Former Israeli PM Netanyahu tests positive for Covid-19

Benjamin Netanyahu, 72, has received four vaccination shots. In January, Israel began offering fourth shots to people aged 60 and older as the country braced for a surge in Omicron infections. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (NYTIMES) - Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday (March 9), according to a statement from his conservative Likud party.

A party spokesman, Mr Yonatan Ulrich, said in the statement that Netanyahu, 72, "feels well" and that he was acting according to the country's coronavirus guidelines.

The former prime minister was in Parliament on Wednesday morning before being informed that he had tested positive in a routine polymerase chain reaction test, according to Mr Ulrich.

Under Ministry of Health guidelines, Netanyahu must now stay in isolation for at least five days and conduct rapid home tests on the fourth and fifth evenings of isolation.

If the results of both tests are negative and no symptoms have appeared for 48 hours, he will be able to leave isolation at the end of day five. A positive result would require him to remain in isolation until the end of day seven.

Israel is just emerging from a fifth wave prompted by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which saw confirmed cases soar to nearly 100,000 a day in the country. The number has now dropped to a daily average of about 6,500 new cases.

Netanyahu has received four vaccination shots, according to Mr Ulrich.

In January, Israel began offering fourth shots to people aged 60 and older as the country braced for a surge of infections from the highly contagious Omicron strain.

Israel lifted many of its remaining Covid-19 restrictions on March 1, including ending limitations on gatherings, opening up the country to unvaccinated tourists and eliminating the need to present a digital proof of vaccination to enter restaurants and most other venues.

Another Israeli MP - Ms Shirly Pinto of the small, right-wing Yamina party led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett - said on Twitter on Wednesday that she, too, had tested positive for the virus.

She said she was the 61st lawmaker in Parliament to have been infected, though she did not specify to what time period she was referring.

Parliament has 120 seats, but two elections in the country since March 2020 have changed the make-up of the House during the course of the pandemic.

Asked how many lawmakers had been infected in the current Parliament, a parliamentary spokesman said: "Sorry, we're not counting."

Netanyahu was prime minister from 2009 until 2021 after serving a previous three-year term in the 1990s, making him the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history. He is now the leader of the opposition in Parliament.

Alongside his parliamentary role, he is fighting corruption charges in a trial now under way in the Jerusalem District Court.

He was charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three separate cases in 2019, accused of providing lucrative official favours to wealthy businessmen in exchange for material gifts, like expensive cigars and champagne, and less tangible ones, such as control over coverage of him and his family in a major news outlet.

An increasingly polarising figure as he clung to power, Netanyahu led Israel into four tumultuous election cycles within two years. Unable to form a majority coalition after the last election in March 2021, he was eventually replaced by Mr Bennett.

On Wednesday, Mr Bennett, a former political ally who sat in several Netanyahu-led governments, wished Netanyahu, who is now a bitter rival, a speedy and complete recovery, writing on Twitter, "Feel well!"

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.