Israel to reduce travel restrictions but US travelers still barred from the country

(JTA) — Israel announced Monday that it would reduce its restrictions on travel that were first put in place in November to delay the entry of the Omicron variant into the country now that the variant is spreading rapidly across the country through community spread.

Israel recorded 6,562 new COVID cases Sunday, the highest number recorded since September.

The new rules will allow fully vaccinated foreign travelers to enter the country again but will still bar visitors from a number of countries deemed “red” due to high infection rates, including the United States and the United Kingdom. Israelis will now be allowed to leave quarantine after receiving a negative coronavirus test from the airport instead of quarantining for three days. The changes are set to go into effect Sunday, Jan. 9.

The ban on foreign travelers has been a controversial issue in Israel in recent weeks, with politicians and activists calling on the government to “let my people in.” American “olim,” or those who have moved to Israel permanently, have been especially vocal about the bans which have kept family members from being able to visit them, even for such occasions as weddings or the birth of a grandchild.

Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai said in a tweet Sunday that he raised the issue at a cabinet meeting and said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett committed to an imminent “easing of policies.”

Israel’s Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz suggested that travel restrictions would be eased due to the spread of the Omicron variant within the country, explaining the counterintuitive decision on Israeli television last week.

“The moment infections are spreading, there is no point in stopping entry from abroad,” he told Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, according to The Times of Israel.

Other countries that will continue to be designated as “red” include the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mexico, Switzerland and Turkey. Canada, France and South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected and where the wave of infections caused by the variant has eased, have been removed from the list.

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