Israeli PM Bennett Tests Negative for COVID After Exposure on UAE Flight

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry is planning to considerably expand the list of countries to which Israelis are barred from traveling, amid the ongoing spread of the omicron variant

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a cabinet meeting on Sunday.Credit: Emil Salman

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tested negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday, after a passenger who travelled back to Israel from the United Arab Emirates with him was identified as a coronavirus carrier.

Bennett will take another PCR test on Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office said. He will quarantine for 72 hours, in accordance with Health Ministry protocol, taking a third test on Thursday.

The members of Bennett's bureau who accompanied him on the flight also tested negative. The Prime Minister's Office said all those on the flight will enter quarantine and undergo PCR testing, in line with Health Ministry guidelines.

Bennett was returning from a two-day visit to the UAE – the first formal visit by an Israeli prime minister to the United Arab Emirates – which Israeli leaders have dubbed a resounding success.

744 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Monday, with 90 patients in serious condition including 65 on respirators.

Amid the ongoing spread of the omicron variant, a panel headed by Prime Minister Bennett will convene to discuss the expansion of the list of countries to which Israelis are barred from travelling.

Israel has already confirmed at least 67 cases of the omicron variant, which experts warn spreads much more rapidly than previous variants of the coronavirus.

Health Ministry sources said that the list of "red" countries is expected to substantially grow. The ministry expects more European countries to be added to the list of banned destinations, likely to enter into force this weekend.

Israel's "traffic light" system of classification designates a country as "red" if it has detected a dangerous variant that is not yet common in Israel, the morbidity rate among returnees from the country is over 2%, or the country has a recent outbreak.

On Sunday, the ministry labeled the list of "red" countries to include the UK and Denmark, swelling the total number of banned destinations to 49.

Despite a CDC decision in October to begin administering a fourth booster shot to high-risk individuals, the Health Ministry's vaccination committee recommended against rolling out a fourth booster shot on Monday.

Instead, Israel's home front strategy will prioritize vaccinating the 42 percent of Israelis who are not fully protected against the coronavirus.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash has said that there is a "high probability" that a fourth vaccine will be recommended, "but we will have to see when."

"We still do not see the possibility of administering a fourth vaccine to the general population, but first and foremost to high-risk populations," said Ash.

Five- to 11-year-olds in particular pose a major vector for the spread of the virus as the vaccination drive lags.

Since Israel authorized the vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds three weeks ago, just 110,000 have received the jab out of a possible 1.2 million. According to the ministry’s online data dashboard, 99.95 percent of children in this age cohort are currently unvaccinated. From Sunday morning, Israel also permitted the administration of vaccines in schools.

Addressing the cabinet in November, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has previously dubbed the current spread of COVID in the country a “children’s wave,” called on parents to vaccinate their children, stating that people need to “go out and take advantage of these precious days” because “we will not succeed in forever delaying omicron.”

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