Health Minister Says New Variant Under Control, No Panic Needed

On Sunday, Nitzan Horowitz, the Israeli Health Minister, said that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus was ‘under control’ in the country. This was after the government imposed a complete ban on tourists to Israel and once more gave the greenlight for the Shin Bet security service’s controversial program for tracking infected citizens. These measures were put into effect as the second case of the Omicron variant was diagnosed in the country. Horowitz said that they had known that a new variant would come sooner or later and due to their enforcement and defensive measures, they had been able to identify it quickly. 

He said that Israel was one of the first countries to find the new variant and isolate it. He went on to say that it was under control and there wasn’t any need for people to panic or fear. Horowitz also defended the tracking of the cases of the variant by the Shin Bet security service, while sharing his misgivings. He said that tracking was a big problem for him, but he wanted Shin Bet to deal with the security matters instead of civilian ones. He added that this implementation of the tracking service was temporary, limited and was under a great deal of oversight. 

Horowitz said that he had agreed to support the move because he was responsible for listening to the experts and acceding their request. A similar plan had also been implemented in Israel in the early days of the pandemic. Horowitz added that they would only use the tracking for finding out who had come in contact with the infected patients of the Omicron variant. He also added that they would continue to review the need of using the system on a daily basis. The Health Minister also urged the population to get vaccinated and said that it was critical, particularly when there is a new variant. 

He said waiting to get vaccinated was a serious mistake. He also addressed the parents of children who hadn’t gotten the shot, since they became available for children between the 5 and 11 age group in the previous week. Horowitz said that vaccinations are the best way of protecting against the new variants of the coronavirus. The head of public health at the Health Ministry, Sharon Alroy-Preis said that Israeli officials had taken action promptly because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in South Africa, where cases had gone from 200 to 2,000 within 10 days. 

She went on to say that vaccinated people in South Africa had only suffered from light symptoms, which indicated that the shots were effective against the new mutation. She added that their concern was that there were still many people in Israel who hadn’t gotten vaccinated. There were nearly three million people in this category, which is about one-third of the population. Nachman Ash, the Director-General of the Health Ministry, stated that after declaring most African countries ‘red’, the officials were unable to decide if they should do the same to others that have had the new infection. 

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