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Naftali Bennett. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is facing growing criticism as Israel continues to set new records for daily COVID cases, but he's decided to try to ride out the fifth wave without new lockdowns.

Why it matters: Bennett has taken a big bet that the Israeli health system will be able to withstand the Omicron wave.

  • As cases began to rise, Bennett quickly imposed new border restrictions to buy time for the health system to prepare. He has also made a second booster dose available to health workers and people over 60.
  • But Bennett has avoided new restrictions and argued that a lockdown would not be effective against Omicron.

Between the lines: Bennett's political calling card during previous waves was to argue that then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be keeping the country open, so he doesn't have much room to maneuver on this issue politically.

State of play: 65% of Israelis would support limitations on public gatherings, in contrast with Bennett's policy, according to a Channel 12 poll published earlier this week.

  • Majorities disapprove of how the government (63%), Bennett (62%) and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman (66%) — who has opposed compensation for businesses affected by the new wave — are handling the pandemic.

What he's saying: At a press conference on Tuesday, Bennett blamed the media for generating “hysteria” about the Omicron wave.

  • He stressed that it was not possible to defeat Omicron and that, therefore, the correct strategy was to protect vulnerable people while keeping the economy open.
  • Bennett did change course on one issue by pledging compensation for some businesses.
  • He said the next few weeks will be hard but the Omicron wave will pass.

What’s next: Bennett and his advisers are anxiously waiting to see a change in the number of new infections, which they expect to start to fall in 10–14 days.

  • If this happens, they think they'll get a lot of credit from the public, Bennett's aides say.

Go deeper

COVID cases soar by more than 200%

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Note: Maryland case counts may be lagging due to ongoing technical issues; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The number of new COVID cases more than tripled over the past two weeks, shattering records all across the U.S.

Why it matters: The Omicron variant appears to be significantly milder than its predecessors, and it's not leading to as much serious illness. But sky-high case counts are still a warning sign, especially in areas whose health care systems are already stretched thin.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

State of play: Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though police chief Michael Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker