image Photo: Flash90

Israel closes int’l airport

Israel will ban all incoming and departing passenger flights from the Ben Gurion International Airport tonight in a further efforts to prevent the spread of new coronavirus mutations.

No one will be allowed to leave or arrive the country. Exceptions will be made for those traveling for medical treatment, essential work, legal proceedings, a funeral of a relative and traveling from one residence to another, humanitarian or other special circumstances.

“Other than rare exceptions, we are closing the sky hermetically to prevent the entry of the virus variants and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting.

The regulations are set to go into effect at 24:00 tonight (Monday, 25 January 2021) until the end of the country’s extended third lockdown at midnight 31 January 2021.

The country’s borders have largely been closed to foreigners during the pandemic, with only Israeli passport holders allowed entry.

According to a joint statement TV7 obtained from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Health Ministry and the Transportation Ministry, yesterday the Cabinet approved the following proposal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Transportation Minister Miri Regev:

  1. A ban on incoming planes to Israel except for cargo flights, firefighting flights and flights for emergency medical evacuation
  2. A temporary restriction on permits for operating Israeli airlines
  3. A reduction in exceptions for departure by air to outside Israel so as to include the following cases only: Medical treatment, judicial proceedings to which the person is a party or must participate in, or the funeral of a close relative.

The Health Ministry Director General and the Transportation Ministry Director General are entitled to approve exceptional requests for departure abroad on humanitarian grounds or special personal need. The ban on departing by flight also applies to flights on private Israeli planes.

The restrictions will reportedly include new immigrants making “Aliyah” (translated into Hebrew as “ascension” of one’s soul as one comes to the Land of Israel). If true, the move would mark the first time that immigration under the Law of Return has been suspended in the history of the country. It was reported that Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata opposed the move during the cabinet meeting, but she has yet to respond to TV7’s request for confirmation.

Prime Minister Netanyahu urged all citizens to observe the restrictions and participate in the vaccination program, aptly codenamed the ‘Return to Life’ campaign, toward at a swifter reopening of the economy. He also pointed out that Israel is administering inoculation at a rate ten times higher than in the United States.

In fact, the pace of Israel’s vaccination drive continues to set world records. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein stated this morning that more than 3.7 million people (out of the overall population of 9 million) have been inoculated against coronavirus so far. An astonishing 200,000 were inoculated yesterday alone. Specifically, over 2.5 million have been administered the first dose of the Pfizer / BioNTech SE vaccine, and more than 1 million have also received the second and final injection.

Initial target populations eligible to receive inoculations have also been expanded from the elderly and other high-risk categories to now include to anyone over 40. The Cabinet also on Sunday authorized the vaccination of ages 16 to 18 with parental permission.

The teenagers’ inclusion is meant “to enable their return (to school) and the orderly holding of exams,” explained the Education Ministry spokeswoman.

Israel awards a matriculation certificate to high school students in grades 10-12 who pass Education Ministry-administered tests necessary for application to universities. The results can also affect placement in the military, where the majority of Israelis perform compulsory service after high school.

The country has been under a third national lockdown since 27 December 2020. Education Minister Yoav Galant said it is still too early to determine whether schools will reopen next month.