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Israel to become first country to offer fourth vaccine in battle against omicron

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

Israel announced on Tuesday night it would offer a fourth vaccine dose to the over-60s, the clinically vulnerable and medical workers in the fight against the omicron variant.

The move was recommended by a panel of experts which advises the Israeli government, Pandemic Treatment Staff, and will make the Jewish state the first in the world to offer a fourth jab.

“This is wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the omicron wave that is engulfing the world,” Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister, said.

The decision, which was backed by more than 80 per cent of the Pandemic Treatment Staff, still requires final approval from Nachman Ash, the director-general of the Israeli health ministry.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP) - AP
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP) - AP

But it is unlikely to face any significant hurdles as Israel is deeply concerned that omicron is already spreading through the population.

On Tuesday, the government said it had detected 170 new cases of omicron, raising the total caseload to 341. A further 807 infections are suspected to have been caused by omicron but have not yet been confirmed.

Israel is one of the fastest vaccinators against Covid-19 worldwide and has already given a third vaccine dose to four million Israelis, roughly half of the population.

The emergence of the new variant has prompted Israel to reimpose tough travel restrictions, including a ban on foreigners entering the country.

Several countries, including Britain, Germany, France, Turkey, Denmark and the United States, have also been added to a no-travel red list.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by ABIR SULTAN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (12652311i) An ultra Orthodox Jewish passenger at the arrivals hall of the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, 20 December 2021. The Israeli Ministry of Health urged the government to declare Italy, the United States, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Canada, Switzerland and Turkey as at-risk countries amid the ongoing spread of the coronavirus Omicron variant of concern. Israel eyes entry restrictions amid Omicron woes, Tel Aviv - 20 Dec 2021 - Shutterstock

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Mr Bennett warned there was no way to prevent a new wave of Covid infections despite those travel restrictions.

"We cannot prevent the [new] wave. It’s just not a possibility,” Mr Bennett told members of his so-called coronavirus cabinet, which is leading the response to the pandemic.

“But we can certainly give the citizens of Israel the tools to protect themselves, mainly from serious illness, if some of them become infected,” he added.

“The bad news is that omicron is advancing exactly according to our expectations and predictions. We’re doubling new cases [each day]...the decision is between lighter restrictions now or difficult steps later," he said.

Israel has stopped short of declaring a lockdown but continues to enforce its Green Pass system, a vaccine passport. The pass is required to enter large indoor venues such as shopping malls.