Israel Set to Reopen Borders from Sunday to Vaccinated Tourists
On Monday, the Health Ministry said that they would permit fully vaccinated tourists from a few countries to visit Israel beginning from January 9th, which would end an almost blanket ban on the arrival of all non-citizens. Foreign travelers who have not recovered from COVID-19, or are not vaccinated, will not be permitted to enter Israel. Likewise, people belonging to the ‘red’ category of the no-fly list of the Health Ministry will also not be able to enter Israel. The country had previously opened its borders to travelers from November 1st for the first time since March 2020, after the onset of the pandemic.
However, the discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa had driven Israel to once more shut down its borders at the end of the month in order to slow down the spread of the new strain. On Monday, the Health Ministry recommended that South Africa, France, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Nigeria, and Hungary be removed from their list of ‘red’ countries. The UK and the US are still on the no-fly list. The Knesset Health Committee will need to give approval for the new no-fly list. But, there are no updates about when the remaining countries will be removed from the no-fly list.
This decision from the Health Ministry comes despite Israel dealing with a swift increase in cases because of the Omicron variant. However, the officials appear to have come to terms with the milder strain that is rapidly spreading throughout the country. Meanwhile, other recommendations of the Health Ministry included not requiring recovered or vaccinated Israeli travelers to quarantine for three days when returning from countries categorized as ‘orange’. Instead, these people will only be required to isolate until they get a negative PCR test result that will be conducted upon landing. This is another decision that is subject to the approval of the committee.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett acknowledged that lifting travel restrictions may appear to be counterintuitive. However, he elaborated that when there was a lower number of restrictions in the country, there had been a significant impact on morbidity due to the spread of the virus from abroad. He said that with thousands of cases existing in Israel already, an additional 50 infections amongst travelers from abroad were considered ‘meaningless’. These travel restrictions will be eased, while Israel is seeing a surge in its case numbers due to the Omicron variant. On Monday, the Health Ministry said that 6,562 new cases had been diagnosed on Sunday.
This is triple what the number had been a week before. Along with the cases on Sunday, the total number of infections had gone past the 37,000 mark, as another 2,305 cases had been diagnosed since midnight. As of Monday morning, the total number of patients in serious condition had reached 110 and 45 of these people were considered critical. Most of the patients who are seriously ill are not vaccinated. Meanwhile, the ‘R’ number has also been rising consistently, as it reached 1.88, indicating that the pandemic is rapidly spreading.