Omicron variant: Israel’s new COVID travel rules made simple

The coronavirus cabinet passed a series of new measures. Here is everything you need to know:

 View of coronavirus swab sampling booths at the Ben-Gurion International Airport on February 28, 2021.  (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
View of coronavirus swab sampling booths at the Ben-Gurion International Airport on February 28, 2021.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

In an effort to respond swiftly to the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant that appears to be more transmissible than its predecessors, Israel passed a series of new measures that are meant to be in effect for the next two weeks.

  1. There is a ban on 50 countries within the African continent. Israelis cannot travel to these countries without special permission. Doing so is subject to a fine of up to NIS 5,000.
  2. No foreigner can enter Israel without special permission from the country’s Exceptions Committee.
  3. Israelis who are fully vaccinated or recovered according to the Health Ministry’s definition and are not entering Israel from a banned country will be asked to perform a PCR test at the airport and then enter home isolation. Subject to a second negative PCR test on day three, they may be released from isolation. If they do not take the PCR test, they will be required to stay in isolation for a full week.
  4. Unvaccinated Israelis will perform a PCR test upon landing in Israel, after which they will enter home isolation. Subject to a second negative PCR test on day seven, they will be able to be released from isolation. Those who do not perform a test on day seven, will need to stay in isolation for 14 days.
  5. Israelis who return from red countries will perform a PCR test at the airport and then be transferred to isolation in one of the country’s coronavirus hotels until a negative result is received. After that, they must complete seven days of isolation at home. They may leave isolation only when a second negative result is received.
  6. Individuals who leave isolation without taking a PCR test will be fined.
  7. The Home Front Command will continue to locate anyone who arrived in Israel from a red country in the last week and test them for the virus.
  8. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) will re-launch its surveillance program for anyone who tests positive upon return to Israel from a banned African country to help find anyone with whom they were in contact and cut off the chains of infection.
  9. The Green Pass will be required for all events of 50 or more people, instead of 100 or more people as it was before.
  10. Hanukkah events will go on as planned under the Green Pass outline.
 Diaspora Jews at Ben-Gurion Airport after making Aliyah to Israel. (credit: THE JEWISH AGENCY) Diaspora Jews at Ben-Gurion Airport after making Aliyah to Israel. (credit: THE JEWISH AGENCY)

The two-week timeframe is because by then it should be known if the Pfizer and other coronavirus vaccines work against the variant. It should also be better understood if the Omicron variant is truly more contagious and if it causes more serious disease.

Health officials are stressing that even if the vaccine proves less effective, it is more than likely to help ward off serious disease. As such, they are encouraging all citizens to get vaccinated.

“We are at the beginning of a period that will require great vigilance,” the Health Ministry said in a statement. “It is important to maintain health and a routine by vaccinating all citizens over the age of five.”

The ministry also encouraged ventilating closed spaces and being stringent about wearing masks while gathering.