Israel bans passenger flights to curb COVID-19 spread

Israel bans passenger flights to curb COVID-19 spread

Israel on Sunday decided to ban incoming and outgoing passenger flights from Monday at 22:00GMT until the end of January in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 and new coronavirus strains, Israel's Haaretz news website reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights as the government races to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control.

The entry of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world’s highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel’s highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.

Late Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved what Netanyahu said would be a tight closure on incoming and outgoing air traffic. The government said it would make exceptions for a small number of humanitarian cases, such as funerals and medical patients, and cargo flights.

"We are closing the skies hermetically, except for really rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of virus mutations, and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign," Netanyahu said.

The order is to begin early Tuesday and remain in effect until Jan. 31. Netanyahu’s office said the order still required parliamentary legislation to be finalized.

Throughout the pandemic, Israel has restricted entry at its main international airport. But it has made exceptions for certain categories of people, including religious students and Israelis returning from abroad, while allowing Israeli tourists to fly to a handful of "green countries." This limited air travel appears to allowed highly contagious coronavirus variants from the U.K. and other places to enter the country.

Israel’s Health Ministry has recorded over 595,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic and over 4,361 deaths. New cases of the disease continue to climb, even as the country has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns and is in the midst of its third nationwide lockdown.

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