COVID Outbreak: Omicron to Soon Render Israel's Travel Restrictions Useless, Experts Say

'When Israel becomes a ‘red’ country, with thousands of local infections with omicron, there is no reason to fear a person leaving another ‘red’ country,' Prof. Ran Balicer said

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
Ben-Gurion airport, last week.
Ben-Gurion International Airport amid COVID restrictions, last week.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel is "rapidly approaching" the point at which restrictions on international travel will become less relevant, as the omicron strain of the coronavirus continues to spread within the country, the Israeli expert panel advising the government on the pandemic said.

“Restrictions on tourism and monitoring at the airport have been proven as good and important policies in limiting the rate of omicron infection and spread throughout Israel. This policy was carried out early and bought precious time to encourage vaccinations, accumulate medications and maintain an open economy until the knowledge is gathered about the severity of infection with omicron," the report by the committee, headed by Prof. Ran Balicer, said.

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“However, we are rapidly approaching the point where this policy will not help because of the rapid local spread of the omicron variant, and preparations should be made to lift it," the report added.

According to Balicer, the few days since the panel met on Thursday have brought Israel closer to this point, due to the increasing headway made by omicron.

“When Israel becomes a ‘red’ country, with thousands of local infections with omicron, there is no reason to fear a person leaving another ‘red’ country – after all, here he would be exposed with the same likelihood. It seems that we’re rapidly approaching this point, but we’ll wait for specific figures from the Health Ministry to properly understand the situation,” Balicer said in an interview on Sunday.

Over the weekend, Israeli Health Ministry data showed that there are 1,118 certain omicron cases in the country, 723 of which contracted the disease while abroad.

On Sunday, Israel's Health Ministry recorded 98 active serious COVID cases, marking a 24 percent increase over the last eight days.

Of the new serious cases this past week, 75 percent were not inoculated at all, even though the unvaccinated account for only 31 percent of Israel's population. Per capita, the unvaccinated suffer from serious illness from COVID at 10 times the rate of the vaccinated.

The omicron variant is believed to be three times as infectious as the last major variant, delta. However, vaccines appear to provide partial protection against infection with omicron, but appear to be 70 to 75 percent effective at preventing severe illness.

On Tuesday, Israel will implement new restrictions on public access to shopping and commercial centers. Under the new rules, customers and employees must present proof of vaccination known as the Green Pass before entering stores larger than 100 square meters—including malls and commercial centers, both indoor and outdoor.

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