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Israeli leaders are warning of an impending "emergency" after officials detected the first case of a new coronavirus variant in the country and restricted travel to and from most African countries.
The Health Ministry said a traveler who had returned to Israel from the east African country of Malawi tested positive for the new virus variant and that two other suspected cases are being investigated. Each of the three individuals have been placed in quarantine. They were all vaccinated, the Associated Press reports.
The new coronavirus variant was first detected in South Africa and has raised concerns among scientists because it carries a large number of mutations and appears to be spreading rapidly.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Friday that Israel is "on the threshold of an emergency situation" because of the cases. He convened a Cabinet meeting to discuss the new variant and said it is both more contagious and spreads more rapidly than the delta variant. Naftali also said authorities were still trying to learn whether it evades vaccines or is deadlier than other known variants of the virus.
"We are currently at the threshold of an emergency situation," he said. "I ask everyone to be prepared and to fully join in the work around the clock."
The Israeli government said all countries in sub-Saharan Africa would be considered "red countries" from which foreigners will not be permitted to travel to Israel. Israelis are likewise prohibited from visiting those countries and anyone returning from them must quarantine themselves.
The Israeli military will be used to locate any individuals who traveled to one of the red countries within the last week and instruct them to go into isolation while they are tested for the new variant, officials said.
News of the new variant has prompted similar reactions from the international community.
European countries are banning flights from South Africa and other southern African countries.
In the United States, the Biden administration said health officials are closely monitoring the new coronavirus variant but no decision has yet been made on whether to impose travel restrictions, CNN reports.
Major U.S. airlines including Delta, United, and American Airlines say they too are watching developments about the new COVID-19 variant but have not yet changed their policies or flight plans.
Delta "will continue to work closely with our government partners to evaluate any changes to US policy," the company told CNN.
Delta added that its travel partner Virgin Atlantic has canceled its service between Johannesburg and London-Heathrow.
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