According to reports on Thursday, the Health Ministry is planning to recommend that tourists from nations where the new virus strain has been discovered to be tested every 48 hours throughout their stay. This is in light of concerns of an outbreak of a new COVID-19 variant and ahead of a possible easing of entry restrictions for visitors. However, it remains unclear as to how this level of intensive testing will be conducted on a practical level. Currently, a PCR test has to be taken by anyone entering Israel, regardless of their vaccination status or their citizenship. The test has to be taken before they leave the foreign country and upon landing at the Ben Gurion airport.
Israel has been mulling over opening its borders once more for vaccinated tourists from next month. This step has been delayed a number of times during the year, as COVID-19 cases had waned and waxed. The country was effectively shut to general tourism since March 2020 and they were only allowing non-citizens who had special permission to enter the country. On Wednesday night, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the tourism framework to be presented on Thursday to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett would be adjusted in light of information regarding the new variant.
It was reported that the meeting would include a discussion about the suggested intense testing framework. On Thursday, health officials disclosed that they had diagnosed five cases of AY4.2 retroactively since confirmation of the first known case on Tuesday in Israel. This sample had come from an 11-year-old boy who had returned to the country from Moldova. This week, Bennett had instructed officials to increase genetic testing and epidemiological investigations of those who are diagnosed with the new strain. He also instructed to maintain information-sharing and close cooperation with countries where the new variant has been identified.
On Wednesday, reports indicated that health officials were considering mandating quarantine for people who come into contact with a confirmed AY4.2 case, even if they are otherwise exempt from quarantine and fully vaccinated. However, the health authorities said that genetic sequencing would be selectively performed only for those who are diagnosed with the coronavirus. This new variant of the Delta strain of coronavirus had been recently identified in the United Kingdom and a number of Eastern European nations. The Center for Diseases Control (CDC) announced on Wednesday that they had found the first cases in the US.
Israel is currently at the tail end of the fourth wave of the coronavirus, as serious cases and new infections have been declining in the last few weeks. 20 people entering the country had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, with 22 and 27 on Monday and Sunday, respectively. This is less than 0.1% of the total number of people entering the country on these days. On Thursday, the total number of serious cases in Israel were 331, which had been 750 almost a month ago. The rate of positive tests was 1.05% on Wednesday, which is the lowest it has been since July.