NSC chief warns against lifting traveler quarantine requirements

NSC chief warns against lifting traveler quarantine requirements

Fearing virus surge, national security head Meir Ben-Shabbat says vigilance must be maintained in face of high infection rates overseas

Passengers seen at Ben Gurion Airport,  May 14, 2020.  (Flash90)
Passengers seen at Ben Gurion Airport, May 14, 2020. (Flash90)

National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat on Friday cautioned the government against relaxing Israel’s strict border controls, saying that high rates of coronavirus infection overseas posed a renewed threat to Israel.

Ben-Shabbat sent a letter to senior government officials noting that a global high of 106,000 daily new confirmed coronavirus infections was reported Wednesday and said that in view of these figures, enforcement of existing regulations was of extreme importance if Israel wanted to hold on to its achievement in suppressing the virus, Channel 12 reported.

Israel has largely brought the virus under control in the country and lifted most lockdown restrictions. However, most foreigners are still barred from coming in and Israelis, or permanent residents, must quarantine for 14 days after returning.

According to Channel 12, the National Security Council is concerned about the possible effects of a planned partial reopening of Israel to international air traffic and while it is not advocating for the imposition of new regulations, it has stressed the importance of adhering to existing ones.

Israel registered just 18 new confirmed cases in the 24 hours from Wednesday evening to Thursday evening.

A total of 279 people have lost their lives to the disease in Israel, which currently has 2,680 active cases with 36 people on respiratory ventilation.

Epidemiological research conducted in Israel has shown that a majority of cases in the country resulted from incoming travel from the United States.

A worker disinfects an Israir plane at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, May 5, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

His warning comes just days after Israeli officials debated allowing in travelers from five countries — Greece, Cyprus, the Seychelles, Georgia and Montenegro.

The initiative was discussed at a meeting Tuesday attended by officials from the Health Ministry, Tourism Ministry and Airports Authority, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The plan, which has not yet received final approval, would have a pilot stage over the summer during which officials would carefully track the effects of an open-border policy from the five nations, all of which have a very low rate of infection for the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Talks are also underway with Austria about adding it to the list.

Israel took part in a meeting Monday between eight low-infection countries on reopening borders and jumpstarting tourism as the virus recedes. The other countries were Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, New Zealand and Singapore.

Officials said the danger of reinfection among the nations that participated in the meeting was very low, and lowering barriers to travel would help bring back trade and tourism.

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