Israel said eyeing new limitations on arrivals amid fears of Delta variant

Modiin mayor reimposes indoor mask mandate after school outbreak; Health Ministry to reportedly reintroduce self-isolation, electronic bracelet for high-risk returnees from abroad

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel’s Health Ministry is weighing reimposing certain COVID-19 restrictions on unvaccinated individuals returning from abroad, as well as those arriving from “high-risk” countries, according to a Saturday television report.

The Health Ministry considerations come amid fears of a renewed outbreak of the virus in the country, particularly the Delta variant, first identified in India, which is more contagious than other variants and may be better able to bypass vaccines.

Officials plan for unvaccinated individuals over the age of 14, and anyone arriving from countries deemed high risk, to be required to self-isolate at home with an electronic bracelet, Channel 12 news reported. Those who will refuse the bracelet will be required to spend isolation in state-run quarantine hotels, according to the report.

Previous plans to use electronic bracelets to ensure self-isolation for arrivals were only partially enforced. On June 1, Israel lifted nearly all remaining virus-related restrictions.

Health Ministry officials estimate that only some 70 percent of those arriving from abroad have been vaccinated, and with many not quarantining correctly, this may be cause for concern.

While new limitations have yet to be imposed, two outbreaks of the Delta variant occurred in the country this week.

Passengers arriving on a flight from Frankfurt take part in the pilot program of wearing electronic bracelets upon arrival in Israel, on March 01, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In the northern town of Binyamina, 44 kids at a middle school tested positive, and in Modiin, 11 sixth graders were infected.

According to Kan news, initial tests indicate the outbreaks there and in Modiin earlier in the week were all of the Delta variant. The report said several adults who were infected in the school outbreaks were vaccinated.

On Saturday evening Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas said he had decided to reinstate an indoor mask mandate throughout the city, including at schools.

“I appeal to school principles and educational staff to be strict about the order and for parents to avoid entering the grounds of educational institutions as much as possible. We must do everything we can to prevent a renewed rise in morbidity,” tweeted Bibas, who also heads the federation of local government leaders.

On Friday, the Health Ministry temporarily suspended the requirement for travelers entering Israel to be tested for the coronavirus upon arrival, following crowding at the airport as a bottleneck formed around passengers waiting to be swabbed.

At least 1,000 people entered without being tested, according to Kan news.

Those arriving from countries deemed high risk — Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia — were not allowed to skip the requirement even if vaccinated, according to Hebrew media reports.

A national inoculation drive has already seen over half the Israeli population vaccinated against COVID-19 and brought down daily caseloads from the thousands seen at the beginning of the year to just 25 people diagnosed on Thursday.

Health Ministry data published Saturday showed there are just 286 active virus patients in the country. Since the start of the outbreak early last year 839,829 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel and 6,427 are known to have died of the disease.

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