Israel’s top health officials have recommended the government to ban travel from countries like India, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, and Turkey, especially since the mass Lag B’Omer gatherings are to happen soon. Since the Indian strain is proving to be highly contagious, and even fatal, advisors have hinted that the vaccine may not be effective against it.
Apart from restrictions on travel, the Health Ministry’s recommendations, which have not yet been adopted by the government, would also force non-citizens entering Israel from the specified highly infected countries to self-isolate in quarantine hotels. In an interview with a local broadcaster on Wednesday, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, also warned that mass Lag B’Omer gatherings at a Galilee pilgrimage site on Thursday night, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people, could drive an outbreak of the coronavirus.
Alroy-Preis also expressed support for the Health Ministry’s proposed new travel restrictions for Israelis, which would ban travel to seven high-risk countries including India, and force even vaccinated travelers to enter quarantine upon their return to Israel. Israel has issued a travel warning for seven countries: India, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, and Turkey. She also specifically cautioned that when the Ramadan holiday is over, many Arab Israelis are expected to seek to travel to Turkey, one of the countries flagged by the ministry as high risk.
Speaking about the Indian variant and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s efficacy towards it, Alroy-Preis said, “We don’t know about the Indian variant, we don’t know enough. I didn’t see any research on this.”The World Health Organization has said the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19 first found in India had as of Tuesday been detected in “at least 17 countries.”
On the other hand, on Wednesday, BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin expressed confidence that the vaccine his company jointly developed with Pfizer works against the Indian variant of the coronavirus. “We are still testing the Indian variant, but the Indian variant has mutations that we have already tested for and which our vaccine works against, so I am confident,” said Sahin.