On Friday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered to categorize most of the African countries as ‘red’, which meant that entry from the region would be heavily restricted. This move came after the detection of a new and highly mutated variant of the coronavirus in South Africa that has already come into Israel through a passenger traveling from Malawi. The coronavirus cabinet of the government will also conduct an emergency meeting on Saturday evening for discussing any potential new restrictions, including those pertaining to the education system because health officials are fearful that the outbreak would be most significant there.
Speaking at the press conference, the Israeli Prime Minister said that travel would be banned from Subsaharan African countries for the time being. He stated that the government was making preparations for every scenario regarding the new strain. He went on to recommend that Israelis avoid traveling abroad for now, but he did disclose that they did not have immediate plans of imposing a lockdown. Health officials announced Friday afternoon that they believed four cases of the new variant that has been dubbed Omicron by the World Health Organization, were discovered in Israel. For about six weeks, there had been no country in the ‘red’ category list because no country had met the criteria outlined by the Health Ministry for this category.
However, Thursday evening saw the addition of the Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana to the list. Bennett said that with the exception of North Africa, all African countries were now in the ‘red’ category, which means that all Israelis who are coming from these countries have to adhere to a strict quarantine. Israelis returning from these countries, including people who are vaccinated, are also considered ‘red’ and as per the new rules, they would be required to quarantine at state-run hotels.
The quarantine period would last for a week and they would be released upon receiving two negative PCR test results. Bennett stated that those who refused to get tested would have to quarantine for two weeks at a state-run hotel. Later on Friday, Salman Zarka, the coronavirus czar for the government, said that he believed the no-fly list should be expanded to include countries other than Africa as well. He said that they would consider countries, particularly those that act as connection hubs for passengers traveling from Africa, such as Turkey.
In fact, Zarka went as far as encouraging Israelis to stay at home, in a remark that is very similar to what people were told in the early waves of the coronavirus. He said that people should stay at home, wear a mask, avoid crowded spaces and also get vaccinated. The Home Front Command of the Israeli Defense Forces has been instructed to identify all those who have arrived from African countries in the past week and to instruct them to self-isolate immediately. The prime minister said that home virus tests will also be conducted by the Home Front Command soldiers. He said that 10 million PCR kits would be purchased to detect the new variant.