Israel Restricts UAE, Europe Travel Over Omicron Fears; Mall Restrictions Amended

Israel walks back plan on bracelets for vaccinated mall shoppers following criticism ■ Gantz in COVID quarantine after exposure to omicron carrier

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The Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv in June.
The Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv in June.Credit: Eyal Toueg

Israel has added the United Arab Emirates and several European states to its list of "red' countries, where high rates of COVID omicron infection has been identified, the Health Ministry announced Wednesday.

On top of most African countries that are already on Israel's "red list," as of Monday it will also include France, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden. "Red" designation for the United Kingdom and Denmark goes into effect on Friday.

The cabinet has also agreed to extend existing travel bans and quarantine requirements through December 29. As of Friday, people who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID entering Israel from red countries will enter a week of home quarantine, and will be released subject to a negative PCR test at the end of the week.

Unvaccinated people will be required to stay in a quarantine hotel until an initial negative COVID test, and only then will they be able to quarantine from home.

Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced Israel will not ask shopping malls to mark vaccinated people with bracelets. This comes a day after announcing the plan, which has since been widely criticized, including by mall owners.

According to the original plan, bracelets were to be distributed to vaccinated people at these sites, allowing them to move freely within the complex.

The Health Ministry later withdrew the bracelet plan, but not the vaccination requirement for entering indoor shopping spaces and entertainment venues. It is not yet clear how they will enforce this ban, which is still set to go into effect on Friday, but sources in the ministry say that one alternative would be to set up separate entrances leading straight to pharmacies and essential services for people who do not have proof of vaccination or recovery.

On Wednesday, a statement from Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that he is currently in quarantine after a member of his staff tested positive, and that his test will be sequenced, as there is suspicion that the employee may be an omicron carrier. Gantz will remain in isolation until the staff member's sequencing results come back. 

As of Tuesday, there are 89 confirmed cases of the coronavirus variant in Israel. Out of those, 21 individuals were unvaccinated. Officials are also examining another 150 potential omicron cases.

The new restrictions will allow people to enter without Green Passes only if they are seeking essential services. The list of what constitutes an essential service is currently being formulated by health officials and the attorney general.

The Health Ministry will also provide a temporary Green Pass to children and adults who have only received a single dose of the vaccine, lasting for 30 days from the first dose.

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