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Israel to lift travel ban to US, UK amid Omicron spread

Published Jan 07, 2022 10:00 am

Israel's health ministry said Thursday that several countries including the  United  States would be removed from a COVID-19 "red list" of banned destinations despite a surge in the  Omicron  variant.

"The ministry of health recommends to the government to remove at this stage all countries from the red list," it said in a statement.

The decision goes into effect Thursday, the ministry said, adding that it was "subject to the approval of the government."

The measure was taken "in light of the share of infections of those entering Israel compared to the share of community spread," the ministry said.

In addition to the US, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mexico, Switzerland, and Turkey will be removed from the banned destinations list.

Last month Israel barred travel to those countries among dozens of "red" destinations in an effort to slow an  Omicron-fueled surge in cases.

That ban followed a move in late November to block entry to all foreign tourists. Israel this week announced that vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries could enter the country.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the travel restrictions "delayed" the onset of  Omicron.  

"Five weeks ago we closed the State of Israel to entry by foreign nationals. This greatly delayed the entry of  Omicron to the country," he said.

Israeli authorities reported 16,115 COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, the highest daily load since the beginning of the pandemic.

There are 307 people hospitalized, according to the health ministry.

On Monday, Israel began administering fourth COVID-19 vaccine shots for people older than 60 and health workers. 

Some 4.3 million Israelis have gotten three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine, while about 2.8 million people of a population of 9.4 million have not received any jabs at all. 

Visitors to Israel will be allowed beginning Sunday. They will have to take a PCR or antigen test before boarding their flights and another PCR when they arrive, and they will be required to quarantine while waiting for the result. (AFP)