Israel rolls back foreign travel curbs, but US tourists remain barred

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Israel will reopen to foreign tourists from most countries beginning Jan. 9, the Health Ministry said Monday, easing a blanket travel ban put in place in November to curb the Omicron variant’s fast-moving spread.

Under the new rules, foreigners from 199 countries on Israel’s “orange” list of medium-risk countries can enter Israel if they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. Orange-listed countries currently include Australia, Brazil, China, Germany and Egypt.

Non-citizens who are not vaccinated or recovered from the virus are still barred from entering Israel. Those traveling from high-risk countries on Israel’s “red” list are also banned.

The list currently includes the United States, the United Kingdom and Mexico. Israelis can’t travel to red-listed countries without special government permission.

On Monday, the Health Ministry recommended the downgrading of Canada, France, South Africa and 13 other “red” countries. The Knesset Health Committee must still approve changes.

In a televised press conference Jan. 2, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defended the easing of travel restrictions that Israel first imposed in late November to slow Omicron’s spread after the highly transmissible variant was detected in South Africa.

“I closed the skies five weeks ago when everything was fine, and in the coming week, it is likely that we will reopen the skies,” he said.

The new travel rules come as Israel battles a spike in new infections caused by the Omicron variant. The ministry announced 6,562 cases were confirmed Jan. 2, a figure more than three times what was recorded a week earlier.

Israel is expected to reach as many as 20,000 new daily infections by the end of the week. The mortality rate, however, remains low. Israel has confirmed four COVID-19 related deaths since Dec. 21.

Bennett announced Jan. 2 that Israel had approved administering a fourth vaccine jab to Israelis over the age of 60 as well as to health care workers who received their boosters at least four months ago.

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