JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel on Sunday (Dec 20) said it was barring entry to foreign citizens travelling from Britain, Denmark and South Africa after a new strain of coronavirus was detected in the three countries.
It also announced tough rules for Israelis returning home from those nations, saying that they would be confined in army-run hotels serving as quarantine centres, in a joint statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office and the health ministry.
The premier convened Israel's so-called corona Cabinet "for an urgent discussion on the discovery of the new strain of coronavirus in several countries," according to the Hebrew-language statement.
It said that the panel approved "immediate action to prevent foreigners from entering Israel; at this stage from the United Kingdom, Denmark and South Africa."
It also decided that Israelis returning home from a stay in those countries would be obliged to enter quarantine in one of the empty hotels leased by the government at the beginning of the pandemic and run by the army civil defence corps.
The new variant has spread fast in London and wider south-east of England, but has also been detected in South Africa and Denmark.
The Israeli statement did not specify the duration of the quarantine.
It said that both orders would take effect immediately and remain operative for the next seven days.
"The purpose of the decision is to prevent the new variant from arriving in Israel from abroad. At the same time, the possibility that the new variant is already in Israel is being examined," it said.
"Regarding further steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Israel, additional consultations will be held and decisions will be made as soon as possible."
Over 370,000 people in Israel have tested positive for the virus since the first confirmed case was reported in February.
Just over 3,000 people have died, in a country of around nine million.
Israel imposed a second nationwide lockdown in September, when the country had one of the world's highest per capita infection rates.
Restrictions have since been gradually eased but case numbers are again on the rise.