Posted: Jan 6, 2022 / 11:09 AM MST
Updated: Jan 6, 2022 / 11:09 AM MST

A man receives a PCR coronavirus test at a private nursing home in Netanya, Israel on Wednesday January 5, 2022. Israel says coronavirus infections in the country have risen to a new record high since the pandemic began. (AP photo / Ariel Schalit)

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Travelers from the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries should be cleared for landing in Israel, the Department of Health recommended Thursday.

The ministry said all countries should be removed from Israel’s “red” no-travel list, including the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Tanzania, Mexico, Switzerland and Turkey. The decision is one of several quick changes in Israeli politics as the super-contagious variant of Omicron breaks infection records worldwide.

The ministry also recommended easing testing requirements for vaccinated and convalescent travelers a day after the government recommended more home testing to relieve the burden on testing centers.

The ministry’s recommendations have yet to go through a final legal step, which is a formality and is expected to come into effect on Thursday at midnight.

The steps are in recognition of the fact that the variant infects more people but does not appear to cause more serious illness and death, especially in people who have been vaccinated. On Thursday, the government reported another record for new infections, with more than 16,000 registered the day before.

And that’s despite being a leader in vaccinations at the start of the pandemic and the first country to offer a third or booster vaccination. Now Israel is among the first to begin offering a fourth push. About 64% of the 9.4 million Israeli population have received two vaccinations and about 46% have received three vaccinations.

In addition, vaccinated and convalescent travelers to Israel can exit quarantine after receiving a negative test result or after 24 hours. Unvaccinated individuals can exit quarantine after testing negative twice, on landing and after a week of isolation.

There has been a predictable surge in post-holiday infections in neighboring Lebanon as the small country reported its highest daily cases of 6 million since the virus outbreak in 2020. According to the Lebanese Ministry of Health, at least 7,247 new infections and 18 deaths have been recorded in the past 24 hours. This brings the total number of infections in the population to 750,000 since March 2020, with at least 44% having received at least one vaccination.

Lebanon is facing an unprecedented economic crisis that has plunged the once middle class country into poverty, depleted resources and the undermining of basic services, including health. Health officials warned that a new surge threatens the already strained sector, which is grappling with shortages of oxygen canisters, ventilators and medical supplies.