Since Israel's decision on Saturday to reexamine the list of prohibited destinations on a daily basis, the number of so-called red countries keeps growing.
Israel's cabinet voted Wednesday evening to extend restrictions on air travel to and from the country for an additional week and adding additional countries to the list. Travel to and from "red" countries, which are categorized as high-risk, is expressly forbidden, unless permission is granted by a special committee.
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The government set three criteria for categorizing a country as "red": when the omicron variant constitutes 10 percent or more of a country's domestic COVID-19 cases; when there are at least five confirmed omicron cases per 10,000 passengers arriving from a particular country, or when at least 10 percent of the cases among incoming passengers from a country are omicron; and when a country has a "strong geographical connection," like a shared border or geographic proximity in areas without hard borders, to a country with an omicron incidence of over 10 percent.
According to Health Ministry regulations, a vaccinated or recovered Israeli traveler who visited a red country must agree to government tracking in order to be allowed to go into home isolation. If the traveler agrees, he or she undergoes a PCR swab test upon entry and is allowed to go home for a seven day-long quarantine, whose end is "conditional on negative results of a PCR test taken at the end of isolation.” If the traveler does not agree to be tracked, he or she is taken to an isolation hotel for the remainder of the isolation period.
Travelers who are not considered fully vaccinated under current government guidelines are required to isolate in a quarantine hotel until a PCR test taken at the airport comes back negative, after which they will be allowed to complete their quarantine at home, "as long as they declare that no one other than them lives or stays in the home," according to the Health Ministry.
The cabinet approved the classification of the United Kingdom and Denmark as "red" countries, and the ban will go into effect on at midnight Thursday.
The Health Ministry’s Committee for the Classification of Countries has also called on the government to declare Ireland, Norway, Spain, Finland, France, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates as red, a classification which is slated to go into effect on December 19 at midnight and still awaits the government's approval.
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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.
The travel restrictions, which came only weeks after Israel reopened to international tourists, were imposed after the identification of its first omicron cases in late November, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announcing a ban on arrivals from most African countries.
Addressing the cabinet earlier this week, Bennett said that Israel’s national strategy to combat the spread of omicron consisted of a combination of travel restrictions and vaccination, stating that “the truth is that at the moment we are not sufficiently protected.”
Israel reported 741 new COVID cases on Wednesday. There are 80 COVID patients currently in serious condition, 57 of whom are on ventilators or ECMO machines. To date, Israel has reported 67 known cases of the omicron variant in the country.
"There is nothing we want more than for everything to keep being open. It is better to avoid non-essential flights abroad," Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said last week. "The Green Pass policy will be broadened," he added, "but these guidelines mean nothing if the measure isn't enforced."
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 last Sunday: “It has been shown in the U.K. that the level of protection of two doses against the omicron strain is very low.”