Israel holds up tourist entries as Delta COVID-19 variant spreads

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Israel announced Wednesday a delay to the renewed entry of individual tourists and said it could take other steps to counter the spread of the Delta variant of coronavirus despite the country’s high vaccination rate.

“Due to concern over the potential spread of the Delta variant, the government has postponed the entry of individual tourists by one month to August 1,” the tourism ministry said.


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Israel will however continue to allow in vaccinated tourists in small groups from certain countries, after taking two PCR tests and another for anti-bodies, a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

Some 600 tourists have visited since Israel launched a pilot program at the end of May, she said.

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that if more than 100 new COVID-19 cases are recorded each day for a week, the wearing of masks indoors will be reinstated.

His warning came as Israel registered over 100 new cases for a third consecutive day, after weeks in which the daily average was between 12 and two dozen.

Bennett also said authorities would increase the number of PCR tests, crack down on people violating quarantine and encourage vaccinations for early teens.

On Monday, the health ministry recommended children aged 12-15 be vaccinated.

“Our goal is now primarily to protect Israelis from the Delta variant that is rampaging throughout the world,” Bennett said.

“We’ve decided to act as early as possible to not pay a higher price down the road.”

At the peak of the country’s outbreak in January, Israel was recording some 10,000 daily cases.

Bennett, who ousted former premier Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, said Tuesday that the country was treating the rise in cases as “a new outbreak” and announced masks must be worn at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.

Israel launched a sweeping vaccination campaign after obtaining millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

More than 55 percent of Israel’s population – some 5.2 million people – have received both doses of the vaccine.

Health ministry figures show that young people aged 10-19 were the worst hit by the virus last month, as it spread through schools in Israel’s north.

The country has recorded a total of over 840,000 novel coronavirus cases, including 6,428 deaths.

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