By Shira Hanau
(JTA) — Israel will bar all non-citizens from entering the country for at least two weeks due to concern about the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The travel ban begins Sunday night at midnight. The announcement was issued Saturday night, one day after the country banned visitors from several African countries due to fear of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa. The new rule comes less than a month after the country reopened to foreign tourists for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We are currently on the verge of a state of emergency,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Friday. The first case of the new variant was found in Israel Nov. 25.
The new variant includes more mutations than were seen in past variants of the coronavirus and seems to be spreading quickly across South Africa. It is not yet known whether the variant is more lethal than past iterations of the virus, but public health officials are concerned that it may be more contagious and possibly better at evading the body’s immune response.
Beginning Sunday night at midnight, the rules regarding quarantine for Israelis returning from abroad will become stricter.
Vaccinated Israelis returning from abroad who until now were only required to quarantine until receiving a negative COVID test in Israel will now have to test once upon landing, quarantine for 72 hours, and take another test on the third day after they arrive. Unvaccinated Israelis returning from abroad will have to quarantine for at least one week and may exit quarantine if they receive a negative test on the first and seventh days of their quarantine. Those who do not submit to a test on the seventh day will have to complete a full 14-day quarantine.