Israel's cabinet approves Ben Gurion airport shutdown
25 January 2021 - globes
Benjamin Netanyahu: We are closing the country hermetically to stop new mutations coming in.
Israel's cabinet has approved the closure of Ben Gurion airport from Tuesday, January 26 until next Sunday January 31, although the closure is likely to continue for at least two weeks. Airlines have been given indications that the closure could extend until the end of February.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "No other country has done what we are going to do. We are closing the country hermetically and at the same time we will vaccinate one million Israelis each week."
The extreme measure is being taken because of the new Covid mutations being reported from around the world, with fears that some of them could be resistant to the Pfizer vaccine.
Netanyahu said, "If somebody with a mutation arrives, it's enough that one person come in and we don't catch it and then it's a matter of time until he starts infecting people. A new mutation can arrive that still hasn't been here yet and can be more infectious and more lethal. So I say let's first of all close down. Had we completely closed the skies in time and not five minutes too late (last March), we would not have had Covid here at all. We are buying time by vaccinating, which no other country is able to do."
Implicit in Netanyahu's words was criticism of the lax way entry of people from abroad has been handled at Ben Gurion airport.
Airlines are being instructed to cancel all flights from January 26. Israel's Ministry of Justice asked the cabinet to consider allowing Israelis abroad 72 hours to get home. Deputy Attorney General Raz Nazri said, "We are not raising a flag in terms of preventing this legally. But there is a problem in practical terms because people need to organize. If we take a decision for 72 hours that would ease things legally and in practical terms."
In explaining the decision, the cabinet points out that the mutation first identified in Britain has been proliferating in Israel since December and there have also been a small number of cases of the mutation identified in South Africa - both mutations brought in by visitors from abroad.
At the same time as the closure, Israel is setting up an exceptions committee, which can permit Israelis to fly abroad. Acceptable reasons for flying abroad include for medical treatment, essential work that cannot be performed remotely, escorting relatives, and returning to a permanent residence abroad. The problem will be whether there are any flights to take.