Israeli ‘wargame’ sees kids suffering vaccine-resistant COVID strain

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and senior aides holed up in a nuclear command bunker on Thursday to simulate an outbreak of a vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant to which children are vulnerable, describing such an eventuality as “the next war.”

Israel would brief foreign leaders next week on the findings of the drill, he said, citing Britain’s Boris Johnson as among counterparts with whom he is in contact.

Bennett said that, to enhance the challenge of the one-day exercise, he had been kept unaware of specific scenarios of an imagined 10-week crisis that starts over the December holidays.

The script sees a fictitious strain, “Omega,” bypassing the vaccines which Israel rolled out at record pace this year. Omega also sickens children – largely spared by the actual virus – prompting mass hospitalizations and school closures.

“What I’ve learned is if you prepare for the next war and not for the previous war, the next pandemic and not the previous pandemic, that means that you are going to be better prepared,” Bennett told Reuters from the facility in the Jerusalem hills.

“The main lesson is: Move fast, move hard.”

As part of the simulation, Bennett said he had ordered Israeli children – including his own four – confined to their homes while the government sealed off the borders and conferred with the Palestinian Authority, Gaza officials and Jordan.

“Unlike a war-wargame, a pandemic wargame is not secret. Quite the contrary, we want to share the information,” he said.

Israel built the bunker, known as the “National Management Center,” more than a decade ago because of concern about Iran’s nuclear program and missile exchanges with Lebanon and Gaza.

Bennett said he and his aides could manage Israel “indefinitely” from the bunker in any major crisis.

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)