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Israel tightens travel restrictions over new COVID variant

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Israel tightens travel restrictions over new COVID variant

… 13 air passengers test positive for new variant in the Netherlands

Israel has said it will ban all foreigners from entering the country, making it the first nation to close its borders entirely in response to a potentially more contagious new variant of the Coronavirus.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days.

Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are against Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa and which the World Health Organization has called a “variant of concern.”

“Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in almost all countries and that the vaccine is effective, although we still don’t know to what extent,” Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked told N12’s Meet the Press.

Dr. Ran Balicer, head of the government advisory panel on COVID-19, told Israel’s Kan Public Radio that the new measures were necessary for the ‘fog of war’ surrounding the new variant, and said it was “better act early and strictly” to prevent its spread.

Israel said it detected the new strain in a traveler who had returned from Malawi and was investigating seven other suspected cases. The seven people included three vaccinated people who were put into isolation.

“The entry of foreign nationals into Israel is prohibited, except in cases approved by a special committee,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

ALSO, the new variant of the Coronavirus, Omicron, has been detected in 13 people who arrived in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, on two flights from South Africa.

They are among the 61 passengers who tested positive for coronavirus.

It comes as tighter restrictions take effect in the Netherlands, amid a history of COVID-19 cases and concerns about the new variant.

This includes early closing times for hospitality and cultural venues, and limits on in-home gatherings.

Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by South Africa on Wednesday, and preliminary evidence suggests that it has an increased risk of reinfection. It has been categorized by the WHO as a “variant of concern”.

Dutch national airline KLM flights from Johannesburg arrived on Friday. Some 600 passengers were held for several hours after arrival while they were tested for the virus.

Passengers with COVID-19 have been quarantined at a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Those who tested negative were asked to self-isolate at home for five days and undergo further testing. Authorities said those in transit would be allowed to continue their travels, although there were reports on Saturday that some passengers had not received written proof of a negative test and were therefore unable to board subsequent flights.

Following the announcement of the 13 Omicron cases, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge made an urgent request for people returning from southern Africa to be tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.

“It is not unthinkable that there are more cases in the Netherlands,” he told reporters.

Cases of the new variant have also been confirmed in several European countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy, as well as in Botswana, Israel, Australia, and Hong Kong.

Several countries around the world have banned or restricted flights to and from South Africa and several neighboring nations in response to the new variant.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands is one of several European countries struggling to contain a record number of infections.

It has a shortage of intensive care beds, operations are canceled and hundreds of people die of COVID-19 every week, reports Anna Holligan of the BBC in The Hague.

The new restrictions in the country came into effect yesterday and will remain in effect for at least the next three weeks.

The rules establish closing times for stores and venues and limit the number of guests allowed in people’s homes.

People are also encouraged to work from home whenever possible, but daycare centers, schools and universities across the country will remain open.

Thousands of people protested after the announcement of the measures.

Source Credit: TheGuardian

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