Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and senior aides holed up in a war bunker on Thursday during an exercise simulating an outbreak of a lethal new COVID-19 variant.

He described the day-long “Omega Drill”, named after a fictitious virus strain, as a precaution to ensure Israel was prepared for “any scenario”.

Israel imposed lockdowns to try to tame three waves of COVID-19 but has kept the economy and schools open since a fourth wave hit in June, relying on measures including vaccinations, booster shots and protective masks.

The nuclear blast-proof complex in the Jerusalem hills, known as the “National Management Centre”, was also used to coordinate initial responses to the new coronavirus in March 2020.

The drill involves civilian and military leaders being subjected to mass testing, hospital admissions and curfews, Bennett’s office said in a statement. Findings from the exercise will be shared with foreign partners.

The  statement quoted him as saying,”Israel is safe and protected. In order to maintain this, and to safeguard the continuity of normal life, we must continue to closely monitor the situation and prepare for any scenario”.

The bunker was built more than a decade ago because of concern about Iran’s nuclear programme and missile exchanges with Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

The statement said nothing to indicate the government believed a lethal new coronavirus strain was imminent.It also did not mention any potential flare-up in fighting with enemies among the scenarios for the drill.

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