COVID-19 travel: Likely no more red countries by next week – health official

Exceptions to travel to nations under travel ban set to allow family members to participate in life-cycle events.

  Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 22, 2021. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 22, 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Israel will likely not have any countries classified as red as of next week, a health official told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday.

The committee also addressed the issue of special permission to travel to and from those countries on humanitarian grounds. It obtained the pledge of representatives of all relevant ministries that the criteria would soon be expanded to make immediate family members entitled to travel for life-cycle events.

“We estimate that next week the red-country list will be empty,” said Ilana Gens, head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services headquarters.

She said the model that the ministry is using to classify states takes into consideration the level of morbidity in the country compared with Israel, as well as the number of cases imported to Israel from abroad.

As the impact of cases from abroad decreases, “there is less epidemiological justification in restrictions,” Gens said.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (purple) infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (yellow), also known as novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient sample. (credit: NIH/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (purple) infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (yellow), also known as novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient sample. (credit: NIH/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

The latest Health Ministry data showed that 9% of the cases registered in the past week and 4% of the cases of the previous day came from people returning from abroad. A few days earlier their numbers were more than 20%.

Beginning on Sunday, foreign nationals from non-red countries will be able to enter Israel without the need for special permission for the first time since the end of November, provided that they are fully vaccinated under the Health Ministry’s criteria (inoculated twice within the previous six months, vaccinated with a booster, recovered with one shot, or recovered within six months, as demonstrated by an electronic recovery certificate).

Currently, the list of red countries includes the US, the UK, Switzerland, the UAE, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria and Turkey, which was approved by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday.

Committee chairman Gilad Kariv (Labor) asked representatives of the Health, Foreign and Interior ministries to commit to fix the criteria to allow travel between Israel and red countries on humanitarian grounds, publish them so that they are accessible to the public, and ensure that all officials and employees at the relevant ministries are aware of them.

According to what Kariv required, the rules should allow immediate family members to travel between Israel and red countries for life-cycle events: weddings, births, bar/bat mitzvahs, and funerals, for parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, uncles and aunts.

Some of the criteria were supposed to have already been implemented. But former MK Dov Lipman, founder and head of the NGO Yad L’Olim, said during the hearing that the changes have not been published anywhere, and people asking for permission to the Exception Committee at the Interior Ministry’s Population Authority continued to be rejected.

All ministry representatives agreed to Kariv’s requests. If confirmed in the coming days, this would represent a major change in Israel’s coronavirus travel policies.

“As I presented in the committee, I see no reason for there to be any red countries anymore,” Lipman said. “With 10,000-plus new cases a day, and 5% positive tests, it’s clear that the new variant is here. If they are insisting on keeping some countries red, they have to widen the exceptions. People are suffering, and it’s enough already.”

Established last year, Yad L’Olim has been at the forefront of the fight to support Israeli citizens and their family members abroad to ensure they could visit each other despite the pandemic, including lobbying the relevant authorities and helping prepare the necessary documents.

“I thank MK Gilad Kariv for listening to my report about what’s happening on the ground and for demanding changes,” Lipman said. “We at Yad L’Olim won’t let up until the red countries are removed completely, and then our focus will shift to fighting for entry for those who have recovered from COVID-19 worldwide.”

The committee also discussed the issue of requiring a full week of isolation for inbound vaccinated travelers from red countries in light of the recent changes in quarantine policies within Israel, according to which inoculated people exposed to a verified case are released after a negative antigen test. Kariv asked health officials to also consider a change for returnees from abroad.•