As fears about the new COVID-19 variant spread, Israel has banned foreigners from entering the country for 14 days to halt the spread of the new Omicron strain.
According to local media, the ban will begin at midnight on Sunday following full cabinet approval, making it the first country in the world to implement a complete border closure since the emergence of the new strain.
Israel has detected one case of the Omicron strain, which scientists first discovered in South Africa this week. The World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested the new variant is “of concern”, with initial evidence implying a higher re-infection risk.
However, the WHO has warned against countries hurriedly imposing travel restrictions, stating they should look at a “risk-based and scientific approach”
The New Restrictions
The Israeli government announced a series of restrictions at a cabinet meeting late Saturday. These restrictions are subject to final approval from the wider cabinet.
“The entry of foreign nationals into Israel is banned except for cases approved by a special committee,” the Prime Ministers’ office said in a statement.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett said the restrictions “are the result of a late-night emergency meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, which took place on Saturday evening after a brief announcement from Naftali Bennett that Israel needed to act very quickly in the midst of all this uncertainty and not risk the progress already gained against the coronavirus.”
Also, Israel will implement a mandatory three-day mandatory quarantine for all vaccinated Israeli citizens and a seven-day mandatory quarantine for unvaccinated Israeli citizens. All Israeli citizens will need to take a PCR test.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said, “Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in nearly every country. And that the vaccine is effective, although we don’t yet know to what degree.”
Dr. Ran Bailcer, the head of the government advisory panel on COVID-19, told local radio that the new measures were necessary for the “fog of war” surrounding the new variant, suggesting it’s “better to act early and strictly” to halt the spread.
Israel only reopened its border to foreign visitors last month after almost two years of strict travel restrictions.
The COVID-19 Restrictions Within Israel
Israel currently has low cases of COVID-19. The current 7-day case average is 421, which is a significant decrease from the 11,027 7-day case average in August.
Israel had the world’s fastest vaccine rollout in early 2021. The country has fully vaccinated 89.1% of its entire population after administering 16,137,959 vaccine doses.
The New Restrictions Around The World
Italy stated measures to ban entry for travelers coming from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini.
The U.K. has already started restricting flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini. Travelers from these nations will need to self-isolate under hotel quarantine for 10 days in the U.K. after 4 am GMT on Sunday regardless of their vaccination status.
The United States
The United States is set to restrict travel from South Africa and 7 other Southern African countries. Starting Monday, only US citizens and legal residents can travel to the US from these countries.
The E.U has banned travel from South Africa over concerns surrounding the new strain. EU countries should act “very swiftly, decisively and united,” Von der Leyen said.
“All air travel to these countries should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed about this new variant and travelers returning from these regions should respect strict quarantine rules,” she continued.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com