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Netanyahu Promises Normality and Issues Apocalyptic COVID Warnings

For the moment, at least, the spread of the coronavirus in Israel is a little less serious than the heads of the health system tend to depict it.

The insistence on focusing on the R factor is misleading to some degree.

With a very large percentage of the leading risk group already vaccinated, the R factor, which examines how many carriers were located in Israel compared to the previous week, is less relevant.

In practice, a few more carriers were identified, but that’s also the result of more tests. A more important data point is the rate of positive results from all those tested, and it has been decreasing steadily for almost a month – this week it was about 5 percent.

As usual, things could change for the worse. A series of developments might cause a rise in morbidity in the coming period. The easing of restrictions in the economy, the partial resumption of schooling, a certain complacency that takes hold of those who are vaccinated, consequences of the mass Purim parties held by the secular and Haredi populations alike, and the surge of morbidity among the Arab population will all make their contribution. But they cannot completely offset the weight of the data that are accumulating at the other, positive pole: More than 60 percent of Israelis have already received at least the first shot of the vaccination or have recovered from the COVID-19, and among the 50-and-over group the figure leaps to 90 percent. In the near future, barring the appearance in Israel of a new variant, immune to the vaccine, the coronavirus will have quite limited space to spread.

This picture is very well known to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose political fate (and in its wake, his judicial fate) is closely linked to the situation of the virus.

From the moment he persuaded the CEO of Pfizer, Dr. Albert Bourla, to move up a massive supply of vaccines to Israel last December, Netanyahu has pinned all his hopes on the vaccine.

Likely he realizes full well how faulty his management of the crisis was – unfocused and lacking any ability to enforce the regulations in population groups whose leaders did as they pleased.

According to statements he made at the start of the vaccination drive, Netanyahu assumed that the mass inoculations would extricate Israel from the virus’ lethal grip before the March 23 election.

Likud’s whole campaign was based on that premise, and that’s why Bourla’s visit to Israel was timed for next week, the excuse being the desire to discuss the establishment of a plant to manufacture the vaccine in Israel.

But the highly infectious British variant disrupted the plans. While the masses were being vaccinated, many others (including a few of those who got the vaccine) were infected by the British variant and more recently by the South African strain. At the same time, a decline in willingness to be vaccinated has occurred in the past two weeks.

So Israel finds itself in a singular position: first in the world in the rate of vaccinating the population, but at the same time one of the world’s leaders in the rate of the spread of the disease.

Along with the blow to Netanyahu’s celebrations, his boasting and promises also sound rather empty. He was compelled to go ahead with the easing of the restrictions in the economy, set for next week, because he generated public expectations – but he has to slow down the pace for fear of losing control over the spread of the virus.

The problem will be further exacerbated in election week. The Passover seder takes place four days after Election Day, and in January Netanyahu expressed the hope that this year it could be held with the extended family. That’s a promise he’ll have a hard time keeping.

What’s to be done now? Declare a fourth lockdown in advance for seder night, which his political rivals will pounce on as proof of his failure, precisely in the decisive days of the election campaign? The country’s coronavirus czar, Prof. Nachman Ash, hinted at that possibility this week. Not surprisingly, there was no response from the prime minister. From his perspective, that’s bad news.

In the absence of sufficiently convincing data about the stemming of COVID-19 in Israel, Netanyahu went back to dancing with the virus. On the one hand, promises of vaccines and a return to normalcy just around the corner; on the other hand, warnings of a horrific disaster liable to befall us.

This week, for example, he invented a previously unknown need for 36 million doses of the vaccine in the year ahead (almost four shots for each Israeli), even though scientists haven’t yet concluded that additional vaccination is needed, let alone four doses.

This imagined figure is already rooted as an absolute truth in the declarations and interviews of Likud MKs.

As with the Iranian nuclear project, Netanyahu is inflating an existing threat to emphasize that he alone can stop it.

It’s probably related to his well-known tendency to engage in scare tactics, but it also stems from an understanding of what’s troubling the voters. If you don’t behave like good little children, the coronavirus will come back. And what do good little children do? They vote for Bibi.

The polls, in the meantime, don’t look great.

The bar of a right-wing coalition of at least 61 MKs that will work to halt Netanyahu’s trial still looks a long way from being attained. The evidentiary stage of the trial is scheduled to begin in April.

This week Netanyahu’s son, Yair, was ordered to pay 500,000 shekels (about $152,000) in damages in a libel suit, in which he did not mount a defense.

In addition, Likud backbenchers regularly cause Netanyahu harm and electoral damage. In the past, it was possible to heat up the Iranian arena to a degree in the wake of political distress of this sort. Today, though, that is somewhat harder to do, given the cold front with the Biden administration.

Source: Amos Harel – HAARETZ