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Israel bans travel to U.S., several other nations due to Omicron COVID-19 surges

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Israel bans travel to U.S., several other nations due to Omicron COVID-19 surges
Travelers are seen at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, on September 22. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Top Israeli government officials agreed on Monday to start banning citizens from traveling to the United States and nine other countries, beginning this week, due to the rapid growth of COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Cabinet voted to add the United States to Israel's "red list," which bars travel and forces citizens returning from blacklisted countries to quarantine on arrival in Israel.

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The ban follows the recommendation of Israel's health ministry. It's expected to be approved and take effect at midnight Tuesday.

In addition to the United States, the other nations being added to Israel's red list include Canada, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Turkey and Switzerland.

Britain, Denmark, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Finland, France, Sweden, South Africa and several other African nations are already on the restricted list.

Travelers are seen at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, on September 22. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI

Israeli citizens are not permitted to travel to any of those countries without express permission from a special committee. Israelis who return from one of those nations must quarantine for seven days, regardless of vaccination status.

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Minus some limited exceptions, Israel's borders have been closed to foreign nationals since late November.

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The country's travel restrictions are set to expire on Dec. 29, but they have already been extended twice.

Officials say that Israel has seen close to 200 Omicron cases, but the health ministry expects that number to rise to as many as 600 over the next week.

"We do not intend to close the skies, but it could be that in practice this is what is going to happen," Israeli Coronavirus Commissioner Salman Zarka said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

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