Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a consultation Thursday night with the Health Minister, the Health Ministry Director General, the Director of the Public Health Services, the national coronavirus project manager and the Defense Ministry Director of Civil Defense on the new coronavirus variant – B.1.1529 – that has been discovered abroad.

Given the spread of the new variant in the countries of southern Africa, Prime Minister Bennett accepted the recommendation of the Health Ministry to define them as red countries. The countries include South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini. Non-Israeli citizens travelling from these countries will be barred from entering Israel.

Bennett also instructed that an immediate evaluation be held on a potentially wider travel ban to the countries listed above, stopping flights from these countries to Israel and vice-versa, or the implementation of a different plan to prevent the variant from spreading to Israel.

In a follow up meeting with health officials Thursday night, Bennett ordered that Israelis returning from the countries flagged for the new variant be required to stay in coronavirus hotels under quarantine for seven days upon their arrival, with two negative PCR tests needed to end their quarantine period. Travelers who refuse to be tested will be required to stay in quarantine for fourteen days.

The B.1.1529 variant is believed to have originated in southern Africa, with three of the 10 identified cases found in Botswana, six in South Africa, and one in Hong Kong - in a traveler who recently returned from southern Africa.

The new variant has 32 mutations in its spike protein, leading scientists to warn that the variant could be more infectious and better able to evade antibodies.