Israel on Monday imposed travel ban to ten countries, including the US, Canada and Germany by adding them to its no-fly list, citing concerns over the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant that has infected 175 people in the country. Acting on health ministry recommendations, Israeli cabinet ministers voted on Monday to put the United States, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Canada, Switzerland and Turkey on the no-fly list.
The cabinet ministers have now approved (in a telephone vote) the expansion of the list of red countries, in accordance with the recommendation of the Health Ministry State Classification Committee, pursuant to a discussion that was held on Sunday at the Cabinet meeting”, a statement from the PMO said. ”Italy, the USA, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Canada, Switzerland and Turkey will be defined as red countries starting tomorrow (Tuesday, December 21, 2021) at midnight (the night between Tuesday and Wednesday), subject to approval by the Knesset Constitution, Justice and Law Committee”, it said. Travel to and from the so-called ”red countries” is expressly forbidden, unless permission is granted by a special committee. Those who return from these countries must remain in quarantine for seven days.
As per local media reports, 17 people on a flight from Miami on Sunday tested positive for COVID-19, with most of them suspected of carrying the Omicron variant. The Israeli Health Ministry, meanwhile, announced that it has discovered 40 new Omicron cases, taking the total number of cases of the new COVID-19 variant to 175 in the country.
Assessments presented to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday predicted that the number of Omicron cases in Israel could reach between 400 and 600 over the next week, in light of the number of cases that cannot be traced back to people who traveled abroad, the Haaretz newspaper reported. ”Three weeks ago, I warned the citizens of Israel that a new wave was coming, the Omicron wave. One day later, the Corona Cabinet convened and we decided the first in the world to bar foreign nationals from entering Israel. This was an important and brave decision that bought all of us precious time. However, not everyone understood this in real time,” Bennett said in a statement on Saturday.
The rare move to red-list the US comes amid rising coronavirus infections in Israel and marks a change to pandemic practices between the two nations with close diplomatic relations. ”There were those who thought we were exaggerating. There were those who said ’He’s hysterical.’ But I thank the members of the government who understood that it was necessary first of all to buy time and keep the variant away from Israel’s borders as much as possible,” Bennett asserted.
”The Omicron is already in the country, from the Knesset (Israeli parliament) to kindergartens and it is spreading fast. The numbers are still not high but this is a very contagious variant and doubles every two or three days, as we are seeing around the world. It is possible to say that the fifth wave has begun, he added. Urging people to ”act rationally and calmly”, and do the right thing, Bennett said that the government intends to overcome this wave while continuing economic activity and education as much as it can.
”The way is to delay the rate of spread as much as possible and use the time we are buying to vaccinate the children of Israel as quickly as possible, he said, urging the citizens to get their children vaccinated. ”In the US, over five million children have been vaccinated and they have no significant side effects. We can learn from their experience”, the prime minister said.
Bennett called upon people to maintain social distance as much as possible, use masks, requested business owners and CEOs in and out of high-tech to allow employees to work from home and get children vaccinated quickly.