Israel announced Saturday it would close its borders to all foreigners as it tries to stop the new omicron COVID-19 “variant of concern” from infecting its people.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that, pending government approval, it would ban foreign travel to Israel for 14 days, becoming the first country to take such drastic action.
Health authorities in the Middle Eastern country have already confirmed one case of the new variant, thought to be about five times more contagious than the delta variant.
There are another seven suspected cases, all in quarantine.
“Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in nearly every country,” Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked told Israeli television.
He added that health experts had confirmed “the vaccine is effective, although we don’t yet know to what degree.”
Authorities will use the Shin Bet counterterrorism phone-tracking technology to find and isolate those who may have been exposed to the new variant.
All Israelis entering the country will have to quarantine, even if they are vaccinated. The restrictions will come into force at midnight between Sunday and Monday.
First detected in South Africa and other countries in the region, cases have now been found in Germany, the UK, Italy, Belgium, Hong Kong and the Netherlands.
But despite the effort to shut down Israel, epidemiologists say travel curbs could be too late to stop omicron from spreading across the world.
Scientists believe it could take weeks to fully understand the variant’s mutations and if vaccines would be effective in fighting its effects.
mm, jc/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)