U.S. Raises Travel Notice for Israel as Serious COVID Cases Double in a Week

The CDC's Level 3 rating, one level below the most severe, says unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Israel

Ido Efrati
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Workers in the coronavirus ward at Meir Hospital, Kfar Sava, Sunday.
Workers in the coronavirus ward at Meir Hospital, Kfar Sava, Sunday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ido Efrati

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday raised concerns about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, lifting its travel health notice to "Level 3: High."

Meanwhile, the number of Israeli coronavirus patients in serious condition has doubled in the past week, Health Ministry figures released Monday showed.

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There are 121 serious cases, compared to 61 last Monday, according to the Health Ministry. Monday saw 1,538 cases diagnosed, bringing the number of active cases to 12,243. The rate of positive tests rose to 2.08 percent on Sunday, the first day it rose above two percent during the most recent wave of the virus, as the delta variant continues to spread.

In June, the CDC had lowered its travel advisory rating for Israel to "Level 1: Low." The "Level 3" rating says unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Israel and is one level below the CDC's most severe travel rating.

A senior Israeli law enforcement official meanwhile said that the system for enforcing quarantine "is not effective at all," and that authorities' goal is to begin a pilot program next week for tracking incoming arrivals "and later to switch to more advanced technology." The police are encountering legal hurdles in using tracking technology, however. The law allowing this only applies to those arriving from abroad and not others who must quarantine. While there are plans to amend this law, the process would take weeks, at best.

Travellers exit Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel July 2021. Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

On Sunday, the cabinet approved a pilot program to use an app for the purpose of tracking arrivals from abroad. The test will involve several thousand Israelis returning from abroad. These returnees will be sent a message in which they are asked to send police their current location in a text message, which will be retained by police for only a few minutes, while the location is checked. If they do not agree, policemen will be sent to their home to make sure that they are actually there.

The primary challenge facing police in operating the system is that it won’t work well in the ultra-Orthodox community, since many Haredim own phones that cannot get text messages. The plan is to ask Haredim to call a police phone number from their home phones and then punch in a code that will be given to them.

Israel also saw a twenty-day peak in the number of newly vaccinated people, the majority of whom received their second jab. The data comes after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett criticized unvaccinated people who chose not to inoculate during a televised address.

Concerns over the spread of the delta plus variant were mitigated on Monday, however, after a Health Ministry official said that it has not become the dominant strain in Israel, with 12 cases having been diagnosed in the three weeks since the first case was found in the country.

Ten of the 12 carriers of the delta plus variant had returned from abroad, and two more contracted the virus from travelers with whom they had been in contact.

The official said that the data may indicate that the delta plus variant does not have the capability to overcome delta as the dominant strain of the virus in Israel. The latter variant has become the most common COVID-19 strain in the country, and has been responsible for nearly every recent case.

While the government has imposed new restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said on Monday that its policy is to avoid lockdowns and instead of focus on ensuring that people wear masks, quarantine when required, and get vaccinated.

"This is the government's policy – to have a normal routine alongside the coronavirus, with an understanding that the coronavirus will be with us for some time, and we have to live during that period," he said.

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