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Israel to fully reopen borders

What happened: Israel will reopen its borders to all travellers this coming Sunday and Israelis no longer need authorisation to depart to any world destination.

  • Health Ministry Director General Prof. Nachman Ash said there is no longer any requirement for the list of red countries because of the Omicron outbreak in Israel. Until this weekend, passengers from the US, the UK, the United Arab Emirates and five other countries were barred from entering the country. Ash nevertheless warned: “Nonessential trips should still be avoided, infection is high everywhere in the world.”
  • Last night Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gave instructions to health authorities to prepare for a situation with up to 4,000 seriously ill Covid patients within weeks.
  • Yesterday the government changed the Covid testing protocol to reduce the workload at the testing stations and the laboratories. Only people who are either unvaccinated, over the age of 60 or are members of high-risk groups are now eligible for PCR tests.
  • Vaccinated people who are not in high-risk groups and who were exposed to a confirmed Covid case will take an antigen test. If the result is negative, they will be exempt from quarantine. If the result is positive, they will have to self-quarantine for ten days.
  • The Education and Health Ministries have agreed to cancel the Traffic Light programme in the education system on Sunday. If approved by the cabinet, schools will work under the new testing and quarantine arrangement. Currently, more than 5,000 newly diagnosed infections are in schoolchildren, and 84,000 schoolchildren are currently quarantined.

Context: Israel is facing a similar situation elsewhere in which a substantial rise in infection could affect the economy’s ability to function properly.

  • Earlier this week Israel saw record-breaking number of new daily coronavirus cases, reaching an all-time high of 16,115 on Wednesday – more than double the number of new cases recorded just a few days earlier.
  • The reproductive number has risen to 1.99, the highest since June, meaning that daily infection rates will double every 2.7 days.
  • To combat the expected surge in seriously ill patients, Israel has begun offering a fourth dose of the vaccine to people aged 60 and over as well as medical workers.
  • After new testing protocols were announced yesterday, lines at the testing stations have been noticeably shorter. However, long queues remain at pharmacies throughout the country to buy home antigen tests.
  • The Wolt delivery company has said home Covid tests are their most in-demand product, with an order for a Covid test every five seconds on average.
  • Health Ministry officials are concerned that the new testing and quarantine protocols will not be effective at reducing the spread of the Omicron variant.
  • According to data, one-third of all antigen tests taken in Israel since the pandemic’s outbreak showed a false negative result and only a repeat PCR test found that the person was infected.

Looking ahead: Health experts forecast that there will be one million confirmed Covid cases in Israel in approximately two weeks, contrasted with fewer than 80,000 today.

  • Professor Ash has warned that Israel will soon reach 50,000 Covid cases a day.
  • Though hospitalisations are increasing, Ash noted that the number of critically ill patients connected to ventilators remains stable.

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