On Saturday night, the government’s coronavirus cabinet gave approval for fresh restrictions to curb the spread of the newly-detected Omicron variant. Ministers voted that non-citizens be banned from entering Israel for the next two weeks. The new rules will be put into effect from Sunday night and foreign nationals will not be able to come into the country for 14 days, unless a government panel grants them special permission. Israel had opened its borders for foreign tourists from 1st November for the first time after the beginning of the pandemic. According to the media reports, mandatory quarantine requirements were also expanded by the ministers for vaccinated Israelis returning from abroad.
The Shin-Bet security agency also received the greenlight for resuming tracking of infected individuals. Under the existing rules, vaccinated Israelis had been required to take a PCR test upon landing and stay in isolation until a negative test result. However, as per the changed rules, they would now have to enter quarantine for 72 hours and take one more COVID-19 test on the third day of arrival. As for unvaccinated travelers, they have to stay in quarantine for a week and would be permitted to leave on the seventh day after obtaining a negative test result.
As for Israelis returning from countries classified as ‘red’, they will need to quarantine in state-run hotels until they obtain a negative test result. During the meeting, there was some sparring between top ministers with Yifat Shasha-Biton, the Education Minister and Gideon Sa’ar, the Justice Minister, opposing imposing strict limits for preventing the Omicron variant. In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel had used the controversial tracking program of the Shin Bet and it once more received the green light, after reassurance from the agency’s director that it will only be used for a short period of time and only for people infected with Omicron.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said during the meeting that Israel has to be cautious and risks need to be minimized due to uncertainty surrounding the new variant. He said that they wanted to maintain the tremendous achievement of the country during the Delta wave, which was an open and functioning economy as well as an active education system that involves children going to school. The premier said that this was their top priority and to accomplish it, tighter border controls were a must. Bennett further added that he had spoken to the CEOs of both Moderna and Pfizer, along with leading health experts and top officials of the Health Ministry.
He urged Israelis to get vaccinated and opt for boosters, even after recovery and added that children also need to be vaccinated before the Hanukkah holiday that starts on Sunday night. He said that this was the best time to get vaccinated before the new variant breaks out. He called it an opportunity to protect families and children. He stated that anyone not getting vaccinated and a booster were abandoning a vital layer of defense in such a critical situation.