Photo Credit: Flash 90
The empty incoming flights hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport, May 17 2020

Just as Israel’s national carrier, El Al Airlines is preparing to launch its first direct commercial flight on Tuesday (Dec. 22) to Rabat, Morocco, the government cabinet decided unanimously on Monday to “close the skies” and shut down its airport.

The sole exception will be flights by diplomats and other similar events, due to the rising concerns over the rapid spread of the 501.V2 Variant of COVID-19, an aggressive new form of the novel coronavirus.


At its meeting the cabinet approved a proposal to ban entry of foreigners into Israel, with a few exceptions, for at least the next two weeks, with a possible extension if deemed necessary at that point.

Israelis returning from abroad will be required to enter government-operated “coronavirus hotels” for a 10 to 14-day quarantine. COVID-19 testing on the first and tenth day of isolation will determine the length of the quarantine: if both tests are negative, the quarantine ends on the tenth day.

Both proposals go into effect as of Wednesday at 2:00 pm and will be effective for at least 10 days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told media in remarks at the start of the meeting the cabinet was convening “for one purpose, and that is to close the skies.

“Since the meeting last night, the mutation has spread in very many countries and it is clear to us that we are at the start of a very rapid spread,” Netanyahu warned. “The viral mass entering Israel must be reduced as much as possible even as in England they are currently checking what exactly this virus is, whether it is resistant to the vaccine and additional questions.”

Israel Again Tops 2,800 New COVID-19 Cases
On Monday morning, Israel’s Health Ministry reported a total of 2,821 new cases of COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, diagnosed from the 70,000 tests that were conducted – a 4.1 percent positivity rate – and of the patients who are hospitalized, 456 are listed in serious condition, with 117 in critical condition relying on ventilators to survive.

Eight Israelis have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing Israel’s coronavirus death toll to 3,101 since the start of the pandemic. There are 24,999 active cases of the coronavirus in Israel at present.

Coronavirus Commissioner Professor Nachman Ash told the ministerial committee on Sunday that he strongly urges a partial lockdown, to include suspension of commerce, to bring the COVID-19 morbidity back down.

“We have, at the moment, a new pandemic that is spreading, with a virus which we do not yet know about,” Netanyahu commented at a tree-planting ceremony later Monday afternoon following the cabinet meeting.

“This mutation could also be Coronavirus II. Therefore . . . we implemented today – to close the skies of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “Foreign nationals will not enter the country, other than exceptions such as diplomats. Israelis, who return from abroad, starting in another 48 hours, will be quarantined at designated hotels. If they return in the next 48 hours, they will be able to quarantine at home.

“I know this is a difficult decision but we have no choice. I understand the difficulty that is also being caused to families, travelers, to everybody. Nevertheless, this decision is critical because we must safeguard your health and your lives. This decision is valid, as of now, for ten days with the possibility of being extended,” he said.

“We were exceptionally successful with the first coronavirus, on a global scale, both in taking control of the pandemic and in bringing millions of vaccines here. Just as we took control of the first virus, so too will we be successful in taking control of the second virus.”

Saudi Arabia Suspends Intl Flights, Closes Borders
Saudi Arabia has also suspended all international flights, and closed all land crossings and seaports following the news of the new COVID-19 variant elsewhere around the world, the official Saudi Press Agency announced late Sunday.

The closure is in effect for the next seven days with a possible extension for another week. Flights in “exceptional cases” will, however be allowed, the news agency reported.

International flights already in the kingdom can leave, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said, according to Gulf Business.

As in Israel, residents returning to the country from one of the European countries, “or any country where the new strain has appeared after December 8, 2020, as determined by the Ministry of Health,” are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry to the kingdom.

Unlike Israel, however, returning travelers to Saudi must take a COVID-19 during the quarantine and repeat the test every five days.

In addition, any Saudi resident who returned from or passed through any country within the past three months where the new COVID-19 variant has appeared must also take a COVID-19 test, the Saudi Health Ministry said.

“The movement of goods, commodities and supply chains from countries where the new strain of COVID-19 has not appeared are excluded from the above-mentioned measures, as determined by the Ministry of Health in coordination with the Ministry of Transport,” the report said.

In addition to Israel, a number of countries in Europe, Canada and Turkey suspended flights to the UK on Sunday due to the new variant, which has been identified by the British government as a fast-spreading threat that is raging “out of control.”

By Monday, the new coronavirus variant had spread throughout Wales and in parts of Scotland as well, Dr. Susan Hopkins of Public Health England told the Daily Mail.

The new variant has also been identified in South Africa, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, according to the World Health Organization.


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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.