Israel has extended its COVID travel restrictions, including an entry ban for foreigners, by another 10 days in an effort to curb the spread of the omicron variant, the Health Ministry announced Thursday.
The extension takes effect on Sunday, meaning these regulations will be in place until December 22, when the government may decide to extend them further.
The decision was made by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz in coordination with health officials and COVID cabinet members, the Health Ministry said.
The ministry added it will continue to monitor the situation and consider other restrictions in the coming days.
During Thursday's meeting, Israel's top public health official, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, proposed declaring the entire continent of Europe as "red," a move that would effectively bar most travel between it and Israel, citing the spread of omicron there. Bennett said he intends to look into it, but no decision has been made.
The extension applies to the restrictions approved by Israel around two weeks ago, in which foreigners are barred entry into the country, except in cases approved by a special committee.
In addition, vaccinated and recovered Israelis returning from abroad are required to quarantine for three days. Those returning to Israel must undergo a COVID-19 PCR test when they land, and another test 72 hours later, before leaving quarantine.
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Earlier Thursday, Israel decided to increase enforcement of the country's Green Pass regulations, barring unvaccinated people from several activities. The plan, formulated in discussion with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, will introduce immediate fines for violators, with instructions passed onto police to begin preparations.
During the discussion, Bennett surprised his COVID cabinet colleagues with two unexpected proposals: the first, a lockdown for the unvaccinated, the second, a total shutdown of Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Bennett's requests were met with resistance as members of the cabinet felt the restrictions were unjustifiable. The State Comptroller warned Bennett that he will need to prove these moves are necessary before it could be approved by the High Court of Justice.
On November 1, Israel opened its borders to tourists for the first time in almost two years, provided they were vaccinated by Israel's standards. Not a month later, it implemented a ban due to concerns over the omicron variant. Between late January and March 2021, Israel also banned international travel for all travelers, including Israelis. Citizens could only enter the country with special permission on one of Israel's "rescue flights."
From Thursday, Israelis diagnosed with the omicron variant of the coronavirus will have to quarantine for 14 days, as opposed to 10 days for those with other variants. They will receive a certificate of recovery only if they have not shown symptoms during the last three of those days. The Health Ministry announced the change Wednesday, citing concerns that the omicron variant may be contagious for a longer period than other variants of the coronavirus.
As of Monday, the omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected in 21 people in Israel, the Health Ministry said.