Israel has expanded its list of “red” countries to include the United States, Canada, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

In a telephone vote, the Cabinet accepted the Health Ministry’s recommendation to add the above countries to the growing list of areas banned for travel by Israelis due to the onset of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. The new ruling is slated to go into effect as of midnight Tuesday, pending approval by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Countries already designated as “red” are Britain, France, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the United Arab Emirates and all African countries except those in North Africa.

In a televised address to the nation on Sunday night, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett explained the move by stating that he’d already warned about the imminent “Omicron wave,” which led to the coronavirus cabinet decision in November to bar foreign nationals from entering the country.

“This was an important and brave decision that bought all of us precious time,” he said, adding: “There were those who thought we were exaggerating. There were those who [called me] ‘hysterical.’ But I thank the members of the government who understood that it was necessary … to buy time and keep the variant away from Israel’s borders as much as possible.”

However, he said, “the time that we bought is running out. Omicron is already in the country, from the Knesset to kindergartens, and it is spreading fast.”

Bennett concluded by requesting that citizens “exercise common sense” by maintaining social distancing, not gathering unnecessarily, wearing masks and working from home where feasible to do so.

JNS

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