Despite COVID’s ebb, Israel among 116 countries added to US ‘Do Not Travel’ list

Inclusion on State Department’s Level Four advisory, indicating ‘unprecedented’ risk, appears to be due to health officials’ decision to lump Israel with West Bank and Gaza

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Israelis sit a cafe in Jerusalem's city center on April 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis sit a cafe in Jerusalem's city center on April 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The US State Department has added over 116 countries, including Israel, to its “Level Four: Do Not Travel” advisory list, citing “unprecedented” risk due to a “very high level of COVID-19.”

The decision to include Israel along with the UK, Canada, France, Mexico and Germany, despite numbers that are a fraction of other countries’, appeared to have to do with US policy to lump Israel proper with the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel’s coronavirus numbers are, in fact, quite different from those of the West Bank or Gaza, and its daily new cases have plummeted. Israel made vaccines available for all citizens over the age of 16 in the country, and has gone on to inoculate over half the population, but disputes the claim that it is responsible for vaccinating the Palestinians.

It has given a limited number of vaccine doses to Palestinians, including vaccinating many Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel. But in general, the vaccination campaigns in the West Bank and Gaza have been much slower than Israel’s.

The US State Department said Monday that its updated travel advisories would more closely align with guidelines issued earlier this month by the US Centers for Disease Control, and as a result, roughly 80 percent of countries worldwide would be listed.

At the beginning of the week, 34 countries were listed as “Level Four: Do Not Travel” countries. By Tuesday, that number climbed to 150.

The recommendations are not mandatory and do not legally bar Americans from travel abroad.

“This does not imply a reassessment of the current health situation in a given country, but rather reflects an adjustment in the State Department’s Travel Advisory system to rely more on CDC’s existing epidemiological assessments,” the State Department said in a statement.

“In light of those risks, the Department of State strongly recommends U.S. citizens reconsider all travel abroad,” it added.

Earlier this month, the CDC claimed that there is a “very high level” of coronavirus infection in Israel, when considering it as a single unified entity with the West Bank and Gaza, and urged Americans to avoid travel to all three areas.

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