Israel opens up to international travellers
COVID spike renders ban obsolete

Israel opens up to international travellers

Health Ministry director says list of ‘red’ banned countries to be canceled at midnight Thursday, predicts daily infections will top 30,000 within three days

Travellers at the Ben Gurion International Airport in December 2021. Photo: Flash90
Travellers at the Ben Gurion International Airport in December 2021. Photo: Flash90

ISRAEL was due to end restrictions on international travel on Friday, director-general Nachman Ash said, as coronavirus rates in the country spiked to record levels, making the impact of the travel bans negligible.

All countries were to be removed from a so-called red list starting at midnight, reopening the skies to dozens of destinations where travel had been severely curtailed in bid to slow the Omicron variant from infiltrating the country.

Earlier this week Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler wrote an open letter to Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urging a lifting if the ban for Australian travellers.

Cancelation of the red country list still requires government approval and authorisation from the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee, Channel 12 News reported.

In recent days, coronavirus case numbers in Israel have soared past 10,000 a day, and officials now view the travel ban, credited with giving Israel time to prepare for the larger outbreak, as obsolete.

Ash explained that data shows less than five percent of the 72,000 active coronavirus cases in the country came from abroad, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

“We still recommend avoiding unnecessary flights. Morbidity is high worldwide and these transitions are a risk factor for infection,” Ash said at a press briefing.

Ash predicted that in three days there will be 30,000 new cases a day in Israel and within a week, the number will hit 50,000.

At the end of November, Israel closed its borders to foreign nationals in an attempt to hold off the Omicron variant and drew up a list of countries with high COVID morbidity that Israelis were prohibited to visit. At one point 70 countries were added to the red list, including the United States, Turkey, and most of Europe and Africa.

The list had been slated to be whittled down considerably starting January 9, though the US and Britain would have still remained on it.

It was unclear how Ash’s directive would affect unvaccinated travellers. On Monday, the cabinet said foreign travellers who have not been vaccinated or recovered will still not be permitted to enter Israel, regardless of origin.

Omicron, first detected in South Africa, is more contagious but causes fewer cases of severe illness and death than previous variants — especially among vaccinated people.

Israel had only reopened to foreign tourism in early November, for the first time since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.


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