Israel to bar travel to high-risk countries amid Indian coronavirus strain outbreak

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The Israeli government decided on Sunday to reimpose some measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus variant from India, including barring travel to high-risk countries. 

This comes after Israel lifted all COVID-19 restrictions last week.

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened a meeting with key ministries on Sunday in light of a resurgent rate of infection in Israel, and decided to bar people from travelling to high-risk countries and to enforce quarantine on arrival.

Israel will require all departing passengers to fill out a form and sign a declaration pledging not to visit Argentina, Russia, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. Travel to these countries will be banned altogether, unless approved in advance by the exceptions’ committee.

Meanwhile, Health Ministry and senior officials dealing with the virus also recommended on Sunday that 12 to 15-year-olds start to get vaccinated.

In the meeting, which was also attended by representatives from the National Security Council and Israel Police, it was also decided to increase enforcement of quarantine for returnees from abroad, including the deployment of 250 officers for this task. 

Furthermore, Bennett ordered a review into the discrepancies between the number of people violating quarantine among returnees from abroad and the number of fines levied in practice. A publicity campaign will be launched stressing the importance of observing quarantine regulations after returning to Israel and further testing stations will be set up at Ben-Gurion International Airport. 

The prime minister is also considering imposing fines on parents of children who violated quarantine. This falls under the remit of the Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who also attended the meeting. The discussions will continue in the coming days.

This meeting comes on the heels of the Health Ministry announcement on Saturday that 45 children in the northern town of Binyamina were diagnosed with the virus, and that they suspect that it is the Indian variant.

The outbreak was identified at random, with a student from Kramim School in Rishon Letziyon testing positive for the coronavirus. The ministry subsequently ordered students to wear masks in schools in Modi’in and Binyamina on Sunday, including in open areas. 

Later on Sunday, the Health Ministry ordered that all those who attended a show in the Emek HaMaayanot area on Thursday must self-isolate after a positive case was identified among the audience.

The order, announced on Sunday, applies without exception to those who have been vaccinated against or recovered from the virus.

The Indian variant is of concern to experts because it contains two protein mutations that may make it resistant to the vaccine. It is being examined whether this variant is more contagious than others.

In March, India’s Health Ministry reported a variant of the virus that includes two genetic changes, a commonality between two variants of the virus that was previously known.