Israel to hold world’s first drill to test readiness for new Covid variant

Israel is to conduct the world’s first national Covid drill to test the country’s readiness for an outbreak of a new and lethal variant of the virus.

The drill, scheduled for Thursday, will take the format of a war games exercise and will be led by the prime minister, Naftali Bennett.

It will test the capabilities of government departments and national agencies to respond to the emergence of an “Omega” variant of Covid-19.

A statement from the Israeli government press office said no such variant had yet been discovered in the country.

Israel had beaten a fourth wave of Covid and “we are on our way toward exiting the Delta variant”, Bennett said.

However, he added, the battle against the virus continued. “We are continuing to hold drills and to challenge ourselves … We must continue to closely monitor the situation and prepare for any scenario.”

The exercise will be run by Israel’s civil defence minister at the National Management Centre in Jerusalem, which handles national crises.

It will cover:

  • Restrictions on gatherings and movement, quarantine policy, lockdowns, curfews and tourism.

  • Oversight and warnings issued during the development of a new and dangerous variant, testing vaccine protection, epidemiological investigations, hospital capacity and the carrying out of mass-testing and vaccination programmes.

  • The legality of local or regional lockdowns and curfews, and other restrictions.

  • Economic support for the population.

  • Public security in enforcing quarantine, lockdowns and curfews.

  • Closing schools in outbreak centres, reducing class sizes and remote learning.

  • Departure and arrival policy at borders including Ben Gurion airport.

  • Informing the public and responding to “discourse on the internet”.

The Israeli health ministry reported 475 new Covid cases on Wednesday. Experts have warned that another wave or another variant could surface in the coming months.

More than four in 10 of the population have received a booster vaccine dose. The government is due to decide this week whether to vaccinate children aged five to 11.

Israel regularly conducts national security drills for its population as well as military war games in preparation for conflict.

General