Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that the country’s borders would be closed to all foreigners due to concerns about the omicron variant and that Israeli citizens coming into the country would have to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status.
The statement, issued on Saturday, said that beginning at midnight between Sunday and Monday, the country’s borders would be closed to international travelers for two weeks pending approval from the government, Reuters reported.
One case of the omicron variant has been confirmed in Israel and seven others in the country are suspected to have the variant, according to the news outlet.
Bennett also said in his statement that those who carried the variant into the country would be detected by a phone-tracking technology used by Israel’s security agency to proactively contract trace.
The actions by Israel, the first country to restrict all incoming international travel in response to the new variant, demonstrate the rapid response countries are taking amid fears that the omicron variant, which scientists are still trying to learn more about, could be contagious.
The U.K. and the United States have also issued travel restrictions to southern African countries after South Africa’s scientists first reported on Thursday that they had detected the new COVID-19 variant.
The World Health Organization on Friday labeled omicron a “variant of concern” because, based on their research, it increased the likelihood of reinfection and contained many mutations.
However, some officials have criticized countries for implementing travel restrictions — particularly against southern African nations — in response to the variant.
“COVID-19 is a global health emergency. We must work together, not punish each other,” South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at a media briefing on Friday, according to NBC News.
“Witch hunts don’t benefit anyone. South Africa wants to be an honest player in the world, to share health info not just of benefit to South Africans and citizens of the world,” he said.