Daily COVID-19 cases top 1,100

Israel expected to require all travelers entering the country to self-isolate

Ministers likely to okay move Tuesday; Health Ministry warns against travel abroad — but says no plans to shutter airport — as 37,000 pass through Ben Gurion on Monday

Travelers seen in the departure hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on July 19, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Travelers seen in the departure hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on July 19, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel is likely to soon impose mandatory quarantine on all travelers — including the vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 — entering the country, aiming to stem the resurgence of the coronavirus, according to television reports Monday evening.

The development came as more than 1,100 cases were diagnosed in the country as of Monday at 10 p.m., and as authorities urged Israelis to avoid unnecessary international travel due to rising global COVID-19 cases, but said the government was not currently weighing closing the country’s borders again.

The Health Ministry is expected to recommend a self-isolation period of between four and seven days to the coronavirus cabinet during a Tuesday meeting, and ministers are expected to approve such a move, the Kan public broadcaster and channels 12 and 13 reported.

Currently, the vaccinated and recovered only need to enter quarantine if they have returned from a location designated high-risk by the Health Ministry. But Channel 12 said officials believe virus carriers have also been entering the country from supposedly low-risk countries.

Kan reported that the ministry could also recommend significantly increasing the number of countries to and from which Israelis are barred from traveling.

The move could enter effect within a week or even a few days, the reports said.

In a briefing to the media Monday, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said: “This isn’t the time to travel abroad for non-essential flights.” He added that those who choose to fly abroad “are endangering themselves and their families.”

Ash referred to reports that 37,000 travelers passed through Ben Gurion Airport on Monday, saying there has been “crowding in lines and what seemed like a lack of adherence to the rules.”

“People could fly abroad without mandatory quarantine and return with mandatory quarantine,” he warned, urging returning travelers to heed the rules. “Quarantine is the best measure to prevent the entry of infections from abroad.”

However, Ash said a closure of the airport was not currently being discussed.

New Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)

Addressing the public in Israel, Ash said not enough people had resumed wearing face masks indoors as required.

He acknowledged that the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing contagion appears to be reduced for the Delta strain, but emphasized that the shots remain highly effective in preventing serious illness and urged those who are not immunized to get vaccinated.

Ash predicted that Israel could see 2,000 new COVID cases a day in two weeks’ time, and 30 new serious cases per day.

He said the elderly must take greater precautions to avoid contracting the virus.

Additionally, the TV networks said Israel is likely to reinstate the Green Pass system, which limits access to many public spaces just to those who are vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or have a recent negative test.

Kan said health officials were already preparing what will likely be the next wave of restrictions next week, with a potential return to the purple badge system that limited customers in stores and imposed a mandatory distance of two meters between people in indoor public spaces.

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

Additionally, Channel 12 reported that the education and health ministries have agreed that the school year will be opened on September 1 without students being divided into separate pods and without kids being automatically sent to quarantine if they come in contact with a confirmed carrier.

The report said officials are trying to minimize the need for online studies. Students whose classmate has caught the virus will undergo rapid tests in which those who get a negative result will continue going to school.

No final agreements have been reached on localities with high infection rates, with some officials pushing for cities to be divided into smaller areas where studies could be halted while others continue as normal.

Israel has seen coronavirus cases rise sharply over the last month, after nearly eradicating the disease and removing nearly all restrictions in May and June.

The latest data from the Health Ministry on Monday showed that there were 831 new coronavirus cases diagnosed on Sunday and that 1,110 more cases were found on Monday by 10 p.m., meaning that the expected total daily tally will be higher.

There were 60 patients in serious condition as the total number of cases continued to creep upward. Of the 49,508 tests performed Sunday, 1.7 percent came back positive. There are 7,540 active virus cases in the country, Health Ministry data showed — a month after that figure was around 200.

Three deaths on Sunday took the reported death toll in Israel since the pandemic began to 6,450.

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that authorities would not tolerate a lack of adherence to new virus restrictions, speaking ahead of a planned effort to significantly increase enforcement of regulations meant to curb the spread of infections.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 19, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/ POOL)

“I want to say here clearly: Government decisions are not recommendations; they are binding. Whoever flouts them will pay,” the premier said, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Israel has moved to reimpose a number of measures, most significantly a mandate requiring face masks indoors, and the reintroduction of a system restricting attendance at large events to only those who have been vaccinated against or recovered from COVID-19, or who can present a recent negative test. Authorities are said to also be mulling more moves, with case numbers continuing to rise.

Israel is expected to see a major increase in enforcement this week, as local municipality inspectors work alongside police to fine people found without face coverings in indoor locations.

Those found without one can be fined NIS 500 (approximately $150). Additionally, owners of event halls where the rules are violated will be subject to NIS 5,000 ($1,500) fines.

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