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Israel reduces quarantine to 10 days, with 2 virus tests

Change of policy comes as health officials warn that 10,000 Israelis returning from UAE could fan wider outbreak

Health care workers take coronavirus test samples at a testing center, in Rishon Lezion on December 8, 2020. (Flash90)
Health care workers take coronavirus test samples at a testing center, in Rishon Lezion on December 8, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel has reduced the mandatory quarantine period to 10 days, on the condition that those in isolation test negative for the coronavirus twice, the Health Ministry announced Sunday.

The change of policy will come into effect on Tuesday at 6 a.m., Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said. Currently, travelers entering the country and Israelis exposed to confirmed virus carriers are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

As part of the new rules, people will have to test negative on two coronavirus tests — one taken at the beginning of the quarantine period and the second taken nine days after the initial possible exposure to the virus. The two tests must be taken at least 24 hours apart, the ministry said.

The Health Ministry in early November shortened the quarantine period from 14 days to 12, with two negative tests.

A technician collects nasal swab samples for COVID-19 at the new coronavirus lab, at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv on November 9, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The change came as a senior Health Ministry official warned Sunday that travel to the United Arab Emirates could be a coronavirus “ticking time bomb.” The official was referring to Israel’s decision to keep the UAE on its list of “green” countries with low infection rates, reportedly to avoid a diplomatic rift just months after establishing formal ties, while morbidity rises in the Gulf country.

“Dubai is our new Turkey,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying by the Ynet news site, referring to the large number of Israelis who returned from Turkey while carrying the virus, contributing to its spread in the country.

The Health Ministry expects that 224 COVID-19 patients will return from the UAE to Israel in December, Ynet reported, more than any other country (next are Turkey with an estimated 86 and the United States with 66).

Some 10,000 Israelis are currently in Dubai, the report said.

Meanwhile, Israel was gearing up to begin its COVID-19 vaccination drive, which was originally set for December 27 but may be moved up after US regulators gave the shot the go-ahead. The vaccine has yet to be approved in Israel, but the director of the Health Ministry has signaled it could get the green light in the coming days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also suggested Sunday that the start of the vaccination drive could be moved up, without further elaborating. “The end of the pandemic is in sight. Until then I ask [everyone] to observe the rules,” he said during a visit to a mass-immunization station in Tel Aviv.

Israel has purchased millions of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, and the first batch landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday.

The expected approval by Israel of the vaccine comes as the country grapples with rising infection numbers, with officials weighing plans to tighten restrictions — and then backing down. Israel currently has over 17,000 active cases and has seen nearly 3,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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