Israel to Bar Entry to Foreigners, Quarantine All Arriving Israelis in COVID Hotels

Decisions made in bid to avoid spread on new virus strain ■ Quarantine in hotels could be shortened to 10 days ■ Regulations in place for next 10 days

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A medic collects a swab sample from a traveler at the COVID-19 coronavirus rapid testing center in Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, December 2, 2020
A medic collects a swab sample from a traveler at the COVID-19 coronavirus rapid testing center in Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, December 2, 2020Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP
Judy Maltz
Ido Efrati
Haaretz diplomatic correspondent

The coronavirus cabinet on Monday barred entry to foreign nationals, and mandated a 14-day quarantine in designated hotels for Israelis returning from abroad.

The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the cabinet's mandated quarantine in COVID-19 hotels to all returning Israelis on Tuesday morning. The regulation will come into force on Wednesday at 10 P.M. and will be in place until January 1, 2021.

These decisions were made in an effort to block a new strain of the coronavirus that has appeared in the United Kingdom from entering Israel.

Those requiring hotel quarantine can shorten the period to 10 days if they take two coronavirus tests that come out negative – one upon entering Israel and the other after nine days. If space at the hotels fills up, there will be priorities set for who must stay there and who will be assigned home quarantine. These new regulations will be in place for 10 days.

“I’ve asked to convene the cabinet for one purpose, and that is to close the sky,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the meeting. “Since yesterday’s meeting, the mutation is spreading in many countries and it’s clear that we are at the onset of a very fast outbreak. We have to reduce the viral load entering Israel as much as possible. To do this I am seeking to reprise what we did during the first wave of the virus – to close the skies as quickly as possible.”

The coronavirus cabinet’s meeting on Sunday did not result in any new restrictions on the economy. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Monday as he toured a branch of the Leumit HMO in Tel Aviv that he viewed "the inability of the ministers to decide on steps to battle the incidence of infection as very grave."

He added, "The influence of the vaccines will be felt in only two to three months. To assume that we can continue without restraints another two months is to assume that thousands more will end up in the hospitals and some will die, unfortunately. I’m not prepared to agree to this.”

The restrictions pending are being dubbed “tight restraint” and include the halt of commercial activity and the closure of workplaces that receive the public, including malls and markets, as well as the closure of schools in “red” and “orange” locales (those with relatively high rates of infection) for three weeks.

The country’s vaccination campaign was officially launched Monday morning by the HMOs, and is focusing first on people aged 60 and above and those with underlying illnesses that put them at risk for serious complications should they contract COVID-19. The vaccination of thousands of health and hospital workers began Sunday.

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