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Ban would include travel to US and Canada

Bennett said planning to urge cabinet to expand no-fly list to most of the world

‘I expect all the ministers to understand the seriousness of the situation and not give in to pressure from the public or lobbyists,’ TV quotes PM as saying

Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on November 29, 2021. (Photo by Flash90 )
Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on November 29, 2021. (Photo by Flash90 )

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett plans to ask the cabinet to expand Israel’s “red” no-fly list to most of the world, including the US and Canada, in a bid to keep out the highly infectious Omicron variant, Channel 12 reported Friday.

However, Bennett is expected to face opposition from some of his ministers to such a drastic move, the report said, noting that Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz favored a more measured plan.

“Ministers that vote against the steps will be responsible for the outbreak. I expect all the ministers to understand the seriousness of the situation and not give in to pressure from the public or lobbyists,” the report quoted Bennett as telling a meeting of advisers on Friday.

Israel added nine countries this week to the “red” list: the UK, Denmark,  France, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Those wanting to travel to “red” list countries need to first obtain special permission from a government committee.

Israelis who return from red countries are required to enter quarantine in state-run hotels until their first COVID test comes back negative, after which they can leave, but must remain in home quarantine for seven days, even if they are fully vaccinated.

The cabinet on Thursday voted to extend the current travel restrictions, including the ban on foreigners entering the country and a requirement for all Israelis to quarantine for three days upon entry. The limitations will now last until December 29 at least.

Workers from the tourism sector, calling for financial support from the Israeli government, protest outside Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 13, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

However, Channel 12 noted that if the widespread ban was in place it would only last so long as Israel managed to stop the local spread of Omicron.

The latest Health Ministry coronavirus figures released Friday showed 838 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed the previous day, the highest daily figure in some two months.

The number represented an increase of 181 from the previous day, as the pandemic appeared to be on an upward trajectory in Israel once more.

The ministry said 45 of the new cases had been confirmed to be of the Omicron variant, bringing the total number of Omicron cases in Israel to 134. Most of the cases were found in people returning from overseas. There were an additional 207 likely cases waiting to be confirmed.

The latest numbers also showed Israel’s basic virus reproduction rate had risen to 1.07. Also known as the “R-number,” the figure represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number over 1 signifies that case numbers are rising.

A healthcare worker takes a COVID-19 test sample from a man at a testing center in Katzrin, Golan Heights, December 12, 2021 (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Though the strain first identified in South Africa is believed to be the most infectious yet, it is not yet clear that it is more dangerous. In fact, some data has indicated the disease it causes may be milder than previous variants.

Also Friday, the government announced that it had finalized the plan to reimpose some restrictions on entry to malls.

The government had briefly announced the implementation of the Green Pass system at malls starting Friday (requiring proof of immunity or a negative test to access non-essential shops). But a public outcry from business owners and threats of rebellion led the plan to be shelved for now.

Instead, in a meeting between Bennett, Horowitz and Economics Minister Orna Barbivai, it was decided to place capacity limits on malls and stores of one person per 15 meters. Mall opening hours would also be expanded to reduce crowding.

In addition, extra people would be deployed to ensure masks were being worn in indoor venues.

As of Friday morning there were 6,542 active COVID-19 cases; 79 of those were severely ill, hospitalized COVID-19 patients, down from 93 a week earlier. There are 42 coronavirus patients on respirators.

According to Health Ministry data, 6,438,561 people in Israel have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, 5,815,500 have received two shots, and 4,147,339 have received the booster shot.

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