CDC Urges Americans to Avoid Travel to Israel Over COVID Spread

New COVID cases in Israel top 65,000 on Monday as omicron keeps spreading ■ Shorter isolation time goes into effect

People queue at a COVID testing site in Habima square, in Tel Aviv, this month.
People queue at a COVID testing site in Habima square, in Tel Aviv, this month.Credit: Hadas Parush

Americans should avoid travel to Israel, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday, due to "very high level" of COVID-19 in the country.

According to the CDC, "If you must travel to Israel, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel."

Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks at a conference, November 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Alongside Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, the CDC also updated its travel advisory to the highest level for Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar and about 20 other countries around the world.

In total, the CDC now lists just over 100 countries and territories at "Level 4: Very High." The CDC also raised another 20 countries to Level 3: High," including Uganda, Kuwait, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Cuba. The CDC recommends that unvaccinated Americans avoid nonessential travel to those destinations.

Israel confirmed 65,259 new cases on Monday, according to the latest Health Ministry figures, by far the largest number of daily new cases since the beginning of the pandemic. This number only accounts for those who received positive tests at the country's state-run testing centers.

Other figures of interest, particularly the number of hospitalized patients, were not released over the past couple of days due to a technical problem, the Health Ministry said.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday that he wants to "abolish" the Green Pass, Israel's COVID-19 vaccination or recovery certificate, which is currently needed to enter many public venues.

This comes as more lenient rules on isolation for confirmed carriers are set to go into effect on Wednesday, amid calls to relax more COVID-related regulations as the highly infectious, but less violent omicron variant spreads throughout the country.

According to Minister Lieberman, “there’s no medical or epidemiological logic to the Green Pass, and many experts agree with this.” He said in a tweet: “What it does do is directly harm the economy’s daily functioning, and it also makes a sizable contribution to panic among the public. I’m working with all the relevant parties to abolish the Green Pass so as to protect our normal daily routine.”

The Green Pass serves as proof that its holder has been vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or recently tested negative for it.

On Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz agreed to shorten the isolation period for coronavirus patients from seven to five days.

On Tuesday, in response to that decision, 180 mayors demanded that they exempt students and teachers from quarantine entirely as long as they can show a negative coronavirus test. In a letter sent to Bennett and Horowitz, they wrote that quarantine is causing “indubitable harm” to students by subjecting them to social distancing and loneliness.

Some 400 psychologists sent the two ministers a similar letter on Tuesday. “There’s no benefit to quarantining healthy children,” they wrote. “Please, change the instructions for our children and give priority to their psychological wellbeing. We believe the benefits of doing so would outweigh the risks at this stage of the pandemic.”

Quarantine, the letter continued, deals “an ongoing blow to personal and public resilience. Quarantine means separation from your sources of support, separation from your social peer group and social disconnection, as well as lowered expectations for our children’s functioning ... This separation leads to ruinous results, some of which are clearly evident from the outside, like violence in high schools and screen addictions. Others are etched in tender psyches and become part of children’s worldview and the way they experience themselves and their role in the world.”

Under the new isolation policy, which takes effect at midnight on Tuesday, verified coronavirus patients will have to take two home coronavirus tests on the fourth and fifth day after becoming infected. If both are negative, and they are experiencing no symptoms, they can leave isolation at the end of the fifth day.

As for people exposed to a patient, the unvaccinated will have to quarantine for the full five days. They will also have to take an official rapid test at the end, but will no longer have to take an official test at the start of that period. A home rapid test will not be considered sufficient to exit quarantine.

Given the change in the isolation policy, Bennett, Horowitz and Lieberman announced that they plan to distribute 25 million to 30 million home testing kits to Israelis for free.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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