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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Sunday approved barring entry to foreign nationals and the use of controversial technology for contact tracing as part of its efforts to clamp down on a new coronavirus variant.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that the country’s coronavirus cabinet had authorized a raft of measures, including red-listing travel to 50 African countries, banning entry by foreigners and mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.

It also approved use of the Shin Bet internal security agency’s controversial phone monitoring technology to perform contact tracing of individuals confirmed with the new omicron variant of coronavirus in Israel.

Israeli rights groups had decried the use of the cellphone monitoring technology as a violation of privacy rights, and the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that its use be limited.

Dr. Ran Balicer, head of the government’s advisory panel on COVID-19, told Israel’s Kan public radio that the new measures were necessary for the “fog of war” surrounding the new variant, saying it was “better to act early and strictly” to prevent its spread.

On Saturday, Israel said it had detected the new strain in a traveler who had returned from Malawi and was investigating seven other suspected cases. The seven people included three vaccinated individuals and all were placed in isolation.

The new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread.

Israel, a country of 9.3. million people, has reported at least 8,184 deaths from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. Most of its population — over 6.3 million people — has received at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and more than 4 million Israelis have received a booster. It has more than 7,000 active cases, 120 of them hospitalized in serious condition, according to Health Ministry statistics.

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AirAsia renamed Capital A to show its more than an airline

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s AirAsia Group said Friday it has changed the name of its listed holding company to Capital A to reflect the diversity of its business portfolio as it seeks to grow its non-airline revenue.

Capital A CEO Tony Fernandes said the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed the group to accelerate plans to grow beyond the airline business to become a “one-stop digital travel and lifestyle services group.”

The airline retains the AirAsia brand name. But the group will focus more on expanding other businesses including logistics, aircraft engineering, venture capital, education and mobile applications for payments, travel and lifestyle.

“It’s a significant milestone that marks a new era for the group. Today’s announcement is about telling the world that we are much more than an airline,” Fernandes said. He said he expects non-airline businesses to contribute half of group revenue by 2026.

Like many carriers, AirAsia has been struggling as regional borders closed due to the pandemic. Malaysia’s stock exchange earlier this month classified the firm as financially distressed.

Fernandes said domestic travel in key markets is rebounding, with AirAsia filling 80% of seats on offer in the fourth quarter of 2021, with the highest number of passengers since the pandemic began.

“We can bounce back as soon as borders are open,” he said, predicting a return to normal capacity for international services by the third quarter this year.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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