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Ministers decide to bar tourists, reinstate quarantine rules to contain Omicron

Coronavirus cabinet reportedly bans non-citizen international travelers for two weeks, approves Shin Bet tracking for confirmed virus carriers

Travelers arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, on November 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Travelers arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, on November 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they happened.

Ministers approve barring travelers, quarantine, Shin Bet tracking to contain Omicron

The coronavirus cabinet approves closing Ben Gurion airport to non-citizen international arrivals for two weeks, mandatory quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad and tracking infected people by the Shin Bet internal security agency, according to Hebrew media reports.

Israelis arriving from abroad will have to quarantine for at least three days, reports said.

Israelis coming from red countries will have to quarantine in designated hotels until they receive a negative virus test.

Top ministers sparred over the restrictions during the meeting, with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar opposing strict limits to contain the Omicron variant.

Syrian Kurdish authorities say two women and a child killed in ‘terrorist explosion’

Two women and a child from the same family were killed and five other people were wounded in an attack today in Syria’s northern city of Minbej, authorities say.

A “terrorist explosion” occurred as a vehicle carrying civilians passed the entrance to Minbej, an Arab-majority city under Kurdish administration, the Minbej military council says, without providing further details.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor says the blast was a car bomb.

It says two civilians were killed and five wounded, including two members of the Kurdish Asayesh security forces.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the regional administration’s main fighting force, spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Justice minister said to oppose ‘very harsh’ move to bar entry to foreigners

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar reportedly tells the coronavirus cabinet that he opposes the proposal to introduce a complete closure to tourists and foreign residents due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

“These are very harsh steps. It’s a question of taking risks and we’ve taken bigger risks in the past,” Sa’ar is quoted by Army Radio as telling ministers in the meeting.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is reportedly pushing for the move in order to limit the possibility of further Omicron cases coming into Israel.

Israeli held in Belarus on suspicion of smuggling in 2.5 grams of medical marijuana

An Israeli lawyer is currently being held in Belarus on suspicion of having tried to smuggle some 2.5 grams of medical marijuana into the country, Channel 12 news reports.

Maya Aytan-Satul was arrested in Minsk airport three weeks ago, the report says.

She reportedly holds an Israeli Health Ministry medical marijuana license.

 

Hospital confirms first Czech case of new COVID strain

The regional hospital in the northern Czech city of Liberec confirms the new Omicron strain of COVID-19 in a female patient, its spokesman Vaclav Ricar says.

“We can confirm that the strain was confirmed,” Ricar says.

Bennett at coronavirus cabinet: Israel must use caution and take ‘minimal risks’

Opening a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that Israel needs to use “caution” and take “minimal risks” as the world learns more about the Omicron COVID variant.

“We want to maintain the tremendous achievement of the State of Israel in the Delta wave — an open and functioning Israel, with a functioning economy, and an active education system with children going to school. That’s the top priority,” Bennett says.

Encouraging Israelis to continue to get vaccinated, the prime minister says that “the indications are that the vaccine prevents serious illness” from the Omicron variant and that “the booster is very significant for protection against serious illness.”

Ministers are expected to vote on a complete closure of Israel to tourists and foreign residents, several news outlets report.

Netherlands says new strain ‘probably’ among COVID-infected travelers from South Africa

Dutch health authorities say that the new Omicron variant is “probably” present among 61 passengers who arrived on two flights from South Africa and tested positive for COVID-19.

“The Omicron variant was probably found in a number of people who have been tested,” the National Institute for Public Health says in a statement, adding that further analysis would be carried out to definitively determine whether the new variant is involved.

Italy announces its first case of new COVID variant

Italy says it had detected its first case of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19 in a traveler from Mozambique.

“The patient and the members of their family are in good health,” the national health institute says in a statement.

US ‘deeply concerned’ about Iranian crackdown in Isfahan

The United States is “deeply concerned” about a crackdown in the Iranian city of Isfahan that saw dozens arrested amid protests over the drying up of a lifeblood river, the State Department says.

Riot police fired tear gas during clashes with protesters in the dry bed of the Zayadneh Rood river, a day after dozens were arrested, Iranian news agencies reported.

“Deeply concerned about the violent crackdown against peaceful protestors,” tweets State Department spokesman Ned Price. “The people of Iran have a right to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable.”

Coronavirus cabinet convenes to debate entry restrictions amid Omicron fears

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet convenes to debate new restrictions on entry to the country, after a case of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 was discovered in Israel and fears that it could already be spreading in the population.

Ministers are expected to vote on a complete closure of Israel to tourists and foreign residents, several news outlets report.

Beyond the airport, another area of concern is the education system, where health officials fear the outbreak could be most prominent.

