Israel Bans Travel To UK As 1st Omicron Death Announced , Bennett Threatens Lockdown

Illustrative. Health Ministry's Director of Public Health Dr. Sharon Elroy-Preis speaks about the new travel restrictions due to the Omicron variant at a press conference on Sunday, December 12, 2021. (GPO)

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Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of Israel’s Health Ministry’s Public Health division, announced at a press conference on Sunday that the UK and Denmark will be added to the list of “red” countries under an Israeli travel ban.

Israelis are banned from traveling to red countries and Israelis who return from the UK and other red countries must quarantine for seven days (rather than three days) upon arriving back in Israel even if they’re fully vaccinated.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday that Britain faces a “tidal wave” of infections from the Omicron. On Monday, Johnson confirmed that at least one British COVID patient infected with the Omicron variant has died. Speaking to reporters at a vaccination clinic in London, Johnson said: “Sadly yes, Omicron is producing hospitalizations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron.”

“So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognize the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population. So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters,” he urged.

Earlier on Monday, U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC that at least ten patients infected with the Omicron are hospitalized and that the variant is spreading at a “phenomenal rate,” with cases doubling every few days.

Studies of the Omicron variant have found that it is four times as infectious as the Delta variant and it reduces vaccine efficacy. Additionally, according to a British study published over the weekend, the risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant is eight times as high as previous variants and that two doses of the Pfizer or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are significantly less effective at combating the Omicron in comparison to previous variants. The good news is that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Omicron variant causes less severe symptoms than the Delta variant but the organization warned that there is not yet enough data to be certain.

Belgium was also originally added to the “red list” but the Health Ministry stated later that following a reassessment of the Belgian infection rate, it will not be added to the list.

The new travel restrictions go into effect on Wednesday.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said at the conference that additional countries will be added to the red list but travel will not be banned entirely.

Prime Minister Naftal Bennett, who has taken a tough stance in recent days toward COVID, proposing draconian measures against the unvaccinated, warned on Sunday that if significant steps aren’t taken immediately, Israel will have to enter a lockdown.

Bennett urged Israelis to get vaccinated and urged parents to bring their children to be vaccinated. According to a Yisrael Hayom report on Monday morning, only 10% of Israeli children aged 5-11 received their first COVID vaccine doses in the three weeks since Israel began immunizing children. The number is even lower in the Chareidi sector, with only 1.9% of Chareidi children vaccinated with their first doses in contrast to 14% of children in the general population, and even lower in the Arab sector, where only 1.1% of children are vaccinated.

The Pandemic Response Team and the Vaccines Advisory Committee convened on Sunday evening and decided against providing a fourth vaccine dose for the general population. A fourth dose for just the immunocompromised or the elderly was also ruled out.

Israel has entered its fifth COVID wave, according to Hebrew University researchers. The Health Ministry on Sunday reported 15 new cases of the Omicron variant in Israel, raising the total number of cases to 67. There are also 80 suspected cases.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)