New Covid strain: Israel temporarily bans all international flights

Jerusalem - The ban on flights will come into force from Monday

By Reuters, IANS

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Published: Mon 25 Jan 2021, 8:45 AM

Last updated: Mon 25 Jan 2021, 8:49 AM

The Israeli cabinet has approved a ban on incoming and outgoing passenger flights to prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants.

The ban on flights will come into force from Monday at 2200 GMT (2am UAE time) and last until the end of January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

Arrivals will be banned and landings will be permitted only in a few exceptions including cargo flights, medical emergencies, and fire service flights, reports Xinhua news agency.

Departures will also be banned except for medical emergencies, legal procedures and attending a funeral of a relative.

“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,” Netanyahu said in public remarks at the start of a cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that his Ministry "worries" about the arrival of new variants.

"One of the new variants is already in Israel and is clearly partly responsible for the high infection numbers."

Israel has been under a third nationwide lockdown since December 19, 2020, which is expected to be lifted on January 31. The country’s borders have largely been closed to foreigners during the pandemic, with only Israeli passport holders allowed entry.

The country has been under a third national lockdown since December 27. Critics say the government has mishandled the crisis, lacking a clear long-term strategy and allowing politics to cloud its decisions.

The government had intended to lift the lockdown at the end of January but Education Minister Yoav Galant, speaking on Ynet TV, said it was too early to know if schools would reopen next month.

Israel expanded its rapid vaccination drive on Sunday to include late teens in what the government described as an effort to enable their attendance at school exams.

The vaccines were initially limited to the elderly and other high-risk categories, but are now available to anyone over 40 or — with parental permission — those between 16 and 18.

Israel has the world’s fastest vaccine distribution rate. With regular imports of Pfizer Inc. vaccines, it has administered at least one dose to more than 25 per cent of its 9 million population since December 19, the health ministry says.

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