Israel to Lift Travel Ban as Virus Spike Renders it Obsolete

On Thursday, the Director-General of the Health Ministry, Nachman Ash disclosed that restrictions on international travel in Israel would be lifted in the coming hours. The coronavirus rates in the country have reached record levels, thereby rendering the travel bans obsolete. Starting at midnight, all countries would be removed from the no-fly list, which means the skies will be reopened to dozens of destinations where Israel had previously curtailed travel in order to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant. Turkey, the United States, and Britain are some of the places where two-way travel can be resumed after the removal of the ban.

The Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee needs to authorize the cancelation of the travel ban and government approval is also required. In the last few days, COVID-19 cases in Israel have surged past the 10,000 mark daily. The travel ban had previously been credited with giving Israel time to prepare for a widespread outbreak, but with the rise in cases, it has been declared obsolete. According to Ash, the data indicates that less than 5% of the total 72,000 active cases in Israel actually came from abroad. Ash did say that they were still discouraging unnecessary travel because morbidity remains high and transitions can lead to infection.

Ash also predicted that there will be 30,000 cases on a daily basis in Israel within three days and the number will reach 50,000 per day within a week. Nitzan Horowitz, the Health Minister, had previously dismissed such predictions and called them scaremongering, stating that they didn’t have any scientific basis. Israel had closed its borders at the end of November to all foreign travelers in a bid to stave off the Omicron variant. It had drawn up a list of countries with high COVID-19 morbidity and citizens had been prohibited from traveling there. 

There was a time when the red list had a total of 70 countries added to it, including Turkey, the United States, and most of Africa and Europe. Starting January 9th, this list had been slated to be cut down significantly, even though Britain and the US had been expected to remain. But, with the widespread number of cases, there is no longer any point in imposing a ban. Nonetheless, it wasn’t clear as to how unvaccinated travelers would be affected by the new directive. The cabinet said on Monday that foreign travelers would still not be permitted to enter Israel if they haven’t been inoculated or recovered, no matter what their origin.

While Omicron has proven to be more contagious than Delta, it doesn’t lead to serious illness and death like its predecessor. Ash said that most of the serious patients in the country are suffering from the Delta variant, which is also raising its head once more. The tourism industry in Israel has been severely battered because of COVID restrictions and there had been several demonstrations held at the Ben Gurion Airport in protest of the travel curbs. There had been an outcry when Avigdor Liberman, the Finance Minister, said that people working in the tourism industry should seek new jobs. 

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