The head of public health services at the Health Ministry on Thursday said the list of countries blacklisted for travel must be expanded as the current system of destination-based travel bans is not stopping new COVID variants from entering Israel.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis' warning comes amid a sharp spike in COVID cases throughout Israel believed to have been caused by a breach at Ben Gurion Airport that allowed the entry of the far-more contagious Delta variant.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis told the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that "cherry picking" countries to which entry is prohibited is efficient anymore in stopping the spread of the pathogen due to surge of cases around the world.
"There is no doubt that the policy of prohibiting entry to maximum risk countries has helped reduce infections,” said Alroy-Preis.
"Infections are rising at an alarming rate globally. Many countries are entering their fourth infection wave, this includes vaccinated countries like Britain and the United States," added the health official, referring to states with high vaccination rates.
Despite praising the Health Ministry’s policies on enforcing orders at Israel’s only port of entry, Alroy-Preis admitted that immediate changes must be made soon.
"We understand that today, with the Delta variant and infections around the world, cherry picking which countries pose a risk is probably not enough. Everything that is happening right now in Israel came from abroad. We must make sure that nothing worse than the Delta variant enters the country."
The list of countries to which entry is prohibited currently includes Uzbekistan, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, Russia, Spain and Kyrgyzstan.
According to Alroy-Preis, Greece, Bulgaria and the United Arab Emirates are expected to be included on the list of at-risk states starting next week due to dramatic spike in infections there.
Italy and France, meanwhile, will most likely enter Israel's list of states with a severe travel warning. Upon arrival from those states, travelers must enter a mandatory 14-day isolation.
The senior health official added that the ministry has also considered allowing travelers to undergo a COVID test after one week of isolation.
"When we check, we see that only 10% of all travelers actually undergo the mandatory COVID test on the seventh day of isolation. That is why we recommend we stay with the current model, which obligates 14-day isolation,” she added.
“If we knew that every person who returns from abroad simply enters isolation and does not meet anyone for 14 days, we would allow everyone to travel anywhere.”