Israel restricts travel to southern Africa due to new COVID-19 variant

People line up at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center as the country opens vaccinations for everyone 18 and older in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 20, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

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JERUSALEM, Nov. 25 (Reuters) – Israel announced Thursday that it is banning its citizens from entering southern Africa and banning the entry of foreigners from the region, citing the detection by South African scientists of a new COVID-19 variant.

South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini were added to Israel’s ‘red’ or riskiest travel list that reflects coronavirus infection rates abroad.

Israelis are not allowed to travel to countries on the “red” list unless they receive special permission from the Israeli Ministry of Health.

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In a statement announcing the measures, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said citizens of the seven South African countries are not eligible to enter Israel.

Israelis returning home from those countries should spend between 7-14 days in a quarantine hotel after arrival.

The variant — called B.1.1.529 — has a “highly unusual constellation” of mutations, which are worrisome because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists told reporters at a news conference in South Africa. read more

South Africa has confirmed about 100 specimens as B.1.1.529, but the variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, with a traveler from South Africa in the case of Hong Kong.

Israel has recorded 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 8,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

According to the Ministry of Health, about 57% of Israel’s population of 9.4 million people has been fully vaccinated.

A fourth wave of infections that hit Israel in June began to subside in September. But in the past two weeks, the “R,” or reproduction rate of the virus, which had been below one for two months, began to rise and has now crossed that threshold, indicating that the virus could once again spread exponentially.

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Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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