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Knesset panel approves fines for Israelis trying to visit banned COVID hotspots

Citizens caught attempting to travel to several ‘red’ states will have to pay a NIS 5,000 penalty

Flight staff are seen in the arrival hall of Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Flight staff are seen in the arrival hall of Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A Knesset committee on Sunday approved fines for Israelis who visit or attempt to visit countries to which travel is banned for health reasons.

The Health Ministry on Friday updated the list of countries with extreme rates of COVID-19 infection, to which Israelis are barred from flying unless a government committee approves their request.

The countries that are off-limits for Israelis are: Uzbekistan, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia.

Israelis who enter the country after visiting any of those countries will face a NIS 5,000 ($1,500) fine, and will also be required to enter quarantine.

Last month, the Health Ministry introduced regulations requiring all Israelis leaving the country to sign a form declaring they will not visit countries on the “red” list.

The new regulation approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee will take effect at midnight between Sunday and Monday.

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approves COVID-19 regulations that would fine Israelis who visit countries that are banned for health reasons, July 9, 2021 (Noam Moskowitz/ Knesset spokesperson’s office)

It will be valid until July 25, as are other new restrictions on travel that the Health Ministry issued Friday.

Under those rules, all travelers, including those vaccinated and recovered from COVID-19, will be required to self-isolate for up to 24 hours or until their test results prove negative upon arrival to the country, starting July 16.

And those returning from 16 countries deemed to have high rates of infection will be required to fully self-isolate for 14 days, or 10 days with two negative tests, according to the ministry’s updated guidelines.

The countries considered to have high infection rates as of Friday are: the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan and Tunisia.

The new restrictions are likely to be extended further if cases continue to rise.

The Health Ministry said Sunday that 261 new cases had been detected the day before, with 0.6 percent of tests coming back positive, similar to the rate in recent days, but slightly higher than last month’s positivity rate, which hovered near zero on some days.

There were 4,130 active cases and 44 serious cases. The death toll was at 6,436 after five deaths were confirmed in the last few days, following almost two weeks of no fatalities.

The ministry said 5,728,526 Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose, and 5,190,709 have been fully vaccinated.

Health officials have linked the recent spike in infections in Israel to travelers who brought back new variants of the virus from abroad and did not properly quarantine after arriving.

The resurgence of coronavirus in Israel has been largely attributed to the spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India and is believed to be twice as contagious as the original COVID strain.

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