17 Suspected Omicron Cases Found on Flight From U.S.; U.S. to Become ‘Red’ on Wednesday

YERUSHALAYIM -
A traveler seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on Sunday. (Flash90)

Proposed new restrictions to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in Israel topped the Cabinet’s agenda at its weekly meeting Sunday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “This government did something great when it decided, three weeks ago, to limit entry to Israel and delayed the infiltration of the variant. We bought Israel precious time, we held off Omicron for at least three weeks.”

But now, Bennett said, “Time is up. … Omicron is in Israel, in other words, there is already community spread, and we’re seeing a rise in the reproduction rate. It’s started. This time, because of the very contagious nature of this variant, we need to understand – the collective, national protection that the government provides isn’t enough. Everyone, every citizen, has to take care of themselves, their families and their children.

“Don’t depend on your neighbor having been vaccinated and vaccinating their kids. It won’t help you much. The wave is arriving. Every family has to prepare. Every person needs to make sure that they have three shots and that their kids are vaccinated,” Bennett warned.

Meanwhile, almost 10% of the passengers on a flight from the United States tested positive for COVID on a flight, with most of 17 cases suspected of carrying the Omicron variant.

The outbreak, confirmed by the Health Ministry, comes as the Cabinet is set to expand the list of ‘red countries’ to include the U.S., Canada, Portugal, Turkey, Germany, Hungary, Morocco and Belgium.

The ‘red’ designation of France, Spain, United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden will go into effect on Sunday at midnight.

Assessments presented to Bennett on the weekend predicted that the number of Omicron cases in Israel will reach 400 to 600 over the next week, in light of the number of cases that cannot be traced back to people who traveled abroad.

On Motzoei Shabbos, the Cabinet began evaluating the possibility of issuing a fourth round of COVID vaccinations to the general public.

A special team has been appointed to look into the idea and is scheduled to meet this week.

The news comes after a new study by Imperial College London in England, parts of which were published in the Financial Times, reported that according to initial findings, there was no ground to believe that the Omicron variant was less dangerous than the Delta variant, even though as of mid-December there were fewer patients hospitalized worldwide than there were during the Delta wave. One reason for the comparatively few hospitalizations is that many more people are vaccinated now than were vaccinated when Delta emerged.

The researchers said that their work had found no evidence that the Omicron variant was either less contagious or less likely to cause serious symptoms if contracted.

The researchers pointed out that at this point, the data on COVID cases caused by Omicron was still extremely limited, and suggested that it would be a few weeks before the severity of the new variant could be fully assessed.