Israel’s ban on travel to 7 countries over COVID variants takes effect

Israelis cannot travel to India, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Turkey; returnees, even those vaccinated or recovered, must isolate

Travelers walk to a coronavirus testing area after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)
Travelers walk to a coronavirus testing area after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

New regulations banning travel to seven countries over fears of importing COVID-19 variants into Israel went into effect on Monday, the Health Ministry announced.

Effective Monday, Israelis cannot travel to India, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Ukraine, Ethiopia, or Turkey unless they receive special permission. Israelis may take connecting flights through those countries, provided the layover is shorter than 12 hours.

Special permission may be provided for those with humanitarian reasons, athletes or emissaries for national institutions.

Israelis returning from those seven countries — even those vaccinated or recovered from the virus — must enter 10 days of isolation with two negative PCR tests, or 14 days with one test taken upon arrival in the country. The vaccinated or recovered do not need to self-isolate if they merely took a connecting flight through those countries, provided the layover was shorter than 12 hours.

Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

In the face of the new coronavirus variant devastating India, the Health Ministry proposed new travel restrictions for Israelis last week; however, the urgent restrictions were not immediately implemented.

The original recommendation included requiring noncitizens entering Israel from the specified highly infected countries to self-isolate in quarantine hotels, but that measure was not ratified.

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

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 Israel must ban travel to countries with high coronavirus infection rates.

According to a ministry 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 anyone who did, indicating that the variant is spreading undetected.

Children wearing face masks study in a classroom of the Kramim school in Jerusalem on their first day back to classes after a national lockdown, November 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Moreover, five kids from five schools were diagnosed with the Indian variant. Since the vast majority of children under 16 are not 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.

Still, Israel recorded the lowest positive infection rate in 14 months, with only 13 new coronavirus cases diagnosed in the country on Saturday, according to Health Ministry data released Sunday.

Late last month, the Jewish state passed the milestone of over 5 million people having received both vaccine shots.

And on Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces declared itself coronavirus-free, as it recorded zero active cases of the disease among its ranks for the first time since the outbreak of the virus.

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