Photo Credit: Koby Gideon / GPO
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Nov. 26, 2021

A bare few weeks after Israel reopened its borders to foreign tourism, the Coronavirus Cabinet has again slammed the gates shut.

The government issued a new ban on incoming tourism after the discovery of five cases of the new, “highly transmissible” Omicron COVID-19 variant in the country.

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In addition to more than half of the African continent, the variant has been detected in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the UK and Hong Kong, in addition to Israel. No cases have yet been identified in the United States.

Israelis entering the country will be required to enter quarantine beginning midnight Sunday, regardless of vaccination status.

In addition, the Coronavirus Cabinet authorized digital surveillance of those infected with the virus, to be carried out by the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency.

A team of experts briefed the Cabinet about the new variant, B.1.1.529, and its implications for Israel.

Among the points made during the meeting was the fact that “at this stage the coronavirus vaccine is more important than ever in order to protect the health of the public against severe morbidity.

“To this end, the members of the Coronavirus Cabinet call on the citizens of Israel who have yet to be inoculated with the third dose of the vaccine to do so as soon as possible.

“Parents in Israel are also called on to get their children vaccinated,” the Cabinet statement said.

These are the decisions that were made:

  • All countries of Africa, including Mauritius, the Seychelle Islands and Madagascar, except for the countries of northern Africa, will be defined as red countries. The entry of foreign nationals from these countries to Israel is prohibited.
  • IDF Home Front Command will locate all persons who have arrived from these countries in the past week and will instruct them to go into quarantine immediately, while home sampling is carried out.
  • All persons who were in an African country (even if they arrived in Israel from somewhere else) during the past week are called upon to present themselves immediately for a PCR test and afterward enter into quarantine until the results are received.
  • 10 million PCR tests adapted for closely identifying the new variant will be acquired.
  • A pilot program for installing HEPA filters – in the framework of which air filters will be installed in hundreds of classrooms and kindergartens throughout the country – will be carried out.
  • The sampling of sewage throughout the country, in order to locate latent morbidity of the new variant, will be carried out

Participating in the discussion were the Health Minister, the Public Security Minister, the Transportation and Road Safety Minister, the Interior Minister, the Economy and Industry Minister, the Culture and Sports Minister, the Tourism Minister, the Health Ministry Director General, the Finance Ministry Director General, the Public Security Ministry Director General, the Transportation Ministry Director General, the Director of the Public Health Service, the national coronavirus project director, the Deputy Attorney General, the Deputy Director of the National Security Council, the Chairperson of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, GOC Home Frnt Command, the Defense Ministry Director of Civil Defense, the Finance Ministry Budget Director and other senior professionals.

In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency on Friday, citing the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state and warning signs of a likely winter spike in infections, plus the possibility of an emergence of the Omicron variant there as well.

Hochul said she made the move in order to boost hospital capacity and address staffing shortages ahead of potential spikes of COVID-19 this winter.

An Executive Order signed by the governor allows the Department of Health to limit non-essential, non-urgent procedures for in-hospitals or systems with limited capacity to protect access to critical health care services. Limited capacity is defined as below 10 percent staffed bed capacity, or as determined by the Department of Health based on regional and health care utilization factors.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.