Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday told an online meeting of world leaders that his main worry was the emergence of cases of people being reinfected with the coronavirus, which could undermine efforts to deal with the current pandemic and reopen economies.
“Basically, unless we have a vaccine this thing can last a longer period of time than we think. And the question is, how we can support our health system, or prevent it from collapsing while opening our economy. This is the dilemma that we’re all familiar with,” Netanyahu said in a video conference with world leaders.
“Specifically on this, there is no real answer that prevents the reinfection of populations, unless you get to herd immunity. And herd immunity appears at the moment to be very expensive in human lives,” he added. “The most important questions I have is: do we have instances of reinfection?”
Earlier this week, a 86-year-old man in northern Israel, who was informed he had recovered from the coronavirus, was hospitalized again in serious condition with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Netanyahu updated the world leaders about Israel’s recent steps and urged them to increase international cooperation. “There must be a continued exchange of knowledge and ideas in order to fight the spread of the virus,” the prime minister said, according to a readout of the meeting provided by his office.
The leaders asked Netanyahu about Israel using “digital tools especially in regard to dealing with a second wave of outbreak,” the readout said.
Israel had controversially allowed the Shin Bet security service to use cell phone tracking tools normally reserved for counterterrorism operations to track infected people and identify those who had come into contact with them.
Netanyahu was one of eight world leaders that participated in the video conference, which was hosted by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and which aimed to discuss various strategies to deal with the virus, and ways to gradually open the countries’ economies after weeks of tight restrictions.
Other leaders on the call were Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.
“The world leaders discussed ways to advance international cooperation in the struggle against the coronavirus, exchanged ideas and ways in which their countries are dealing with the spread of the virus, raised common dilemmas in reopening the economy and policy regarding the reopening of educational institutions, and discussed ways of protecting at-risk populations in the shadow of the coronavirus,” the readout continued.
In his introduction, Kurz again thanked Netanyahu for having urged him to enact tougher policies to fight the pandemic.
“I remember in March we had some phone calls and he [Netanyahu] said to me, well, you are not taking the situation serious enough in Europe and especially in Austria and you should do more,” the Austrian chancellor said.
“And this was something like a wake-up call for me and then we took some very difficult decisions but I think they were good. We had a complete lockdown like many of you starting at mid-March.”
Jerusalem and Vienna have been reported to closely coordinate their respective responses to the coronavirus crisis, with Israel modeling its strategies to ease restrictions on Austria, which was one of Europe’s first countries to reopen its economy.
In early April, Netanyahu had initiated a video conference with seven European leaders, in an effort to promote better regional coordination in the fight against COVID-19.
At the time, the Israeli premier suggested creating “safe air hubs” in Europe to mitigate the damage caused by disrupted chains due to constrictions on air travel.
“We can designate airports for us, for all of us. And we say, this is a clean airport. We apply consistent efforts to keep it clean. We scrub it, we disinfect it, all the time — around the clock. And we also test the people who work there all the time,” Netanyahu suggested.
“This can also be a meeting ground for leaders, for technologists, where they could actually meet and not just be reliant on the internet, as we’re doing right now,” he added.
His suggestion has yet to be implemented.
Also in early March, Netanyahu said he would conduct a conference call “with the leaders of countries in the Middle East,” but the PMO refuses to comment on whether the call ever took place.