On Saturday, Switzerland became the first country to put fresh restrictions on Israelis coming into the country. The new limitations essentially bars any Israelis arriving to the country who do not have EU passports. This move came after a case of the newly detected, high-risk Omicron variant of the coronavirus was discovered in Israel, and three others were also suspected. It gave rise to fears that the new variant could already be spreading in the Israeli population. Switzerland stated that anyone who wanted to come into the country from Belgium, Israel, Hong Kong and a number of other African countries would have to have a residency permit in the Schengen area of the European Union or Swiss citizenship to enter.
They would also be required to quarantine upon their arrival for 10 days and present a negative PCR test result. The Federal office of Public Health in Switzerland announced that this would also be applicable to recovered and vaccinated individuals. Other countries were also considering moves of restricting arrivals from Israel, as governments are already racing to get ahead of the new Omicron variant. It is feared that the new variant may be highly contagious and might be able to bypass the protection of the vaccine as opposed to other strains.
Israel was also amongst the various countries that imposed a ban on foreigners arriving into the country from countries in Africa in recent days. The highly mutated Omicron variant had first been discovered in South Africa. The country is still permitting Israelis who had previously left for these countries to return to Israel, but strict quarantine measures have been implemented. The nations have been classified as ‘red’ and anyone who returns from them will be processed through the smaller Terminal 1 at the Ben Gurion Airport to keep them at a distance from the majority of the passengers.
In addition, these returnees would also be required to quarantine in a state-run hotel. The coronavirus cabinet of the Israeli government is scheduled to have an emergency meeting on Saturday evening for discussing further steps to be taken to prevent the spread of the new variant in the country. It was reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett would prefer to close the country entirely to foreigners because of the emergence of the new variant. Israel had only fully reopened the country to all tourists on November 1st. However, it appears that most ministers are not in support of such drastic action.
Other than the airport, the education system is also an area of concern because health officials are fearful that the outbreak of the virus could be most prominent there. On Friday, Bennett stated that the government was making preparations for all scenarios regarding the new strain and recommended that Israelis avoid traveling abroad for now. However, he added that lockdown was not in any immediate plans. According to the head of public health services of the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said that vaccinated individuals suffering from the new variant only appear to have a mild illness.