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Airport to stay shut but 900 new immigrants will be permitted to fly to Israel

Country’s borders will remain closed until March 6, except for urgent reasons; 6 special flights will arrive from Ethiopia, France, Russia, Ukraine and South America

The departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport on January 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
The departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport on January 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel said Thursday it will extend the closure of its airports and land borders for 14 more days in a bid to stem the coronavirus pandemic.

A joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry said the country’s borders will remain closed until March 6, except for urgent reasons.

According to Channel 13 news, the Transportation Ministry is considering requiring rapid coronavirus testing for passengers boarding El Al flights heading to Israel. Currently passengers need to produce a test from 72 hours prior to boarding.

Israel had suspended international flights on January 24, before also closing the border crossings with Jordan and Egypt.

However, the immigration ministry said Thursday that six special flights were still authorized to land, carrying some 900 immigrants from Ethiopia, France, Russia, Ukraine and South America.

A girl smiles upon arriving from Ethiopia as her mother kisses the ground at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel on February 12, 2021. (Courtesy of ICEJ via JTA)

The new arrivals will be subject to quarantine upon arrival, the ministry said in a statement.

Despite what has been termed the world’s fastest vaccination campaign per capita, Israel has been registering a daily average of 4,000 new COVID-19 cases, although it is down from around 8,000 in mid-January, official figures show.

A nationwide lockdown was imposed on December 27 and extended four times to combat the infection rate.

On February 5, Israel had announced a gradual easing of lockdown measures, with airports and land borders set to reopen on February 21.

Israel further eased its lockdown on Friday, with synagogues allowed to reopen and rules on gatherings made less stringent, but other restrictions remained firmly in place.

Synagogues and other houses of worship were permitted to reopen on Friday morning, with attendance limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outside, ahead of the Purim holiday next week.

The rules for other gatherings were similarly relaxed, with outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people, and indoor groups of up to 10 allowed. The previous rules restricted outdoor gatherings to 10 people and indoors to five.

The empty arrival hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on February 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ministers ruled on Thursday that children in grades 7-10 will remain at home, likely for another two weeks, due to fears of the British virus strain, which is believed to be circulating widely among Israeli youth. Other grades have resumed classes in low infection areas.

Cabinet ministers have approved the reopening of stores, gyms, hotels, and other venues starting Sunday, in a major easing of the sweeping lockdown measures.

Street-front shops, malls, markets, museums, and libraries will be open to all Israelis. But only those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 will be able to use gyms and pools, attend sporting and culture events, and stay at hotels.

The Health Ministry on Thursday launched the long-awaited “Green Pass” certificate which will enable those vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus to take part in various activities. At the same time, the ministry warned of serious legal penalties for those who falsify the passes.

Over 4.2 million Israelis have received their first vaccine dose, and over 2.8 million have gotten both shots, in a population of 9 million. Around 3 million Israelis are not currently eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and people who have recovered from COVID-19, among others.

The Health Ministry said Thursday night there were 48,014 active virus cases, including 4,086 infections diagnosed on Wednesday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 741,934. The test positivity rate on Wednesday was 6.6%.

There were 903 serious cases, including 297 people on ventilators. The death toll stood at 5,509.

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