Transportation Ministry seeks to restrict international travel for unvaccinated

TV says plan for reopening airport also calls for tracking phones of those who refuse to quarantine at state-run hotels

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)

The Transportation Ministry is pushing a proposal to restrict international travel for Israelis who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19, as part of plans to reopen Ben Gurion Airport, Israeli television reported Tuesday.

Anyone who hasn’t received a vaccine will be denied permission to fly for “unessential” reasons unless granted special permission by a government committee, according to Channel 12 news. The report didn’t specify what would be considered “essential.”

The ministry is also looking to require those who refuse to isolate at state-run hotels upon arrival in Israel to download an application tracking their phone to ensure they remain in quarantine, the network said.

The proposed restrictions on those who aren’t vaccinated will require the sign-off of the attorney general. The report said discussions would be held Tuesday evening with Health Ministry officials on the legal aspects of the far-reaching measures.

The Health Ministry is separately pushing to amend public health ordinances to allow it to hand over personal data on who has or hasn’t been vaccinated to local authorities and the Education Ministry, in a bid to boost the vaccine campaign, Hebrew media reports said. The ministry circulated a draft of the proposal on Tuesday, despite legal officials saying such information can only be handed over in the case of a confirmed coronavirus carrier, the Walla news site reported.

As of Monday night, four million Israelis had received the first shot of the vaccine and 2.6 million got both doses. That accounts for two-thirds of those eligible to get vaccinated.

People who landed on a flight from England arrive at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem, used as a quarantine facility, on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Transportation Ministry was also examining the possibility of setting up separate entry terminals for the vaccinated and unvaccinated and has reportedly held talks with national carrier El Al on separate flights for those who have received a vaccine and those who haven’t.

The report said the Transportation Ministry’s target goal for reopening the airport was early or mid-March.

Ben Gurion Airport has been largely shuttered since January 25, as part of a sweeping closure of Israel’s air and land borders. The shutdown was aimed at preventing the import of new coronavirus strains into the country, amid fears some variants would prove more resistant to vaccines.

Ministers voted Sunday on a proposal to reopen the airport on February 20, but capping the number of people permitted to enter the country per day at 2,000. The rules did not specify whether the regulations apply only to Israelis or also to non-citizens.

Israeli passengers who arrived on an emergency flight are seen at Ben Gurion Airport on February 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to the Ynet news site, those entering the country starting Saturday will likely be forced to self-isolate in state-run quarantine hotels, unless they’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19.

Citizens who left the country before January 25 and have since been stranded abroad are allowed to return to the country but are immediately taken to quarantine hotels upon arrival. They remain there for two weeks, or ten days if they test negative twice for the coronavirus within a set number of days.

Despite the airport closure, some 600 athletes from around the world have been permitted to enter Israel to take part in an international judo tournament this week.

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