COVID in Israel: Two Doctors Have Omicron; Travel Ban for Foreigners Only 'Temporary'

The two doctors infected with the new variant had received three doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, and so far have shown mild COVID-19 symptoms

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Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport in October
Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport in OctoberCredit: Hadas Parush

The new coronavirus variant, omicron, has been detected in two Israeli doctors, one of whom had returned from a conference in London in the past week, a spokesperson for Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv confirmed on Tuesday.

The two doctors had received three doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, and so far have shown mild COVID-19 symptoms, the hospital said.

The physician who had returned from Britain had probably infected his colleague, it said.

Two more people have been identified in Israel as carrying the new variant, health officials have confirmed, one of them a tourist from Malawi who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Israel shut its borders to foreigners from all countries for 14 days on Saturday to try to contain the spread of omicron and has reintroduced counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to trace contacts of a handful of people who have likely been infected.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday that restricting tourism to Israel is "temporary" for 14 days and that the government would not "extend it automatically," at a press conference with Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman at Soroka Hospital.

Horowitz emphasized the effectiveness of the vaccine against the omicron variant, saying that "already there are indications that those who are fully vaccinated, including the booster, will be highly prepared against this variant as well." He further noted that the government's policy "has been, and remains, to live alongside the coronavirus, maintaining health and an open economy, as well as normal lives, work and education."

Israel hopes that within those 14 days it will better know how effective COVID-19 vaccines are against omicron. Around 57 percent of the country's 9.4 million population is fully vaccinated.

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