Israel Bans Entry to Tourists From India Over Fear of New COVID Strain

Up to 300 caregivers and students will be allowed to enter each month so long as they quarantine in coronavirus hotels upon arrival. The Health Ministry fears the Indian variant will impair vaccines’ effectiveness

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Relatives in personal protective equipment watch the cremation of family members who died of COVID-19 at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium in New Delhi this month
Relatives in personal protective equipment watch the cremation of family members who died of COVID-19 at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium in New Delhi this monthCredit: Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel has banned entry for tourists from India due to concerns about the recently discovered Indian strain of the coronavirus, the spike in new cases there, as well as the discovery in Israel of several cases of the new variant.

As part of the restrictions imposed last week, tourists from India are banned from entering Israel, and only 300 caregivers and students will be permitted entry per month. Those entering Israel will be required to quarantine at coronavirus hotels designated for those coming from India, unless they have either recovered from or were vaccinated against COVID-19 in Israel.

A COVID patient is carted outside the casualty ward at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, in New Delhi, India, yesterday.Credit: Adnan Abidi / Reuters

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Last month some 1,000 people entered Israel from India, and only about a quarter of them were vaccinated. Among those who entered, 63 tested positive for the virus, but not all of them had necessarily been infected by the Indian variant.

Haaretz has learned the Prof. Daniel Chaimovitz, the president of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, recently cancelled the arrival of students from India after eight of the 17 students at the university who had recently arrived from India tested positive for the Indian variant of the coronavirus.

Although most of the coronavirus restrictions have been rolled back in recent weeks due to the drop in infections, entrance to the country is still being controlled. Israelis who enter without a green passport must quarantine at home, while those who recovered or were vaccinated in Israel do not have to quarantine, but must receive a negative result from the rapid coronavirus test now being administered to everyone entering Israel via Ben-Gurion Airport.

People carry oxygen cylinders after refilling them in a factory, amidst the spread of COVID in Ahmedabad, India, today.Credit: Amit Dave / Reuters

The Health Ministry is preparing to enforce home quarantine using electronic bracelets. To that end, Israel has purchased 30,000 electronic bracelets, slated to be rolled out beginning in May. However, because operating this system requires the approval of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which has not yet convened due to the ongoing political crisis in the wake of Israel’s fourth election in roughly two years, it isn’t clear when the system will be launched.

In the absence of an effective surveillance mechanism, for the past six weeks there has been little enforcement of those quarantining at home, and Health Ministry officials fear the infiltration of new coronavirus mutations, and particulary the Indian strain because its implications for those have recovered from the coronavirus, as well as on the effectiveness of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, remain unclear.

Ben-Gurion Airport, last month.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The Indian variant is of concern to experts because it consist of two mutations of its protein, which could make it more resistant to the coronavirus vaccine. Experts are also concerned that it may be more contagious than other variants.

Last month the Indian Health Ministry reported on a strain of the virus that includes two genetic changes and constitutes a kind of “union” of two variants previously known as E484Q and L452R. However, because samples collected from throughout India have shown that the most dominant variant in the country is the British variant, the prevailing view is that the new strain of the virus is not behind the latest outbreak in India, which is rapidly spreading across the country.

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