Health Ministry says 7 people in Israel suspected of contracting Omicron variant

The Health Ministry says there are currently seven people in Israel suspected of having contracted the Omicron coronavirus variant, in addition the one confirmed case announced yesterday.

Of them, four are unvaccinated and three are vaccinated, the ministry says, with four having recently returned from travel abroad.

Germany confirms two cases of Omicron variant

Germany confirms its first two cases of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19 in travelers who arrived at Munich airport from South Africa.

“Two suspected cases of the new virus variant Omicron classified by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern have been confirmed in Bavaria,” the health ministry of the southern state says in a statement.

Coronavirus cabinet set to vote on complete closure of Israel to tourists – reports

The coronavirus cabinet, set to meet at 8:30 pm, is to vote on a complete closure of Israel to tourists and foreign residents, several news outlets report, in a bid to minimize the dangers posed by the Omicron variant.

Additionally, all of Africa except for Morrocco will be defined as “red,” meaning that Israelis cannot travel there, Channel 12 says.

All returning Israelis from anywhere in the world are expected to face tightened quarantine rules. Those vaccinated and those who have recovered from the virus within six months will be required to quarantine for three days after traveling abroad, under the proposal being put to the cabinet. Seven days’ quarantine will be required for those who are not vaccinated.

All these measures would be for the next weeks, the reports say, while the dangers posed by Omicron are assessed.

Israel was among numerous countries to ban foreigners arriving from most African countries in recent days. The highly-mutated Omicron was first identified in South Africa.

Shaked says ministers will reintroduce quarantine for vaccinated travellers

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked says the coronavirus cabinet set to meet at 8:30 pm is set to approve a new quarantine plan for tourists and Israeli travelers entering Israel.

According to the plan, Shaked confirmed in an interview, both those vaccinated and those who have recovered from the virus within six months will be required to quarantine for three days after traveling abroad. Seven days will be required for those who are not vaccinated, she says.

Saying that the government’s main goal in the coming week is increasing vaccinations, Shaked calls on parents to vaccinate children aged 5-11 now that the vaccine in available to them.

She says the government wants to try to leave the country open during the upcoming Hanukkah festival, which starts on Sunday night.

UK to tighten entry rules after 2 Omicron cases found

The UK government on Saturday says it is planning new measures to combat the Omicron COVID-19 variant, including mandatory PCR tests for all arriving international travelers and ramping up the use of face masks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces the measures at a news conference alongside his chief medical officers.

Hours earlier, the UK health secretary confirmed that two people tested positive with the Omicron variant and that the cases are linked and related to travel from southern Africa.

 

South Africa complains it’s being ‘punished’ for alerting world to Omicron

South Africa, whose citizens are being blocked from entering countries around the world after the discovery of a new COVID variant in the country, says it is being “punished” and unfairly treated for sounding the alarm.

The decision by many countries to ban flights from southern Africa following the discovery of the Omicron variant “is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,” the foreign affairs ministry says.

“New variants have been detected in other countries. Each of those cases have had no recent links with southern Africa,” yet the global “reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in southern Africa,” it adds.

South Africa’s health ministry also slammed the travel restrictions as “draconian,” noting that they went “against the norms and advice by the WHO.”

Signs of COVID rise continue as reproduction rate climbs to 1.07

The coronavirus’s basic reproduction number in Israel has increased to 1.07, according to new data released by the Health Ministry.

Known also as the “R-number,” the figure represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number over 1 signifies infection is expanding.

The new data shows that 508 people had been diagnosed the previous day, with the number representing 0.66 percent of the 79,000 tests conducted.

There were 167 hospitalized individuals, of whom 125 were in serious condition.

Israeli with Omicron variant said to have travelled from airport on bus

The first person in Israel diagnosed with the new Omicron coronavirus variant traveled home from Ben Gurion Airport on a public bus, potentially infecting dozens, Channel 12 news reports.

Health authorities have so far been in contact with around half of the passengers, the report says.

The first case of the strain was detected in Israel after a person arrived from Malawi, the Health Ministry announced on Friday.

Coronavirus cabinet not expected to ban airport entry after Omicron found – reports

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet is set to meet at 8.30 pm Saturday evening to debate new restrictions on entry to the country, after a case of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 was discovered in Israel and fears that it could already be spreading in the population.

Ministers are not expected to decide on closing entry to the country to foreigners, but may impose some additional restrictions on tourists, according to several Hebrew media reports. They may, however, ban all entry from South Africa, Channel 12 says.

According to Kan news, Prime Minister Banftali Bennett is in favor of closing the airport, but most ministers do not currently support such drastic action.

Beyond the airport, another area of concern is the education system, where health officials fear the outbreak could be most prominent.

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