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How Israel should ‘treat’ Omicron

It’s time for the Jewish state to stop fighting the “previous war" against COVID-19.

A child receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Jerusalem, Dec. 30, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
A child receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Jerusalem, Dec. 30, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Farley Weiss
Farley Weiss is chairman of the Israel Heritage Foundation (IHF) and former president of the National Council of Young Israel.

The famous saying that “generals prepare to fight their last war, rather than their next one” is apt in the context of Israel’s response to the onset of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Despite findings from South Africa, where the strain was first detected, that though it’s much more contagious than the Delta strain, it’s not nearly as deadly, Israel adopted harsh measures, among them the closure of its borders.

The peer-reviewed study, “Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant: Unique features and their impact on pre-existing antibodies,” shows that the vaccines and boosters are ineffective against Omicron. Though Israel possessed this knowledge early on, it is so far still requiring those entering the country to receive booster shots if more than six months has passed since their second dose of the vaccine. It is also conditioning visits to many locations within the country on receipt of a “Green Pass.”

Such restrictions, which in any case go against science, hurt the country. Israel should follow two examples: that of the U.S. state of Florida and that of the European Union.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was one of the first leaders to open up his state’s economy, while prioritizing the elderly for vaccines.  He also shunned masks for kids in school, as studies regularly showed that infection rates were not different for those children wearing masks from those not wearing them. He also passed a law against vaccine mandates, which are absurdly still in place in many states, despite vaccination’s being ineffective against Omicron.

Meanwhile, adapting to the Omicron situation, the European Union decided to remove all travel restrictions, as of Feb. 1, for passengers who test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure. Nor will the E.U. require a negative test for those who were vaccinated or had recovered from the virus within the previous nine months. The expected result of the change is that tourism to the E.U. will reach 90% of what it was before the onset of the pandemic two years ago.

This makes sense. If a vaccine isn’t effective, there’s no point in forcing or even persuading people to receive it. Tourism is more important for Israel than for other countries. In addition to being a key industry, it is vital where international public opinion is concerned.

Israel needs to stop viewing COVID-19 as a life-threatening illness. It should open the country up to unrestricted tourism; cease requiring a vaccine that no longer works; and should end mask mandates on El Al, its national carrier.

Past mistakes can’t be undone, but compounding them by not changing bad policies will only make things worse. It’s Omicron, not Delta, which Israel’s “generals” are battling now. It’s time for them to stop fighting the “last war.”

Farley Weiss, former president of the National Council of Young Israel, is an intellectual property attorney for the law firm of Weiss & Moy. The views expressed are the author’s, and not necessarily representative of NCYI.

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