The Health Ministry expanded its list of "red" countries on Sunday – countries with high rates of COVID infection that Israelis are forbidden to visit – to include the United Kingdom and Denmark, amid the omicron variant's spread in Israel.
The ban on travel to those countries will go into effect in 72 hours from its announcement on Sunday evening. Entry to Israel from these countries is forbidden as well, but permission may be granted by the exceptions committee.
Earlier, the ministry said that Belgium will also be added to the list of banned countries, however after the decision was reexamined it was left off the list.
There are another 49 countries that have been designated as red, most of them on the continent of Africa. About two weeks ago, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accepted the Health Ministry's recommendation to add South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini to the list.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz added that the cabinet will request to bolster enforcement of the mask mandate and the requirement of showing a vaccination certificate or proof of recovery at businesses.
"There is nothing we want more than for everything to keep being open. It is better to avoid non-essential flights abroad," he said. "The Green Pass policy will be broadened," he added, "but these guidelines mean nothing if the measure isn't enforced."
Israel confirmed15 more omicron cases on Sunday, bringing the national total to 67. Another 80 people are suspected of having contracted the COVID variant, but their test results have not yet returned.
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More than 40 percent of Israelis are not fully vaccinated, providing them with a lower level of protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19. This puts a significant portion of the population at risk of contracting the virus, Prof. Ran Balicer, the head of an expert panel advising the Health Ministry, told Army Radio on Sunday: “It has been shown in the U.K. that the level of protection of two doses against the omicron strain is very low.”
According to the Health Ministry, as of Saturday just over 58 percent of eligible Israelis over the age of 5 are fully vaccinated, 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.
This means that, according to Balicer, nearly 42 percent of Israelis are insufficiently protected against the latest variant.
However, according to data released by the U.K. Health Security Agency on Friday, when boosted with a dose of the Pfizer vaccine, there was around 70 percent protection against symptomatic infection for people who initially received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and around 75 percent protection for those who received the Pfizer one. This is in line with a recent Israeli study that found a third dose reduces the risk of COVID-related death by 90 percent among patients aged 50 and older.