Bennett’s daughter suspected to have Omicron; opposition forces PM to go to Knesset

PM accuses Netanyahu of ‘disregarding public health’ as he heads to plenum’s isolated section; strain confirmation expected to take days, by which time isolation rules may be eased

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seen in the isolation section during a Knesset plenum session on December 27, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seen in the isolation section during a Knesset plenum session on December 27, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

After Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s daughter tested positive for COVID-19, his office said Monday that there was a “high suspicion” she had contracted the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

A statement issued by Bennett’s spokesman said genetic sequencing to determine if the strain is Omicron will be completed in the coming days. “The prime minister will remain in quarantine at this stage and continue to work from his home in Ra’anana,” the statement said.

However, Bennett was quickly forced by the opposition to leave quarantine and head to the Knesset to attend a special discussion — from an isolated section — that requires the prime minister to take part.

If confirmed to be Omicron, Bennett will need to quarantine for at least seven days and again test negative for coronavirus, despite being vaccinated. He tested negative Sunday after it was announced his daughter has COVID-19.

The premier’s self-isolation period may end up being shortened, however, as the government mulls scrapping the quarantine rules for vaccinated individuals exposed to Omicron amid growing concern that the variant’s rapid spread will push so many Israelis into quarantine that the country will effectively be in lockdown.

Bennett said during a meeting Monday that the change was being planned in coordination with experts at the Health Ministry.

People, many wearing face masks, walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, December 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bennett, still in quarantine, was compelled to travel to the Knesset on Monday after opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party demanded that he appear before the parliament to be grilled by lawmakers in a prescheduled debate.

Likud MK Yariv Levin sent an official letter to Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy threatening to block all other parliamentary debates unless Bennett appeared before the plenum in a special isolation chamber.

The letter called for the premier to show up for the session — an event that can be called once a month if 40 MKs sign a petition to that effect. The prime minister and opposition chief must attend the entirety of the hour-long discussion. Monday’s debate was set to discuss the potential reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem that serves the Palestinians.

Levin’s demand came shortly after it was announced that Bennett would remain in quarantine due to his daughter’s suspected Omicron infection, and after Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy announced the cancelation of the special discussion.

The letter noted that the Knesset has found ways to allow quarantining individuals to participate when it wanted to.

“Should the prime minister decide of his own volition to go against the rules and his own commitment, be it understood that there can be no debate on other matters and he won’t be allowed to participate in such debates and vote on these matters,” it read.

Despite being in quarantine, Bennett was set to attend the session from the plenum section for quarantining lawmakers, as the ruling coalition lacked a majority in the rest of the day’s votes due to coalition MK Mazen Ghanaim visiting Jordan.

Bennett said Netanyahu and the opposition had refused requests to offset the premier’s absence, accusing them of a “disregard for public health” amid concerns over Omicron.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (Combination photo credits: Netanyahu: Menahem Kahana / AFP; Bennett: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

“Netanyahu is playing with the pandemic for a minuscule political gain,” the premier said in a statement.

Likud dismissed Bennett’s response as “nonsense,” claiming that Health Ministry and Knesset guidelines require Bennett to attend the session in the quarantine section.

“He doesn’t care about public health but rather his political health, which is indeed in danger,” Likud said.

Israel has so far confirmed 1,118 Omicron cases, of which 723 are among people who returned from abroad, according to Hebrew media reports.

The variant has fueled a surge in infections and Bennett warned Monday that what is now Israel’s fifth wave of infections will affect everyone in the country.

The government has reimposed some restrictions to curb the spread, with fresh curbs coming into effect Monday on shopping malls and large stores limiting the number of customers permitted at any one time.

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