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Israel to admit some foreigners with presumed COVID-19 immunity

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Israel said on Monday it will admit foreigners with presumed COVID-19 immunity from countries deemed medium-risk as of January 9, partially reversing a ban on entry by foreigners imposed in late November in response to the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The Health Ministry said on Monday that travelers from 199 countries Israel has designated “orange” would have to prove in advance they are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 and would be subject to PCR testing before and after arrival.

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They include Australia, Italy and Ireland. The Health Ministry has also recommended that South Africa, Nigeria, Spain, Portugal, France and Canada, currently among 16 countries listed as “red” or high COVID-19 risk, be changed to “orange”.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a televised address on Sunday that Israel would this week begin loosening curbs on international travel even as micron-fuelled cases spiral.

The US, Britain, United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mexico, Switzerland and Turkey remain on Israel’s red list, the ministry said. Visitors from those countries require advance special permission from an Israeli committee to enter the country.

Israel banned most travel to and from red-listed countries – initially all in southern Africa – on November 25 after the omicron variant was first detected.

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UAE reports 3,014 COVID cases, four new deaths in 24 hours

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The UAE reported on Thursday 3,014 COVID-19 infections and four new deaths in 24 hours after conducting 504,831 tests.

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Saudi Arabia reports 5,591 new COVID-19 infections, two deaths in 24 hours

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reported 5,591 COVID-19 cases and two new deaths in 24 hours, according to the Ministry of Health.

This brings the total number of cases in the Kingdom to 638,327.

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Thailand to resume quarantine-free travel from Feb. 1 after pause due to omicron

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Thailand will resume its quarantine-free travel scheme from February 1, officials said Thursday, after the program was suspended due to the fast-spreading omicron COVID-19 variant.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Pandemic travel curbs have hammered the kingdom’s tourism-dominated economy, sending visitor numbers dwindling to a trickle.

Fully vaccinated travelers will now be able to enter under the “test and go” scheme as long as they take COVID-19 tests on the first and fifth days after arriving, spokesman for the country’s COVID-19 taskforce Taweesin Visanuyothin told reporters.

Visitors will have to isolate at a hotel while waiting for their test results and will be required to download a tracking app to ensure they comply with the rules.

Seeking to bounce back from its worst economic performance since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Thailand launched the “test and go” scheme in November as an alternative to two weeks’ hotel quarantine.

The program was suspended late last month over fears about omicron, but with deaths and hospitalizations not spiking, Taweesin said it could resume, though the authorities will keep it under review.

“In case there are more infections or the situation changes, there will be a re-assessment for inbound travelers and adjust toward the sandbox scheme,” Taweesin said.

Under the sandbox program launched last year as a first step towards resuming tourism, fully jabbed visitors spend seven nights in certain designated locations, such as the resort island of Phuket, before being allowed to travel on to the rest of Thailand.

In a further relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, restaurants will be allowed to serve alcohol until 11:00 p.m. – easing the current 9:00 p.m. cut-off.

The tourism ministry estimates that some five million foreign visitors will come to Thailand in 2022 — down from nearly 40 million in the year before the pandemic.

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