Israel Halts Inbound and Outbound Flights to Curb Spread of COVID Variants

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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A passenger arrives at Ben Gurion international airport just before Israel's flight ban takes effect, Lod, January 25, 2021.
A passenger arrives at Ben Gurion international airport just before Israel's flight ban takes effect, Lod, January 25, 2021. Credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Israel has banned most inbound and outbound flights, from midnight between Monday and Tuesday until the end of the country's nationwide lockdown, in an attempt to slow the spread of novel coronavirus variants.

Under the ban, planes of foreign airlines are not allowed to land in Israel until January 31, when Israel's third and current nationwide coronavirus lockdown is slated to end. In addition, exiting the country is limited to exceptional circumstances.

Israeli airlines aren't allowed to operate regular flights under these restrictions.

Flights can leave Israel only for the purposes of overseas medical treatment, legal proceedings, or funerals of a relative. The directors-general of the health and transportation ministries have the authority to approve exceptional requests due to humanitarian or personal needs, according to a joint statement from the Health Ministry and Prime Minister's Office said Sunday evening. 

The new regulations also apply to private planes.

Foreign cargo planes, firefighting planes, and medical emergency flights are exempt from the restriction on foreign incoming flights. 

"For the first time," under the ban, Jews will not be allowed to immigrate to Israel, "unless it is a matter of life or death," said Transportation Minister Miri Regev on Sunday. 

The flight ban was approved by the the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday, after having received cabinet approval on Sunday.

"We are ahead of the entire world. No nation has done what we are about to do – we are hermetically sealing the country," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Sunday's government meeting during which the ban was approved.

"It is important to understand that there will be a difficult legal battle here," said Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri of the plan to ban flights on Sunday afternoon. 

Nizri said that he unsuccessfully attempted to convince the government to give passengers a 72-hour window to prepare, including to take a coronavirus test. Last week, the government approved regulations requiring all arrivals to Ben-Gurion International Airport to present a negative coronavirus test conducted no more than 72 hours prior to landing. The advance warning, he said, "faced barriers both on the legal and practical levels."

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen of Kahol Lavan said during the cabinet meeting that closing the airport is a “very extreme step” and a violation of basic rights. Despite this, she added that the closure period is “logical,” and that Israel must take advantage of this window to vaccinate more members of the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities.

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