett’s government, for its part, has been doing everything possible not to reimpose social restrictions or to harm the economy, despite rising infection rates. As such, the government’s reaction to the advisory panel’s criticism was harsh.
An unnamed senior government official who spoke to Channel 12 called the panel “prophets of doom,” and singled out Dr. Alroy-Preis: “Her conduct has crossed every line. She enjoys sowing panic in the media. The cabinet ministers do not regard her as competent. She has an agenda and is unprofessional.”
Many, however, have likewise accused Bennett and his cabinet of having an agenda in regards to its handling of the present crisis.
When the new government took over from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it inherited a situation in which Israel’s infection rate had dropped almost to zero. But this came at a cost. Netanyahu did impose severe social restrictions, including several nationwide lockdowns, which Bennett at the time slammed as reckless and short-sighted.
Given this backdrop, it is politically risky, if not impossible, for Bennett to now adopt an approach that in any way mirrors that of Netanyahu, the experts be damned.