Israel on Saturday said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country, making it the first country to shut its borders completely in response to the potentially more contagious Omicron coronavirus variant, and said it would also reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology in order to contain the spread of the variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days.
Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective COVID-19 vaccines are against Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa and has been dubbed a ”variant of concern” by the World Health Organization. Israelis entering the country, including those who are vaccinated, will be required to quarantine, Bennett said. The ban will come into effect at midnight between Sunday and Monday.
The Shin Bet domestic security agency’s phone-tracking technology will be used to locate carriers of the new variant in order to curb its transmission to others, the statement said.
Israel has so far confirmed one case of the variant and seven suspected cases.
The variant, which since first being detected in South Africa has also been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and Britain, has sparked global concern and a wave of travel curbs, although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally.
It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant’s mutations and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it.