Israel puts US on no-fly list for 1st time as daily virus cases top 1,000

Ministers vote to add 10 countries to ‘red’ travel list; daily caseload highest since October; health minister says parents must be responsible and vaccinate kids

Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 19, 2021. (Flash90)
Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 19, 2021. (Flash90)

Ministers voted on Monday to add 10 more countries to the list of destinations designated “red” due to high COVID-19 infection rates, including the United States — the first time the country has been placed on Israel’s no-fly list.

At the start of the pandemic, Israel’s implementation of a blanket travel ban was said to have been an attempt to avoid singling out the US for restrictions, due to concerns it would anger the administration of then-US president Donald Trump.

The fresh additions to the no-fly list await the final approval of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Ministers approved the recommendation to bar travel to the United States, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Canada, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey from midnight on Tuesday night.

Israel has in recent days already added nine countries to the “red” list: the UK, Denmark, France, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. South Africa and a slew of other African countries were added at the start of the month.

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

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

Israelis who return from those 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.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has approved the opening of another two “coronavirus hotels,” including one to quarantine travelers arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, taking the total number of state-run facilities in operation to five. Gantz has also ordered ministry officials “to prepare for the opening of additional hotels as needed.”

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

The approval of the list came as Israel’s rate of virus cases continued to rise, with 1,004 new infections diagnosed on Sunday, according to Health Ministry data, the highest level since October.

A testing complex in Jerusalem on December 10, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

There were 81 people in serious condition, with 51 of them categorized as critical. The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 8,232.

The virus reproduction number, R, was given as 1.22, having steadily climbed from 1 over the past few days. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and any value above 1 shows that the pandemic is growing.

Since the start of the pandemic, 5.8 million people in Israel — out of the total population of approximately 9.3 million — have received two vaccine doses, and over 4.1 million have gotten a third, booster shot.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told a joint meeting of the Knesset’s Health and Constitution, Law and Justice committees on Monday that parents must take responsibility and vaccinate their children as Israel tries to slow the wave of infections, supercharged by the highly contagious Omicron strain.

“We are facing a new situation. What we know from the Delta wave [of infections] is now different. We can see all over the world that Omicron is gaining momentum,” Horowitz said.

A child is vaccinated against the coronavirus at an elementary school in Tzur Hadassah, December 19, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“The responsibility to vaccinate the children is first and foremost on their parents. The state cannot replace the responsibility of the parent. We cannot make the decision for them,” he said.

Horowitz noted that COVID-19 can be dangerous for kids, while over six million young children have now been vaccinated in the US with no evidence of significant side effects.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that the highly infectious Omicron variant is driving Israel’s fifth wave of coronavirus infections, and urged the public to preempt an expected surge in morbidity by vaccinating children and curbing gatherings, including working from home if possible.

So far, at least 175 Omicron cases have been confirmed in Israel, including 40 on Sunday alone.

“I believe that within three to four weeks, perhaps sooner, we will see a jump in morbidity that will leave no room for doubt” regarding the severity of the outbreak, he said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 19, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

During this time, it is crucial to vaccinate as many people as possible, particularly children, he said.

“The goal is to get through the wave while keeping the economy and education working — and the goal is to vaccinate the children of Israel,” Bennett said.

The prime minister also urged business owners who can have employees work from home do so, in order to reduce public interactions, saying that the same measure would be taken in the public sector. He called for diligence in wearing face masks and avoiding public gatherings.

Bennett said the government would introduce additional restrictions due to lingering uncertainty on how effective vaccines are against Omicron, though he did not specify what he has planned.

But the Kan public broadcaster reported that the premier has already asked for regulations to be drawn up that will see 50 percent of those employed in the public sector work from home.

In addition, Bennett wants to expand the so-called Green Pass system — which limits entry to various public places to only those who were vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 in the previous six months, or have taken a recent negative test — to include malls and larger street stores, the report said.

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