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PM, health minister agree to extend Omicron travel restrictions by 10 days

Under extended limitations, all vaccinated arrivals must quarantine for at least 3 days; non-citizens will apparently remain barred from entering

Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz agreed Thursday night to extend travel restrictions enacted at Israel’s borders for 10 additional days beyond their scheduled December 11 expiration date, the Prime Minister’s Office said, in a continued effort to block the Omicron coronavirus variant from spreading in the country.

The statement did not specifically mention the entry ban on foreigners, but said that the two had agreed “on the extension of the current restrictions at Ben Gurion Airport, for an additional 10 days, starting this coming Sunday, December 12, 2021, at midnight.”

The moratorium on foreign arrivals was expected to be included in those limitations.

All Israelis entering the country, including those who are vaccinated against COVID-19, will continue to be obligated to take a PCR test at Ben Gurion Airport when they arrive and then immediately go into home quarantine.

Vaccinated arrivals must spend at least three days in quarantine and then take another PCR test. A negative result grants exit from quarantine. Those who don’t take the second test must stay in quarantine for a total of 14 days.

Unvaccinated Israelis who have not recovered from the disease must spend at least seven days in quarantine and then take a PCR test, with a negative result enabling them to end isolation.

An arriving traveler walks to the COVID-19 testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Under the current rules, which initially came into effect on November 29, all arrivals are barred from using public transportation to leave the airport. Exiting the airport is possible via a private vehicle or taxi only.

Meanwhile, Israelis arriving from countries on the government’s “red” list — meaning countries with high COVID-19 infection rates or with Omicron cases — must take a PCR test at the airport and then immediately enter one of the country’s state-run quarantine hotels, located in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. If the PCR test taken at the airport is negative, returnees can continue their quarantine at home, staying isolated for seven days and then taking a second PCR test.

Bennett and Horowitz “also agreed to discuss additional restrictions and immunization incentives in the coming days,” the statement added.

Bennett, Horowitz and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton also announced changes to the “Green Classroom” program for schools.

The program allows for students who were exposed to a COVID-19 carrier to return to school once they receive a negative test result, rather than requiring the entire class to quarantine for a week.

Under the ministers’ new outline, the program will not apply if a class has two verified infections, and if there is one verified infection, students will be tested again three days after exposure.

If a student is suspected of having the Omicron variant, the “Green Classroom” model will not apply.

The new plan for schools will be presented to the cabinet for approval on Sunday.

Earlier Thursday, Bennett’s office said he had ordered officials to look at imposing restrictions on people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to Hebrew media reports, Bennett proposed banning unvaccinated Israelis from leaving the country or ordering them into lockdown, noting that the latter measure has already been taken by other countries.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz hold a press conference at HaKirya military base in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2021. (Moti Milrod)

According to sources present at the meeting, Horowitz and health officials, in a heated exchange, opposed Bennett’s suggestions.

The extension of entry restrictions comes as the number of patients in Israel in serious condition with COVID-19 dropped below 100 for the first time since July, according to Health Ministry data released Thursday.

There were 90 people seriously ill, with 64 of them classified as critical. The number of seriously ill patients has been steadily dropping for several months as the fourth wave of the virus has tapered off.

The majority of serious cases are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, the data showed.

After a rise in the number of new cases for three days in a row, Wednesday saw a drop, with 651 diagnoses. The positive test rate for the virus was 0.69 percent.

The virus reproduction number, R, was given as 1.09, having steadily climbed from 1 over the past few days. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and any value above 1 shows that the pandemic is growing.

Hospital workers wearing safety work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

There were 5,798 active cases in the country, with 1,348,800 reported cases since the start of the pandemic.

The death toll stood at 8,210, with no fatalities since Monday, the ministry said. Over the past seven days, seven people have died of COVID-19.

Israel has made vaccination its central tactic in dealing with the virus, last month adding children aged 5-11 to older groups already eligible to get the shots.

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