Israel bans flights from U.S. amid spike in COVID-positive passengers

The U.S. was added to Israel’s list of “red countries” Monday, which essentially bans travel in and out of the country to the United States.

The ban takes effect at midnight Tuesday, local time, reports said. The action comes in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the U.S., while some states such as New York are setting new daily records for total cases.

On Sunday night, a flight from Miami landed in Israel a few hours before the new ban was issued. One in 10 passengers aboard the flight tested positive for the virus.

Israel has long tested all passengers who fly into the country on arrival. Critics pointed to Florida as having some of the least-restrictive COVID-19 ‘prevention’ measures to include a lack of mask mandates.

The Jewish state also added Canada, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Turkey, and Switzerland to its red countries list, which also includes several dozen African nations including South Africa.

Israeli citizens returning from any of the listed countries face a mandatory seven-day quarantine requirement and must post two negative COVID tests before they can be released from isolation, even if they are vaccinated. Israelis can also make a special request to their government to travel to a red country, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced the decision Monday after his cabinet approved the travel ban. Haaretz, another Israeli news outlet, reported that 873 people in the country of 9.2 million were diagnosed with the virus in a single day, Friday, adding that 81 people required hospitalization including 41 who needed ventilators.

“We do not intend to close the skies, but it could be that in practice this is what is going to happen,” coronavirus commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka said during a joint session of the Knesset Health and Constitution committees, the JPost added.

The country’s borders have largely been closed to foreign visitors since November, with the government allowing only limited exceptions. The restrictions are scheduled to be lifted Dec. 29, but Israeli officials may extend them if the COVID threat remains high.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid argued on Monday that restricting travel due to the virus is not going to hurt Israel’s international stature in a significant way.

“I was asked in recent days if declaring a long line of countries red causes diplomatic harm,” Lapid said during Yesh Atid faction meeting, according to the paper. “The answer is it does, but we know how to manage it.”

“The countries of the world understand us because they’re getting hit much worse than we are,” he added.

Emmanuel Navon, author of The Star and the Scepter: a History of Israel’s Foreign Relations, agreed, nothing that other countries “know about Omicron, and they know that the decision is not arbitrary.”

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