JERUSALEM: Israel on Monday (Dec 20) added the United States to its "no-fly" list, citing concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Under the edict, which goes into effect at 10pm GMT on Tuesday, Israelis would need special permission to fly to the US, now one of more than 50 countries to which its citizens cannot travel.
In a televised address on Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel had bought some time by moving fast to limit travel when Omicron was first detected last month, but that this was now waning.
He predicted a surge of sicknesses within a few weeks, and urged citizens to step up vaccinations and to take precautions such as working from home.
"The time we bought is running out," Bennett said. "The numbers are still not high, but it's a very contagious variant, doubling itself every two (to) three days, as we see around the world. It's possible to say that the fifth wave has begun."
Acting on Health Ministry recommendations, Cabinet ministers voted on Monday to put the US, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Canada, Switzerland and Turkey on the no-fly roster, Bennett's office said in a statement.
Israel has logged 134 confirmed Omicron COVID-19 cases and another 307 suspected cases, the Health Ministry said. Of these, 167 were symptomatic, it said.
In a rapid first response to Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa and Hong Kong, Israel banned the entry of foreigners on Nov 25 and has imposed three- to 14-day quarantine orders for Israelis returning from abroad.