Coronavirus Live: Cabinet Approves Lifting Ban on Flights for Israeli Citizens

Israel discovers first three cases of New York strain ■ Austria, Denmark to work with Israel on COVID vaccines ■ Israel launches tracking bracelet pilot program

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Israeli travelers hold up electronic monitoring bracelets they are required to wear after returning from abroad at the Ben Gurion airport.
Israeli travelers hold up electronic monitoring bracelets they are required to wear after returning from abroad at the Ben Gurion airport.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP

>> This story is no longer being updated. Click here for the latest COVID-19 updates from Israel

Israel is in the midst of an extensive vaccination campaign, and is beginning to see a drop in COVID infections and severe cases. Israel exited its third nationwide lockdown, but inbound and outbound flights remain suspended except for special cases. So far, 5,779 Israelis have died of the virus.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have received 30,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by Israel. It may take a while still for a mass vaccination campaign to get under way, and many months for it to reach enough members of the population. 1,723 people have died so far in the West Bank, while 552 have died in Gaza.

>> How many have already been vaccinated

>> The Israeli public's trust in gov't has died of COVID | Opinion

>> Israel to reopen more schools, cafes on Sunday


9:10 P.M. Gov't to let 1,000 Israelis return per day, gradually increase number

Following the coronavirus cabinet's decision to allow 3,000 Israelis to return every day, Transportation Minister Miri Regev decided to lower the number to 1,000 per day in the first week. According to the assessment, this will allow for a more efficient home isolation with electronic bracelets, and to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Judy Maltz)

7:30 P.M. COVID cabinet approves lifting ban on flights for Israeli citizens

The coronavirus cabinet lifted the current restrictions on flights to and from Israel for Israeli citizens, while unvaccinated citizens will need approval to leave the country.

Non-Israeli citizens will still need approval to enter the country. The new regulations will take effect on Sunday.

Up to 3,000 Israelis will be able to enter the country every day, including through land borders. Returning citizens will be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before departure. (Judy Maltz, Jonathan Lis)

5:53 P.M. Israel discovers first three cases of New York strain

The Health Ministry said that three cases of the New York strain of COVID-19 has been detected in Israel, all in one family. The strain was discovered three months ago and has been spread mainly in the United States.

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Researchers that have examined the new variant have found it to have the same mutation found in South Africa, which may make the virus more resilient to the vaccine. (Haaretz) Read the full story here.

5:24 P.M. Israel is the only democracy barring its own citizens from returning

Israel is the only democracy in the world that bars its own citizens from entering the country, a Haaretz investigation concluded, which included statements by foreign governments, media reports and the International Air Transport Association website, which monitors global travel restrictions.

Moreover, nearly every country permits citizens and permanent residents to return home including some non-democracies. For a few countries, such as Eritrea, no information about entry or exit restrictions was available.

Israel halted both incoming and outgoing flights at Ben-Gurion Airport on January 26 to prevent the spread of coronavirus variants. Israelis have only been able to return via special rescue flights and only if their entry is approved by the Transportation Ministry’s Exceptions Committee based on special personal, medical or humanitarian considerations.

The Israel Democracy Institute conducted a more limited survey of seven other countries – Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, Canada, Sweden and Russia – and found that none of them deny entry to their own citizens, making the Israeli policy an outlier.

In a few countries, like Australia, there are limits on the number of citizens and permanent residents permitted to enter each day, which means that citizens may not be able to return as soon as they would like. However, in contrast to Israel, this limit stems from the fact that there are very few flights rather than from a policy that prohibits mass returns. (Roi Simyoni)

4:30 P.M. Gov't expected to discuss easing restrictions on flights to and from Israel

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to discuss easing restrictions on flights to and from Israel, with regular commercial flights resuming on Sunday, and allowing Israelis stuck abroad to return to Israel.

The new regulations are expected to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated passenger. Another proposal conditions entry to Israel for unvaccinated on a COVID-19 test a few hours before departure.

The plan was formulated in a meeting on Monday, in which National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, representatives of health, transportation, public security, interior defense, finance ministries and representatives of the Attorney General's Office participated. It also followed testimony and complaints from Israeli travelers of discrimination by the exceptions committee, which decides who may bypass the ban on entering the country, largely to the benefit of ultra-Orthodox travelers.

According to sources in the legal system who are familiar with the details, the representatives from the Attorney General's Office asked the committee to provide data on the number of approvals and rejections it gave for entry to Israel. According to the representatives, they need the data to examine deficiencies and omissions in the committee's conduct over the past weeks.

Last week, the committee's legal advisor said that approval of exceptions to enter the country on humanitarian grounds is given arbitrarily and based on precedents, rather than clear criteria. Haaretz has found that there are no democratic countries that make it as difficult for its citizens to enter the country as Israel. (Judy Maltz, Jonathan Lis, Rita Rosenberg Kendel).

3:20 P.M. Special Education students will return to school

The Education Ministry announced that starting on Sunday March 7 that special education students will resume full activities in green, yellow and orange communities. In red and orange localities, classes will resume and take place until 2 P.M.

11:46 P.M. Austria, Denmark to work with Israel on vaccines

Austria’s leader says his country and Denmark intend to stop relying solely on the European Union for coronavirus vaccines and will work with Israel to produce second-generation vaccines.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz plans to visit Israel with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Thursday and confer with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on vaccine research and production cooperation.

