image Photo: Flash90

Israel tightens travel ban

Britain and Denmark have been added to the “red” list of countries Israelis are forbidden to visit in an effort to limit spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

By Erin Viner

So far there have been 67 confirmed cases of Omicron in Israel, which has been trying to accelerate its vaccination program while also considering stricter enforcement of mask mandates.

The latest restrictions will take effect on Wednesday 15 December, announced Public Health Director Sharon Alroy-Preis.

While Belgium had initially been expected to be included in the ban, Alroy-Preis said it was removed following a reassessment of infection rates by the Health Ministry.

50 nations, mostly in Africa, have been red-listed since emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variation.

At the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said “now everyone understands that we were not exaggerating” when his government implemented new restrictions against Omicron last month.

Current restrictions at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport denying entry to any foreigners have been extended until at least 22 December, and all returning citizens must observe a quarantine period last from 3-days up to 1 week.

Last week, Prime Minister Bennett directed the professional echelons to evaluate the possibility of imposing restrictions on those who are not vaccinated. He had mulled the idea of even possibly imposing a lockdown on Israelis who haven’t been administered the doses, but the proposal has been shelved for the time being.

The public was also informed last week that the Public Security Ministry has been instructed to step up enforcement of the country’s Green Pass program in conjunction with the Israel Police, particularly with the issuance of tickets to anyone violating the rules.

Upon confirmation of 2 verified cases of Omicon at schools, minor changes were made to Israel’s Green Classroom model following consultations last Thursday between Prime Minister Bennett with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, Education Minister Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton and other leading professional officials from the relevant government ministries. Currently at this stage, every student in a classroom must undergo PCR testing on the third day if one student has been diagnosed with the virus; whereas in situations in which the Green Classroom model is not applied, all unvaccinated pupils will exclusively be taught remotely.

Full remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the Cabinet 12 December 2021:

“Two weeks ago, when we started tightening border controls regarding entry to Israel following what was then a new coronavirus mutation, there were those who said we were exaggerating, and now everyone understands that we were not exaggerating. We simply took early and determined action just as was needed. Other countries hesitated and they are already swamped with the Omicron variant even as we speak.

It is two weeks later and the Omicron variant is very worrying indeed. In Europe they are going into the holiday season under very significant restrictions. In some countries there are lockdowns and morbidity is out of control.

We already know that Omicron is in Israel, but at the moment, following our steps, in relatively small numbers. It is not difficult to understand that if Ben Gurion International Airport is breached, the numbers will jump rapidly. But to safeguard the borders is insufficient. At the same time, we must utilize every day and simply vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.

Our strategy has two components: The first is to delay the entry of Omicron to Israel by as much as possible by tightening border controls, and the second is to utilize these precious days in order to increase the vaccinations of all citizens of the State of Israel. The truth is that, at the moment, we are not sufficiently protected.

The Omicron variant also attacks children. We see this in other countries and are also seeing this in Israel. Just this week two middle school classmates in England died from Omicron. One was not vaccinated at all, and the second, it seems, was only partially vaccinated. We are also seeing children being struck in Israel.

Therefore, I call on parents: The way to protect your children is simply to vaccinate them, to give them this protection. Do not waste a moment, take them today to get vaccinated even without making an appointment. It only takes a few minutes.

Over the past year, I have met more than a few parents of children who caught long covid – chronic coronavirus that attacks on the cognitive level and leads to very severe fatigue. The parents regret that they did not vaccinate their children in time.

Children in Israel are mostly unvaccinated – this is the truth. Most Israeli children at the moment are not vaccinated, not even with the first dose. Therefore, go and utilize these precious days, or we will not succeed in defeating and delaying Omicron. This is the time to get organized.

There is another population that worries me greatly – those who received two doses, but did not go for their third. The third dose provides quite good protection, also against the Omicron variant, so it is easily attainable. I turn to you, go today without an appointment, to any health fund. HMOs are ready to receive you. Last night we talked with the CEOs of the four HMOs; they are waiting for you.

Today the Ministry of Health will begin an emergency program to increase immunization because we are in a race against the Omicron variant. From this morning, a vaccination campaign is being conducted in schools across the country. We are reinforcing the HMOs. And yes, we will evaluate and consider a fourth vaccine for at-risk populations. This is also on the agenda.

The sooner we get vaccinated, the more the body’s defenses will develop, even before the arrival of Omicron. Do not wait for it to be widespread.

I understand that there is what is called ‘COVID fatigue’. People are tired of hearing and talking about it. I very much understand this feeling. But the truth is that the situation in Israel is significantly better than almost anywhere in the world, significantly.

When Europe, the United States and other places are hit with restrictions – the State of Israel is open. The country is open, the economy is open, schools are open, culture is open. We want to leave it that way. It is possible precisely because we take it very seriously. We are always working to pre-empt. Therefore, I request – go out today to get vaccinated.

We arrived ready for this battle, and if we join in the effort, we will overcome the Omicron variant just as did the Delta variant safely.”