Israel will reach millions of new coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday evening, as the country faces an unprecedented explosion in infections fueled by the highly infectious Omicron variant.
"We're facing a wave of infections that has hit the entire world. We're seeing numbers like never before," he told a press conference at his office in Jerusalem before he was to attend a coronavirus cabinet meeting. "Morbidity across the world is measured in the millions, and here too, we'll reach several million cases."
Bennett also listed the three principles guiding his government's pandemic response — keeping the economy open as much as possible, protecting the most vulnerable in society and keeping the education system up and running.
He vowed to compensate workers who miss out on workdays after coming down with the virus or being exposed to a confirmed patient.
"I do not want people to lose their jobs. Firing someone is easy. I know, I managed business," he said, evoking his days as a hi-tech entrepreneur. "We still remember the deserted businesses from previous waves. We will not leave the citizens to fend for themselves. All workers in the economy will receive payment from the first day of isolation and there will also be a solution for the self-employed."
The premier's remarks come after Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman faced public backlash following his statement last month the treasury will not compensate Israelis for lost workdays due to the variant. He later walked back on his words.
"Next few weeks will be tough, but we will pull through. Every one of us must take responsibility and not congregate unnecessarily. There's no room for panic and no room for hysteria. The tsunami comes and goes," Bennett concluded his remarks.
Bennett was asked by the media about things Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej told Ynet earlier on Tuesday, in which he said the government should openly admit to the public it has adopted a strategy of mass infections with the aim of reaching herd immunity.
The prime minister replied that Israel was managing its coronavirus outbreak better than almost anywhere else around the world.
"We're going towards an imminent wave. There isn't a single democratic country in the world that can avoid this wave," he said. "Grandma in the nursing home will only be able to see one visitor in the coming weeks. The situation in Israel is managed better than almost anywhere in the world."