Israel Mulls Quarantine for Vaccinated Arrivals From Global COVID Hotspots

A Health Ministry proposal also seeks to bar Israelis from traveling to India, Brazil, Turkey, Ukraine, South Africa, Ethiopia and Mexico, fearing outbreak of new coronavirus strains

Ido Efrati
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Passengers in Ben-Gurion Airport, last month.
Passengers in Ben-Gurion Airport, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israelis may be barred from traveling to certain COVID-hit countries and required to go into quarantine upon their return even if they are vaccinated, according to a Health Ministry proposal set to be debated by ministers on Tuesday.

The Health Ministry proposal, seeking to prevent the import of some COVID strains of concern, would place restrictions on traveling to and from Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Turkey, where high coronavirus infection rates have been reported.

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The proposal would let officials update the list of high-risk countries every two weeks, according to infection rates and the presence of dangerous strains.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed on Tuesday Israel's achievements so far, and said, "We have to make sure we don't go back... by letting deadly variants in." He added Israel was "doing everything to prevent it."

Existing restrictions on the entry of non-residents, requiring a special permit before entering Israel, remain in place. Those foreigners coming from one of the seven high-risk countries with a permit, as well as returning Israelis from those countries, will be oredered into state-run quarantine facilities, according to the proposal.

Moreover, the Health Ministry's proposal suggests a one-month delay in launcing a pilot scheme to let vaccinated tourists enter Israel. It was meant to start in late May, but may now be pushed back to late June.

In a statement, the Health Ministry argued the proposed travel restrictions are needed to fend off new strains and maintain Israel's low coronavirus infection rates. More than half the country is already vaccinated. but there are concerns the Pfizer vaccine, which was widely used in Israel's inoculation drive, may not be fully effective against some COVID strains.

Earlier this week, Israel has banned entry for tourists from India due to concerns about the recently discovered Indian strain and a spike in cases there.

Authorities have already identified seveal cases of the Indian variant in Israel, using genetic sequencing of samples taken from the patients, none of whom had been vaccinated against the virus.  

Meanwhile, vital medical supplies poured into India on Tuesday as hospitals short of oxygen and beds turned away coronavirus patients, while a surge in infections pushed the death toll towards 200,000.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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