The new coronavirus variant, B.1.1529, landed seven southern African countries — South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini — on the red list Thursday night.
The list had been empty for six weeks, as no country showed a high enough infection rate to warrant the label, according to the Health Ministry’s criteria.
Acting on the recommendation of senior health officials, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered that the countries be classified as red due to the spread of the variant, and the appropriate restrictions will be imposed.
Israelis are banned from traveling to red countries, and those entering Israel must quarantine for 14 days, unless they have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.
Bennett also directed “an immediate evaluation be held on stopping flights from these countries to Israel and vice-versa, or the implementation of a different plan to prevent the variant from spreading to Israel,” according to a statement from his office.
The decision was made following a consultation with the Health Minister, the Health Ministry Director General, the Director of the Public Health Services, the national coronavirus project manager and the Defense Ministry Director of Civil Defense.
A follow-up meeting was scheduled for later Thursday night.
Experts are concerned that the B.1.1529 variant might be more dangerous than previous strains of the coronavirus.
Prof. Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunology lab at Bar-Ilan University, was quoted by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday as saying that it is presenting the highest number of mutations ever recorded.
“We are talking about something that is extremely different from what we have known so far,” he said.
Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute who serves on the government’s expert advisory panel, tweeted on Thursday:
“The new alarming variant B.1.1.529 discovered in South Africa may be more contagious and more resistant to vaccine than the Delta variant that dominates here,”
“There is not enough information yet, but this variant has more mutations than other variants, and some of them are mutations that provide more resistance to the vaccine and better ability to spread,” he added.