The EU has faced criticism for its slow vaccine rollout, while Israel has vaccinated a large part of its population. Kurz said in a statement Tuesday to the Austria Press Agency that it was right in principle to take a European-wide approach to inoculations, but maintained that the European Medicines Agency has been too slow to approve vaccines and pointed to companies’ delivery shortfalls. (The Associated Press)

>> Click here to read the full report

10:32 A.M. Israel's COVID spread slightly declines

Israel's COVID-19 infection rate known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – has dropped to 0.97 after having reached 1 on Monday. An R number lower than 1 means the pandemic is slowing. (Haaretz)

4:24 A.M. Israel's AG says Netanyahu needs cabinet approval before exporting vaccines

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot send vaccines to other countries without first consulting the foreign and finance ministries and receiving approval from either the full cabinet or the diplomatic-security cabinet, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ruled on Monday.

Last week, after the media reported that Netanyahu planned to send tens of thousands of vaccine doses to other countries on the basis of the National Security Council’s recommendations, Mendelblit asked National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat for clarifications about the plan. In response, Ben-Shabbat announced that the shipments had been put on hold until Mendelblit ruled on the issue. (Judy Maltz)

>> Click here for the full report


9:23 P.M. Israel launches tracking bracelet pilot program

Israelis returning home from abroad have a new option that will exempt them from being sent to a quarantine hotel: They can wear a bracelet monitor that will notify authorities should they violate a mandatory isolation period.

The pilot program began on Monday with 100 tracking systems available at Ben-Gurion Airport, where traffic has dropped dramatically due to restrictions meant to reduce the risk of COVID-19 variants entering the country.

Incoming passengers have been forced to stay at hotels, paid for by the government, for up to two weeks to make sure they are virus-free before they can move around freely. (Reuters)

>> Click here to read the full report

9:04 P.M. Cabinet approves reopening economy, more classrooms on Sunday

Israel's cabinet decided Monday to authorize the third phase of the economy's reopening at the start of next week, as well as reopening middle schools from Sunday.

The third phase will include the reopening of cafes and small restaurants, with no vaccination certificate requirement. In contrast, hotels, event halls, and other venues will only be open to those who can present their vaccination certificate.

Classrooms for students in seventh to 10th grade will also reopen on Sunday, despite Education Minister Yoav Gallant's push to open them earlier. (Ido Efrati and Judy Maltz)

>> Click here to read the full report

8:00 P.M. Israel to vaccinate people who have recovered from COVID

The Health Ministry has given the green light to Israelis who recovered from coronavirus to receive one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, beginning Tuesday.

The new guidelines will apply to anybody aged over 16 who recovered from the coronavirus three or more months ago.

Similarly to those who have recovered from the virus, those who caught coronavirus following their first dose will not be required to get a second shot.

In Israel, a total of 750,000 people have recovered from the virus.

At the beginning of Israel's vaccination drive, it was decided to exclude recovered COVID-19 patients from the immunization efforts in order to prioritize other groups. However, in accordance with World Health Organization recommendations and with the progress of the inoculation campaign, Israel has changed course. (Ido Efrati)

>> Click here to read the full report

7:25 P.M. Vaccination center for non-status persons and asylum seekers will be allowed to stay open

The Health Ministry said Sunday that Ichilov Hospital and the Tel Aviv Municipality can continue vaccinating non-status persons and asylum seekers. They have approved 400 people to be vaccinated each day, in addition to administering second doses to those who have already received the first at the designated vaccine center in Neve Sha’anan.

Last week the ministry announced that the Neve Sha'anan vaccination site would close, but reversed their decision. According to data from the Ichilov and the Tel Aviv Municipality, 13,220 people have been vaccinated at the site since it opened two weeks ago.

"It's important and it's a humanitarian issue. These are people who could lose their livelihood, and who we all encounter. It's in our own interest," said Esti Saiag, deputy director of medical systems operations and director of the vaccination operation at Ichilov Hospital. (Bar Peleg)

10:00 A.M. High Court says Shin Bet tracking must end

The High Court of Justice ruled Monday that the Shin Bet security service must halt its tracking of Israeli citizens for coronavirus contact tracing as of March 14.

The service's means can only be used after that date, the court said, in the event that a person diagnosed with the coronavirus refuses to cooperate with the epidemiological investigation. (Josh Breiner)

>> Click here to read the full report

9:00 A.M. Netanyahu defends sending vaccines abroad

In an interview with Army Radio, Netanyahu defended his decision to transfer vaccine doses to other countries, a move that has faced broad criticism both internationally and domestically.

Netanyahu said that Israeli taxpayers will not foot the bill for the "20,000 to 30,000 vaccines" to be sent to countries with which Israel has bolstered its relations in recent years – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Guatemala and Honduras. "We took 20,000 vaccines out of 12 million in order to help countries that help us," he said.

When the interviewer mentioned that Coronavirus Czar Nachman Ash was not updated on the decision to send the doses, Netanyahu said that "He wasn't updated, the cabinet was updated." He added, "You know that in Israel, if the agriculture minister wants to send seeds to other countries, they don't convene the cabinet."

When asked if there will be another lockdown, the prime minister said, "No, because I, as prime minister, did something," adding that he is currently negotiating with Pfizer and Moderna on purchasing additional vaccines. (Haaretz)

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