JERUSALEM - Israel has tightened restrictions after at least two cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus were discovered in travelers returning to the country.
The new variant was discovered in two Israelis who had returned from Africa. Israel has now closed its borders to incoming tourists for the next two weeks in a move that comes less than a month after it reopened.
As part of the new restrictions, anyone flying to Israel from nations labeled as red countries - including most of Africa will be sent to government-sponsored hotels run by the Israeli army. All other returning Israelis will have to submit to a PCR test on arrival in Israel, as has been the rule until now, and spend three days in quarantine. They will be released only after a second negative test.
Senior health official Dr. Sharon Al-Ro'I Preuss says the variant appears to be extremely contagious.
She said that it is possible that the vaccination will be less effective against the variant, which is cause for concern. At the same time, she said preliminary research shows that the variant appears to affect older people and the symptoms are mild.
Some people are accusing the Israeli government of overreacting to the new variant.
Mark Feldman of Diesenhaus Tours said the move to ban tourists for two weeks will further devastate the Israeli tourism industry, which has yet to recover from the first part of the pandemic. Israel was closed to tourists for the past 20 months, and each time it was supposed to reopen, the closure was extended.
The omicron variant comes as COVID-19 numbers had dropped dramatically, and many hoped the pandemic had reached an end.