Israel’s health ministry on Sunday recommended a travel ban on Israelis to the United States, and added several European countries to its Covid “red list”, aimed at halting the spread of the Omicron variant.
Barring US travel for Israeli citizens and residents would be a significant step for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, given the hundreds of thousands of dual citizens and close ties between the countries.
Bennett said Israel was in the middle of its fifth wave of Covid-19. “The Omicron version is already here,” he told a news conference after the cabinet meeting, “and it is spreading rapidly”. Speaking earlier, Bennett reiterated that he would continue to restrict travel to avoid further lockdowns. He said Israel had gained “precious time” by curbing travel soon after the Omicron version was detected in South Africa last month.
“European countries are either in lockdown or are going down that path,” he said, adding that “time is running out” for Israel. Lawmakers on Sunday approved an earlier recommendation by the health ministry to bar Israeli citizens and residents from traveling to France, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Finland, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.
Britain and Denmark were already on the Red List, as was most of Africa. In addition to the US, the health ministry recommended that Canada, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey be red-listed, guidance that awaits approval from the government and lawmakers.
Israeli citizens and residents who are already abroad when a country is declared red must quarantine for a week after returning home. Non-resident foreigners from all countries are barred from entering unless they have special permission. Bennett called on Israelis to work from home and encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated.
“Our goal is to brave this wave as much as possible without affecting the economy and education,” he said. “The way to achieve this is slowing the infection rate, and in the meantime vaccinating Israeli children as soon as possible.” Ran Balisar, chairman of Israel’s national expert panel on Covid-19, told AFP that the travel rules Most were allowing life inside Israel to continue as usual.
“The tighter you are in stopping imports and delaying local transmission, the more lax you can be in disturbing the economy and everyday life,” he said. Balisar speculated that Israel would ease its restrictions once Omicron’s local transmission began to increase. The relative proportion of cases coming from abroad. He said it was not yet clear whether the stress caused serious illness and death.
More than 4.1 million of Israel’s estimated 9.3 million people have received three shots of the coronavirus vaccine the country is currently giving to children aged 5-11.