By: Miriam Rubin  | 

Israel’s Borders: What Has Omicron Changed?

Many foreigners were elated to hear that Israel opened its borders to vaccinated foreign travelers on Nov. 1, after a period of more than a year and a half of most non-Israeli tourists being banned from entering. Parents looked forward to seeing their children studying there, tourists planned trips and foreign Jews got excited to visit their homeland. Unfortunately, about four weeks after Israel opened its borders to foreigners, the country announced that it was closing its borders due to the novel Omicron coronavirus variant. The Omicron variant was first detected in Botswana, South Africa, and the World Health Organization (WHO) believes that the variant can be even more contagious than the Delta variant and is now considered a variant of concern. Cases of this new variant have appeared in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, to name some countries, thus raising concern for Israel. Therefore, Israel’s Coronavirus Cabinet decided to close the border beginning Sunday night to all non-citizens for the next two weeks. 

Just over a month ago, non-Israeli citizens were permitted to enter Israel on the condition that they met specific criteria. These criteria included travelers being fully vaccinated — either being vaccinated twice within the previous six months or receiving a booster shot after previous vaccination. Travelers from Europe had slightly different requirements. Individuals who had recovered from the virus and received one vaccine dose, or had recovered from the virus within six months from the date of their departure to Israel were eligible to enter Israel only if they received a European Union Digital Recovery Certificate. This certificate would be accepted as an entry permit for all non-citizens. 

Upon arriving in Israel, both Israeli and non-Israeli citizens had to present a negative PCR Covid test taken no more than 72 hours before their flight in order to board the plane. Thus, one needed to show either proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 and a negative PCR test in order to be permitted to enter Israel. Once travelers arrived, they had to undergo a serological Covid Test and quarantine until they received a negative result. 

It has been a year and a half since the coronavirus spiraled out of control. In response, countries began imposing travel bans, quarantining sick individuals and isolating millions in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. So far, there has been a record number of 1,341,856 infections and 8,182 coronavirus-related deaths in Israel since the pandemic began. 

Over the course of this pandemic, Israel had issued various mandates and lockdowns. Stores, transportation, and school systems have all been closed in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Children did school remotely and businesses lost their sources of income during these harsh lockdowns. However, by the end of April, the rates had dropped significantly due to high vaccination rates in Israel and the economy was slowly returning to normal. Stores, restaurants, schools and transportation have been permitted to individuals who are fully vaccinated. 

On Nov. 25, the Corona cabinet mentioned that Israel will start accepting antigen tests, also known as rapid tests. Within the last few weeks, passengers needed a PCR Covid test 72 hours before their flights but recently, individuals just need a rapid test that can be taken two hours before their flight. These rapid tests are cheaper and more accessible with results ready within minutes as opposed to hours and days. 

Israeli citizens are also affected by the Omicron variant and also face restrictions. Vaccinated Israelis returning from abroad need to take a PCR test and on day three of isolation, they will need to take another PCR Covid test to leave isolation. Unvaccinated Israeli citizens are required to be isolated for seven days once returning from abroad. 

Now, non-citizens have many concerns: the abundance of individuals who purchased tickets for Chanukah and winter break might not be able to get into Israel now. In fact, towards the beginning of the week, yeshiva and seminary students were worried about entering the country but on Monday, Israel granted permission only for them and Israeli citizens to enter. Hopefully, the situation will improve in the next few weeks and foreigners will be able to get back into Israel.

Photo Caption: Israel closes border over Omicron variant fears

Photo Credit: Wikipedia