A slate of new countries from which even vaccinated travelers must quarantine — including the United States and Greece — was approved by a Knesset committee on Tuesday, amid fears travelers could bring in new virus variants.
The new restrictions will go into effect next Wednesday, August 11, as Israel struggles to contain a sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases. On Monday, 3,818 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Israel, with a test positivity rate of 3.79 percent. There are currently 22,375 active cases in the country, with 420 of them hospitalized; 221 patients are in serious condition with 46 of them on ventilators.
Looking to stem the influx of cases from overseas, the Knesset Labor, Health and Welfare Committee approved the Health Ministry’s request to add 18 more countries to the list of destinations from which returnees, including those vaccinated, will require a seven-day home quarantine after two negative tests.
The new additions are: the United States, Germany, France, Greece, Egypt (including Sinai Peninsula), Ukraine, Italy, Iceland, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Botswana, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Tanzania, Malawi, the Czech Republic, Cuba, Rwanda and Tunisia.
Countries already on the list are: the UAE, Myanmar, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Colombia, Fiji, Mongolia and Cambodia.
Costa Rica, Seychelles, Zambia, Paraguay, Uganda, Liberia, Panama and Kenya will be removed from the list as of Sunday, and the 18 new countries will enter the list officially next Wednesday.
The same quarantine rules apply for Israelis who return home from the countries that Israelis are banned from visiting: Spain, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia and the UK. Returnees who left Israel after the ban went into effect are also expected to pay a fine of NIS 5,000 ($1,500).
Overall, 42 countries are on the list of those from which returnees must quarantine for seven days with two negative PCR tests — or 14 days without.
According to Health Ministry figures presented at the Knesset committee hearing, 141 people with COVID returned from the US in the month of July: 27 from Italy, 43 from Germany, 292 from Greece and 42 from France.
“The central threat to Israel’s achievements in controlling the pandemic is the danger of allowing entry to mutant coronavirus variants that can be more aggressive or have a greater rate of infection, and harm the non-vaccinated population,” the Health Ministry told the committee in a statement. “There is an increased risk that those who travel to these countries will return and bring with them variants that will spread quickly in the community and not be identified until it is too late.”
Ahead of a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was said to have warned his coalition partners that if serious measures are not taken now, a new lockdown could be instated over the Jewish holidays in September.
“We need more restrictions in order to prevent extreme steps in the future,” the prime minister told coalition party heads in a phone call Tuesday morning, according to media reports.
The coronavirus cabinet was expected to weigh a series of measures to crack down on gatherings on Tuesday.
Ministers were slated to debate mandating masks at outdoor events of more than 20 people, as well as limiting the size of indoor events.
They were also expected to expand the use of the so-called Green Pass, which was reinstated by the government on Thursday with entry to events of more than 100 people — both indoors and outdoors — allowed only to those who are vaccinated, recovered, or who present a negative COVID test. However, children under age 12 were largely exempt from the system.
Ministers are said to be weighing dropping the exemption for young children as well as applying the rules to gatherings of fewer than 100 people.