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Ben Gurion Airport to reopen Thursday night as coronavirus cases trend down

Health, transportation ministers agree operations will resume under previous plan, exempting quarantine on return from certain countries

Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport, during a nationwide lockdown, October 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport, during a nationwide lockdown, October 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Ministers agreed Wednesday to reopen Ben Gurion Airport for travel abroad amid dropping coronavirus infection rates, despite the national virus lockdown being extended until next week.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Transportation Minister Miri Regev, in coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office, agreed that the airport will resume operations from midnight between Thursday and Friday.

Travel will be permitted under the so-called “open skies” plan under which those who have tested negative for the virus before traveling to “green” countries with low virus infection rates will not require quarantine when they come back. Those returning from “red” countries with high infection rates will be required to self-isolate for 14 days after coming back to Israel.

“From Friday anyone who wants can travel anywhere they want,” Regev said in a statement reported by Ynet.

There are only three countries where Israelis can currently travel without quarantine either upon arrival or return: Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which is overseeing government policy in handling the virus, voted earlier in the day to lift the restrictions on air travel abroad by Friday.

Under the terms of the lockdown that began on September 18, travelers were only permitted to board flights if they had bought their tickets before September 25 when strict closure orders were introduced. Many Israelis quickly bought tickets to beat the deadline.

The move to reopen the airport came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit raised concerns about keeping the airport closed, saying airlines had threatened to file lawsuits for damages they have suffered from the closure, Channel 12 news reported.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev visits at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on August 13, 2020. (Flash90)

Ministers on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to extend the national lockdown for another five days but are to meet again on Thursday to review easing some of its limitations. On Tuesday night Regev had urged that airports be opened even if other restrictions remain in place.

The Health Ministry said just 2,255 cases were confirmed on Tuesday, bringing the country’s total tally since the start of the pandemic to 297,274, of which 48,015 are active cases. Less than three weeks ago, daily infections were above 8,000.

The rate of positive coronavirus test results is the lowest since July, the Health Ministry said.

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