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Israel Bars Travel to U.S. or Canada as Omicron Surges

todayDecember 20, 2021

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Israel on Monday added the United States and Canada to its “red list,” barring its citizens from traveling to those countries without a special exemption, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government attempts to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Israel’s red list, which now includes 58 countries, has rapidly expanded since late November, when the government closed the borders to foreigners soon after Omicron was identified. Israel has not yet experienced the kind of crippling new virus wave seen in the United States or Britain, and having started to give citizens a third vaccine dose before almost any other country, its population is more protected from Omicron than most.

But in a speech on Sunday, Mr. Bennett said that it was only a matter of time before the variant caused another wave of infections in Israel. He called on people to work from home if possible, and to get children ages 5 and older vaccinated.

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

On Sunday, 1,004 people in Israeli tested positive for the coronavirus, the first time in two months that the daily case total had crossed a thousand. Health experts are following Israel’s cases to judge whether a third dose of the vaccine protects against serious illness.

Israel has been an innovator in Covid-19 policy. Under the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel was one of the first countries to roll out a nationwide vaccination program and, later, to return society to something approaching normality.

Mr. Netanyahu’s successor, Mr. Bennett, was considered a trailblazer for holding a “war game” in November during which officials tested out possible state responses to a hypothetical new virus variant.

But the government’s swift decision to close its borders last month has prompted calls from the tourism industry for financial compensation. Shlomi Amshalom, the deputy director-general of El Al, Israel’s national airline, said his company needed more government support.

“If you close the skies, if you close my business, you have to compensate,” he said.

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todayDecember 20, 2021