Israel bans foreigners due to Omicron and introduces phone tracking network

28 November 2021, 08:54 | Updated: 7 June 2023, 08:56

Israel has barred foreigners from entering the country
Israel has barred foreigners from entering the country. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Israel has barred foreigners from entering the country and will use controversial technology for contact tracing as part of its efforts to crack down on the Omicron Covid variant.

Israel's Health Ministry said in a statement that the country's coronavirus cabinet has authorised a raft of measures, including red-listing travel to 50 African countries, banning entry by foreigners, and mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.

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It also approved use of the Shin Bet internal security agency's controversial phone monitoring technology to perform contact tracing of individuals confirmed with the new Omicron variant of coronavirus in Israel.

Israeli rights groups had criticised the use of the mobile phone monitoring technology as a violation of privacy rights, and the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that its use must be limited.

Dr Ran Balicer, head of the government's advisory panel on Covid-19, told Israel's Kan public radio that the new measures are necessary for the "fog of war" surrounding the new variant, saying it is "better to act early and strictly" to prevent its spread.

On Saturday, Israel said it had detected the new strain in a traveller who had returned from Malawi and was investigating seven other suspected cases. The seven people included three vaccinated individuals and all were placed in isolation.

Scientists say the new coronavirus variant, first detected in South Africa, is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread.

Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has reported at least 8,184 deaths from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Most of the population - more than 6.3 million people - have received at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and more than 4 million Israelis have received a booster.

The country has more than 7,000 active cases, 120 of them in a serious condition in hospital, according to Health Ministry statistics.