Will a fifth wave of COVID-19 enter Israel with tourists from two shots?

COVID-19 variants enter Israel from Ben-Gurion airport, so allowing tourists with just two vaccines to enter the country could trigger a fifth wave of the pandemic, according to some health experts.

The health and tourism ministries announced a new policy on Monday that will allow small groups of tourists of between four and 50 people to enter Israel, even if the travelers do not qualify as fully vaccinated according to the standards of the Israeli Ministry of Health.

Israelis are only considered fully vaccinated if they received a double inoculation in the past six months or received a booster vaccine since then.

The head of Public Health Services, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, said that the decision was made in collaboration with health officials and that these tourists would have sufficient restrictions, including being only allowed to travel in capsules, daily tests antigens and more.

However, “in all aspects it is not a good decision,” said Professor Yehuda Adler, specialist in internal cardiology.

Medical staff receive their third COVID-19 vaccination at the Meir Medical Center in Kefar Sava, on August 13, 2021 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI / FLASH90).

He said the move will likely cause a variant to enter Israel, it could cause Israelis requiring quarantine to skip it because why should they isolate themselves if tourists don’t have to? And it will increase frustration among the population with the government, which is essentially delivering the message that they trust tourists more than their own people.

Let’s start with the variant: Is there a possibility that tourists bring a potentially dangerous mutation to the country? The answer is yes.

Multiple studies in Israel and abroad have shown that mRNA vaccines decline after around four to six months, making people more susceptible to contracting the virus. In Western Europe, where the country was slow to promote the third jab and still opened wide, cases are increasing rapidly.

“From the moment you open your borders, you are at the mercy of a variant,” said Professor Cyrille Cohen, director of the immunology laboratory at Bar-Ilan University. He said tourism is important to the country and knowing that these travelers will be screened frequently is “up to a point comforting.”

However, allowing people who could bring a variant to Israel, even if caught early, could cause another outbreak.

Although Cohen noted that even in countries that had a strict policy of keeping their borders closed, COVID-19 succeeded.

So the most important problem is the message that this sends to the public.

In Israel, the government has emphasized that Green Passes are only available to people who have received the booster. Letting in people who don’t have it is contradictory and will feel unfair to many citizens. After all, Israelis without the third shot must go into quarantine when they return from abroad.

“I am not completely convinced of the epidemiological validity of this decision,” Cohen said.

He and Adler stressed that it is likely that when Israelis realize that tourists are having a better time than they are, some of them may revert to their old practice of skipping the required isolation period.

In previous waves, the Health Ministry reported that up to two-thirds of Israelis did not self-quarantine upon returning from abroad, and at different stages of the pandemic, they were responsible for a high percentage of new cases.

Israelis breaking quarantine would not have the same rules as these tourist capsules and therefore would be less likely to catch the infection.

Finally, although the infection is low in the country, so low that the government announced today that it will lift all restrictions, including the requirement of masking in open areas starting Thursday, the reproduction rate or “R” is increasing.

Cohen said it is too early to know if the rate, which is 0.89 and indicates how many people a sick person infects, is dangerously increasing or if the highest number is the result of a small, random outbreak.

“We shouldn’t talk about a fifth wave until the R is 1.2 or higher for at least a week,” he said.

But he noted that what is riskier is that the fourth wave is not really over.

There are still more than 500 new cases a day and about 200 patients in serious condition in Israel’s hospitals.

“The fourth wave is on the decline, but COVID-19 really isn’t over,” Cohen emphasized. “We are running a marathon and we have to learn to live with the virus, but at the same time we must remain vigilant and be very careful.”


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