Israeli ministry urges nixing travel ban amid omicron surge

Health

A man gets a PCR coronavirus test at a private nursing home in Netanya, Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. Israel says coronavirus infections in the country have spiked to a new record high since the start of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Travelers from the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries should be cleared for landing in Israel, the Health Ministry recommended on Thursday.

The ministry said all countries should be removed from Israel’s “red” no-travel list, including the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Tanzania, Mexico, Switzerland and Turkey. The decision is one of several rapid changes in policy for Israel as the super-contagious omicron variant sets infection records around the world.

The ministry also recommended relaxing testing requirements for vaccinated and recovering inbound travelers, a day after the government recommended more home tests to ease the burden on testing centers.

The ministry’s recommendations still have to go through a final, legal step, which is a formality, and are expected to go into effect at midnight Thursday.

The moves are a recognition that the variant is infecting more people but apparently not causing more severe illness and deaths, especially among vaccinated people. On Thursday, the government reported another record for new infections, with more than 16,000 recorded a day earlier.

That’s despite being a vaccination leader early in the pandemic and the first country to offer a 3rd vaccination, or booster shot. Now, Israel is among the first to begin offering a 4th jab. About 64% of Israel’s 9.4 million people have received two vaccinations, and about 46% have received three shots.

Additionally, vaccinated and recovering travelers to Israel can leave quarantine after receiving a negative test result or after 24 hours. Unvaccinated people can leave quarantine after testing negative twice, on landing and after a week of isolation.

In neighboring Lebanon, there was a predictable post-holidays spike in infections as the small country of 6 million reported its highest number of daily cases since the virus outbreak in 2020. According to the Lebanese health ministry, at least 7,247 new infections and 18 deaths were recorded over the last 24 hours. That brings the total number of infections since March 2020 to 750,000 among the population where at least 44% have received at least one jab.

Lebanon is facing an unprecedented economic crisis that has sunk the once middle-class country into poverty, depleted resources and undermined basic services, including health. Health authorities warned a new spike threatened the already stretched sector that grapples with shortages of oxygen canisters, ventilators and medical supplies.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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