Decision comes amid fears of new vaccine-resistant variants

Health Ministry to require quarantine for all travelers from 7 virus-hit nations

New public health order taking effect May 3 requires all arrivals from the 7 countries to isolate — even if they are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID

Travellers at Ben Gurion International Airport on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Travellers at Ben Gurion International Airport on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry will require all travelers from seven virus-hit nations to quarantine upon arrival in Israel, it announced Thursday.

Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, signed a public health order requiring all arrivals — including those vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 — from the seven countries to quarantine for 10-14 days upon entering the country.

The countries are Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Turkey; Israel has also issued a general warning against travel to all of them.

The Health Ministry said the order, which still requires Knesset approval, will come into effect on Monday, May 3.

Beds lie inside an indoor stadium converted into a COVID-19 treatment center for emergencies in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, April 28, 2021. (Dar Yasin/AP)

In the face of the new coronavirus variant devastating India, the Health Ministry proposed new travel restrictions for Israelis earlier this week, which alongside mandating quarantine, would ban travel to the seven high-risk countries. However, the urgent restrictions have not been implemented by the government because ministers in the outgoing coalition have been arguing over other issues this week.

The recommendations could also require non-citizens entering Israel from the specified highly infected countries to self-isolate in quarantine hotels.

Israel has identified 41 cases of the Indian coronavirus variant, including five in children, and five among people who were fully vaccinated.

A Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on February 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A top health official said Wednesday that it was not clear that COVID-19 vaccines offer protection against the Indian variant, and cited the concern as a key reason why Israel must ban travel to countries with high coronavirus infection rates.

According to the ministry’s statement, 24 cases of the mutated strain were found among people who returned recently from abroad, including 21 foreign residents.

But 17 of those infected hadn’t been abroad, and some of them had no obvious links to someone who did, indicating that the variant is spreading undetected.

Moreover, five kids from five schools were diagnosed with the Indian variant. Since the vast majority of children under 16 are not currently being vaccinated, this has raised fears of a new outbreak after infections have been steadily dropping for several months following the country’s rapid inoculation campaign.

Israeli childrens wearing face masks return to school in Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is organizing widescale genetic sequencing tests in schools where the variant has been detected, though the ministry said it has “encountered difficulties in cooperating” with the Education Ministry to carry out genome sequencing at the schools.

Two of the schools are in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement and the others are in Ashdod, Holon and Pardes Hanna.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, during a briefing on March 15, 2021. (Screenshot / GPO)

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s director of public health, noted in a letter to the director-general of the Education Ministry that all of the schools except the one in Holon recently experienced coronavirus outbreaks.

“Even if it is not currently known about confirmed [cases] at the schools, the combination of the presence of a variant that may be dangerous, the fact that there were recently outbreaks and the knowledge from the pandemic that children are asymptomatic in 70 percent of cases, requires quick sequencing to be carried out widely at the aforementioned schools, to ensure there is no morbidity,” she wrote.

She also said the “the situation is particularly” concerning because kids aren’t vaccinated and spend extensive time together in closed spaces.

“If we can’t sequence as required we will need to consider closing the school or part of it,” Alroy-Preis warned.

Data published by the ministry showed a total of 100 coronavirus cases were diagnosed Wednesday in Israel, with a 0.3% positive test rate. Active cases stood at 1,570, serious cases at 118 and the number of patients in critical condition was 68, continuing the general downward trend.

A COVID-19 patient sits inside a car and breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri, File)

With 379,257 new daily infections, India now has reported more than 18.3 million cases, second only to the United States. India’s Health Ministry also reported 3,645 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 204,832.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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