Bennett Warns 'Fifth Wave Arriving' as 17 Suspected Omicron Cases Found on Flight From U.S.

Israel is set to discuss expanding the list of 'red countries' to include the U.S. and Canada on Sunday, as number of omicron cases climbs to 175

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport, last week.
Arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport, last week.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Sunday that a "fifth wave is arriving in Israel," as almost 10 percent of a flight from the United States tested positive for COVID, with most of 17 cases suspected of carrying the omicron variant.

Bennett is set to deliver a televised address to the public at 8:00pm on Sunday following Israel's diagnosis of 40 new omicron cases, taking the total cases of the variant to 175. 

The outbreak from the Miami flight, confirmed by the Health Ministry, comes as Israel's cabinet is set to discuss expanding the list of 'red countries' to include the U.S., Canada, Portugal, Turkey, Germany, Hungary, Morocco and Belgium on Sunday. The Health Ministry recommended that the countries should be added to the list.

Travel to and from so-called "red countries" is expressly forbidden, unless permission is granted by a special committee. 

The "red" designation of France, Spain, United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden will go into effect on Sunday at midnight.

In response to the government decision to expand its list of "red countries," Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced Sunday that two new government-run COVID hotels would be opened to accommodate the influx of travelers.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government is currently advancing a law to charge people to check in to COVID hotels, shifting the cost of the hotel stay away from the government, which has already spent half a billion shekels on them since the pandemic's outbreak.

Assessments presented to Bennett on Saturday predicted that the number of omicron cases in Israel will reach 400 to 600 over the next week, in light of the number of cases that cannot be traced back to people who traveled abroad.

"Due to the highly contagious nature of the variant, we must understand that the collective national defense provided by the state is not enough," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

"Every citizen must worry about themselves, their family and their children," he added.

Of the 175 omicron cases already identified, 53 carriers were unvaccinated by Israel's standards, while 122 were immunized. The status of one case is still unknown.

Health officials highly suspect another 380 coronavirus patients are infected with the omicron strain. 

The prime minister has requested that officials expand the public information campaign promoting vaccines, with a particular emphasis on children aged five to 11.

Israel's coronavirus R number, reflecting the rate of infection, rose to 1.14 on Sunday, indicating that the virus is spreading. The number reflects data from 10 days prior, and rose from 1.07 and 1.03 on the previous days. 

Just over 58 percent of eligible Israelis over the age of five are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Health Ministry, meaning that they have received three doses or are within a six-month window following their second dose. A further 9.3 percent are double-vaccinated but have allowed more than six months to pass without getting a booster shot, while 32.4 percent are unvaccinated.

Since schools began to administer vaccines a week ago, 11,942 children between the ages of 5-11 have been vaccinated, according to data from the Education Ministry.

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