Israel restricts outbound air travel to bolster virus lockdown

Transportation minister says passengers will be permitted to take flights out of the country if they were booked before start of lockdown; Israelis can return without limitations

Passengers pictured at Ben Gurion Airport on September 24, 2020, during the Coronavirus pandemic. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
Passengers pictured at Ben Gurion Airport on September 24, 2020, during the Coronavirus pandemic. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The Israeli government slapped restrictions on outgoing flights on Friday as part of a slew of measures to bolster a second virus lockdown imposed last week.

At Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, hundreds of Israelis queued at check-in after days of uncertainty over how long air travel would remain possible under the tightened lockdown, with many rushing to book Friday departures.

Hours before the new restrictions were to come into force, Transport Minister Miri Regev announced: “The skies will remain partially open.”

“The arrangement agreed upon enables leaving the country for whoever bought an airplane ticket prior to the beginning of the lockdown, i.e. today, the 25th, at 1400 (1100 GMT),” she said in a statement.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev on a visit to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on August 13, 2020. (Flash90)

“People who buy a ticket beyond then won’t be able to use it,” Regev said, noting Israelis would be able to return to the country “without limitations.”

Regev did not spell out how the government would ensure flights continued for those with pre-bought tickets, when airlines were not allowed to sell more to fill their aircraft.

A 14-day quarantine will continue to be imposed on people landing in Israel from “red countries” with high coronavirus rates, she added.

Passengers line up for pre-flight check-in at Ben Gurion Airport on September 25, 2020 (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

It was also decided that Ramon Airport in the south of the country will remain open for limited flights to allow access to the center of the country for Eilat residents who are essential workers or require medical treatment, Channel 12 news reported.

Some 5,000 people took flights out of Israel on Thursday, Hebrew-language media reported, and a further 4,000 people landed on return flights.

Many of those standing in line at check-in counters said they had quickly purchased tickets once it became clear that the government was going to order a strict lockdown, which came into effect at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Those who spoke to media told largely the same story: If they are going to be stuck at home anyway, unable to see family or engage in recreation, then they may as well go abroad where they will be free to enjoy themselves a bit.

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