Israel stops air travel in and out of country
Israel will halt most air travel in and out of the country for at least a week starting from midnight Monday, in an effort to block the invasion of emerging virus variants that could threaten the success of the country's vaccination campaign.
'We are hermetically closing the skies, other than for really rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of mutations of the virus, and also to ensure that we can progress quickly with our vaccination campaign,' Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.
Netanyahu, who is facing another election in late March, is racing to make Israel the first fully vaccinated country.
All foreign airlines will be barred from landing in Israel other than those carrying cargo, and Israel's own passenger airlines will be temporarily grounded. The only travel to be allowed will be for medical treatment, to attend legal proceedings or family funerals.
The draconian measure follows weeks of soaring infection and deaths in Israel. At least 1,028 Israelis have died of coronavirus this month alone, nearly a quarter of the 4,392 Israelis who have died of the virus overall.
Health officials and experts have attributed much of the recent increase in infection to the fast-spreading British variant. It appears to have taken particular hold among the ultra-Orthodox public, which makes up more than 12% of Israel's population of 9 million.
Chafing under a third national lockdown, tensions have been rising in ultra-Orthodox areas where some rabbis have insisted on keeping educational institutions open against the rules, and clashes have broken out when police have arrived to enforce them.
About 2.5 million Israelis have received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and nearly 1 million have received a second dose.
Israel has already closed its skies to most foreign nationals, but Israelis who had already purchased airline tickets were allowed to fly during previous travel clampdowns and the restrictions on Israeli passengers quickly unraveled.