Turkey, Ukraine, Ethiopia also 'very high risk'

Israel’s Health Ministry: US, France pose ‘very high’ risk for virus mutations

Ministry claims no risk of variants coming from Britain, where a more virulent strain emerged that was blamed for the severity of Israel’s 3rd wave

Passengers seen at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)
Passengers seen at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

The Health Ministry has designated several countries as more likely to be a source of mutated coronavirus strains that could prove more resistant to current vaccines.

In a new report issued Thursday, the ministry said the probability for variants was “very high” in the United States, Turkey, France, Ukraine and Ethiopia. Germany was listed as high risk, while the ministry said there was not enough information from Russia.

Britain — where a more infectious strain emerged — was said to pose no risk. The extensive spread of the UK strain in Israel has been blamed for the severity of the Jewish state’s third coronavirus wave.

The report also provided information on the number of travelers from various destinations who tested positive for coronavirus between March 6 and April 6.

Ethiopia, from which 927 people flew to Israel during that time, had the highest positive rate, with 4.3 percent of travelers testing positive. Ukraine had the second-highest rate at 1.5% and the largest total number of passengers to test positive — 93.

France had a positive test rate of 0.5%, Turkey 0.4%, Russia 0.3% and both Britain and Germany 0.2%.

Among travelers coming from the US, from which 17,237 people flew during the period in question, 0.3% tested positive.

The report came a day after cabinet ministers agreed to hold a meeting by April 17 to examine the Transportation Ministry’s findings on ways to increase capacity at border crossings, allowing more Israelis to enter the country each day.

Entry to Israel has been highly restricted since late January, when the government ordered the closure of Ben Gurion Airport, including for Israeli citizens, citing concerns of vaccine-resistant coronavirus variants entering the country.

The government later eased restrictions on air travel for citizens ahead of the March 23 elections, but its cap limiting entry to 3,000 Israelis per day was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court of Justice.

However, entry continues to be limited to the “effective capacity” of the airport.

Last week, Israel reopened the Taba border crossing with Egypt to allow a limited number of vaccinated Israelis to visit the Sinai Peninsula for the Passover holiday.

Israel in recent months has significantly rolled back coronavirus restrictions by opening the economy, event venues and other activities, as morbidity levels have dropped amid the country’s world-leading vaccination drive.

As of Thursday, Israel had fewer than 300 serious COVID cases, and fewer than 4,500 active cases nationwide. The death toll from the virus was 6,277.

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