JERUSALEM, Nov 26 (Reuters) – Israel on Friday imposed a travel ban on most African states, after reporting cases of a new and potentially vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett widened a banannounced on Thursday on the entry of foreigners from seven African countries and travel to them.
“We are currently on the verge of a state of emergency,” he said, adding that the B.1.1.529 variant had “arrived at a very complicated time”, coinciding with the Hanukkah vacation when children, mostly unvaccinated, are out of school.
Bennett said a few cases had been reported in Israel, including at least person who had already received a vaccine booster shot.
“That doesn’t mean the vaccines are no good (against the new variant). It might mean they are effective to a certain degree,” said Bennett, who met Israeli health experts before the travel edicts were announced.
Under the broader restrictions, all African nations, except those in North Africa, were added to Israel’s “red list” of high-risk countries.
Other authorities including in the EU and Britain also reacted with alarm to the new variant, while the World Health Organisation (WHO)cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions, favouring a “risk-based and scientific approach”.
Bennett told journalists a national lockdown was not an option at the moment, though Israel’s coronavirus panel of experts would reconvene on Saturday night to discuss possible additional measures.
Israel has recorded 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 8,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.
Around 43% of Israel’s population of 9.4 million have received three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.