Israel Delays Letting in Tourists in Effort to Contain COVID Delta Strain

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Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, yesterday.
Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, yesterday. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Israeli government has postponed the date when tourists will be allowed to enter the country from July to August, amid fears over the delta variant of the coronavirus.

It was also decided that municipal inspectors will assist in enforcing quarantine regulations.

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The coronavirus cabinet was re-established on Wednesday, after over 100 new cases were reported for the second consecutive day.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said that people who came into contact with a carrier of a "dangerous strain" can be ordered to go into quarantine, even if they are inoculated. Masks will also be made compulsory at airports, border crossings, and medical facilities.

Levy also signed an order allowing a fine of 5,000 shekels (about $1,500) on parents of children younger than 12 who break quarantine requirements. The order also gives Levy the option of making mask-wearing mandatory again for two weeks. 

Later on Wednesday, the Health Ministry said that it recommends wearing masks indoors, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that this would become mandatory again if coronavirus infections continue to rise.

Following consultations with professional experts, Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz agreed to launch a campaign to vaccinate people between the ages of 12 and 15, accompanied by a publicity campaign.

Bennett and Horowitz agreed that mask-wearing would become mandatory indoors if cases rise by an average of 100 over the course of a week. 

According to figures presented Wednesday by Levy, 100 new cases were diagnosed on Wednesday and 125 were diagnosed on Tuesday. Authorities have thus made mask-wearing mandatory in medical facilities and at Ben-Gurion International Airport again. "We are not going back to masks in open spaces," Levy said.

Bennett announced that the government intends to boost enforcement of quarantine requirements, and that confirmed cases violating quarantine "will be tried and will be subject to severe punishment."

"Our goal at the moment is to protect Israeli citizens from the delta variant that is raging around the world, Bennett said Wednesday.

"Alongside that, we want to limit damage to daily life as much as possible. Therefore, we have decided to act as early as possible, now already, in order to avoid paying a heavier price later on, by taking responsible and rapid steps. If we observe the rules and act responsibly, we will succeed together."

On Tuesday, Bennett announced that Israel is treating the rise in local coronavirus cases as a "new outbreak," adding that the coronavirus cabinet will reconvene to develop a plan to combat it. 

It appears that the rise in new cases is due to the delta variant of the coronavirus. The variant, which is also known as B.1.617, was first identified last October in India.

Just before the end of his term earlier this month, former Interior Minister Arye Dery announced that as of July 1, vaccinated tourists – from countries that had yet to be determined by the Health Ministry – would be allowed to enter the country subject to a simplified procedure. 

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