Israel must brace for a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, which could be more deadly than the first wave that infected more than 16,000 Israelis and killed 279 people, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Monday.
“We must prepare for a second wave of the coronavirus, which is expected to be much more lethal,” Netanyahu said during the first meeting of his Likud party's Knesset faction since the government was sworn in last week.
Israel has seen a steady decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, with more than 14,000 of those who were infected having made a full recovery. As such, it has moved to reopen its economy, with certain restrictions such as wearing face masks when leaving the house.
Despite his warning of a second wave, Netanyahu on Monday praised "Israel's great success” in dealing with the coronavirus.
“Our number of patients is marginal - a few at a time at the moment," he said. This is a truly remarkable result.
"We are in good shape, but we need to understand that it might be temporary because the virus is still here. "
The prime minister said that his coalition deal with Blue & White was down to the need for a unity front in dealing with the problems facing the country.
"Many did not believe we would be here as part of a unity government, but I believed it was necessary to join forces in order to the face the great challenges facing the state,” said Netanyahu.
“I think we're capable of meeting them because we're a big faction and a broad government,” the prime minister, adding that the government's first task would be to kickstart the economy.
"We must return the jobs that have been lost due to the coronavirus crisis. It's a huge task," he said.
"I've been talking to the self-employed, and I hear their pain. People have lost their livelihoods and do not know if they will have one in the future. We are committed to doing everything to help them.”
Netanyahu pledged that the government would use a budget of NIS 6 billion to incentivize employers to re-hire the workers who were let go during the pandemic.
“We must however, be ready for the the second option - another global wave of the coronavirus," he said.
Netanyahu thanked his party's ministers and activists who rallied outside Jerusalem District Court on Sunday as the prime minister appeared for the start of his criminal trial.
“I want to thank all of you, you greatly strengthened me on that day and will also do so in the coming days when we will have to tackle the big tasks ahead of us," he said. "I want to wish us all success."
The prime minister also said that the government would press on with its plan to claim sovereignty over its West Bank settlements and Jordan Valley.
"This is an opportunity that cannot be passed up," he said. "We have a July deadline and we do not intend to change it. We will work wisely and with joined forces.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid also raised Netanyahu's trial at a meeting of his own Yesh Atid-Telem faction, slamming the prime minister for his claim that the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against him were a plot by state prosecutors, police and the media to being down the right wing.
"Israel will not be the same country," Lapid said. "He [Netanyahu] stood in front of the courtroom and engaged in incitement. This will end in violence; he knows it and he doesn't care."
Lapid added: "On Sunday, the prime minister tried to tell us that thousands of people, police officers, investigators and lawyers, are all part of a huge conspiracy designed to incriminate him. It's a paranoid hallucination.
“Anyone who is capable of saying such things in front of a microphone and camera - is not fit to be prime minister,” Lapid said.
"From the moment as he dragged his ministers into court, from the moment he incited and tried to lead us to a civil war, he could not be allowed to continue in office. Netanyahu became an man without restraint."