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Israel begins fourth Covid jab for over 60s, health workers

On the same day it began offering a second booster shot to a sensitive population, Israel reopened its borders to travelers from low-risk countries.

TEL AVIV, Israel (AFP) — Israel began Monday administering fourth Covid vaccine shots to people over 60 and health workers amid a surge driven by the omicron variant.

Health workers at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv lined up for the shot and over-60s received it at the nearby branch of Clalit, Israel's largest health fund.

The shot was given to those who received their third inoculation at least four months ago.

The health ministry on Sunday approved the fourth shot for the over-60s and medical staff, two days after those with weakened immunity started to take the shot, making Israel one of the first countries to do so.

The health ministry on Monday reported 6,562 new Covid infections over the previous day, nearly double the daily average of last week.

In an address late Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that cases could soon surge to around "50,000 cases per day."

More than 4 million people out of Israel's population of 9.2 million have received three shots of coronavirus vaccine.

A total of almost 1.4 million cases of Covid infection, including 8,244 deaths, have been officially recorded in Israel. 

Israel shut its borders to slow the spread of the omicron variant on Nov. 28, but it began Sunday to allow entry to vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries.

In a statement Monday, Prime Minister Bennett and a group of ministers wrote that "entry of vaccinated/recovering tourists from 'orange' countries will be permitted" from Sunday.

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Bennett said the temporary blanket prohibition on foreign arrivals had achieved its goal, even as domestic Covid infections have soared.

"This greatly delayed the entry of Omicron to the country," he said. 

"We bought time and we utilised it well," the premier added, saying Israel had acquired significant stocks of the Pfizer antiviral drug Paxlovid.

Visitors will have to take a PCR or antigen test prior to boarding their flights and another PCR test when they arrive. They then have to quarantine for 24 hours or until receiving the result, the ministry said.

Israel prohibits its citizens to visit what it considers Covid high-risk countries, and tourists from those locations will not be allowed into the Jewish state.

As of Monday, Israel's list of "red" countries included Britain, Ethiopia, Mexico, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, according to the health ministry.

© Agence France-Presse

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