Israel to ban travel to U.S., Canada over Omicron variant
Once authorized, the travel ban will take effect at midnight Wednesday morning
Israeli ministers on Monday agreed to ban travel to the United States, Canada and eight other countries amid the rapid, global spread of the Omicron variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office announced the decision following a cabinet vote.
The rare move to red-list the U.S. comes amid rising coronavirus infections in Israel and marks a change to pandemic practices between the two nations with close diplomatic relations. The U.S. and Canada will join a growing list of European countries and other destinations to which Israelis are barred from travelling, and from which returning travellers must remain in quarantine.
A parliamentary committee is expected to give the measure final approval. Once authorized, the travel ban will take effect at midnight Wednesday morning.
Israel has seen a surge in new cases of the more infectious coronavirus variant in recent weeks, and began closing its borders and restricting travel in late November. Foreign nationals are not allowed to enter, and all Israelis arriving from overseas are required to quarantine — including people who are vaccinated.
Other countries that were approved to be added to the travel ban starting Wednesday are Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey.
Israel rolled out a world-leading vaccination campaign early this year, and more than 4.1 million of Israel's 9.3 million people have received a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
In a prime-time address on Sunday, Bennett urged parents to vaccinate their children, declaring that the country's "fifth wave" of coronavirus infections had begun. As of Sunday, Israel's Health Ministry has reported 175 cases of the new variant.
Israel has recorded at least 8,232 deaths from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.