Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel’s skies must be closed to all international flights, as ministers met to discuss the further restriction of entry into the country for people arriving from countries where a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus has been identified.
“Stop all flights from all over the world,” Netanyahu said.
Health officials are concerned about the new strain of coronavirus found in England, and weigh in testing those who have returned to Israel from the UK for the variant.
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a ‘stay at home’ order for London and the south-east of England to slow the spread of the new strain of coronavirus. Early data suggests the new strain could be “up to 70% more transmissible,” Johnson said in a televised briefing.
A man wears a face mask as he walks and is reflected in a puddle in Regent Street ahead of the new Level 4 restriction measures in London on December 19, 2020 (AP Photo / Alberto Pezzali)
In addition, a severe variant of the coronavirus has been detected in South Africa which could explain the rapid spread of a second wave affecting the youngest, the South African Minister of Health said on Friday. Known as the 501.V2 variant, it has been identified by South African researchers and details have been sent to the World Health Organization, Zwelini Mkhize said in a statement.
Israel’s coronavirus cabinet met on Sunday to discuss the matter.
In public remarks at the start of the meeting, Netanyahu expressed his support for the complete shutdown of the country’s skies with few exceptions.
Some cabinet members, including Transport Minister Miri Regev, opposed Netanyahu’s proposal. “There is no reason to close the sky,” she said.
The prime minister backed a suggestion from coronavirus tsar Nachman Ash, who said that until Ben-Gurion airport can be completely closed, Israel should ban entry to travelers from Britain, Denmark and South Africa, perform virus tests on all recent returnees from these countries and perform genetic sequencing on confirmed carriers to potentially identify the new strain.
Netanyahu said it was not yet clear whether existing COVID-19 vaccines worked against the new strain, but added that there was no indication that this was not the case.
A statement from Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office said that until more information is available and a policy is developed to contain the new mutation, returnees from countries where the strain was found will likely be hosted in quarantine hotels. The statement added that the hotels were being prepared by the ministry and the IDF to be able to start receiving these travelers from 24 hours after the decision to do so.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the Ynet news website on Sunday that his ministry would recommend ministers approve the temporary closure of the country’s main international airport.
“Above all, we must protect Israel’s borders,” he said. “We apologize to anyone who may be suffering, but the most important thing is to be safe. With our current misfortunes, we will not allow other transfers in the country. ”
When asked if he thinks Ben-Gurion Airport will close to travelers this week, Edelstein said: “I hope so because the weather is critical. What we do not do immediately, in the hours to come, will be too late to do later. ”
The Department of Health is also reportedly considering banning all foreign nationals from Britain, Denmark and South Africa from entering the country, even if they are included in the small group of exceptions. to Israel’s current ban on entry of foreigners and forced arrivals from the UK. stay in government-run hotels during their quarantine period instead of allowing home isolation.
Dr Gila Rahav, director of the infectious disease department at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, told the Ynet news site: “The real question is whether the vaccine covers this strain. I imagine that even if this becomes a problem, because the mRNA [technology exists] we could also develop a vaccine for that.
Department of Health chief executive Chezy Levy signed an order on Friday ordering returning travelers from all countries to self-quarantine, effective December 26, Channel 12 reported. This, however, was largely aimed at the tens of thousands of Israelis who have visited Dubai in recent weeks.
The Israeli vaccination campaign officially began on Sunday morning, with healthcare workers, the President and the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff receiving the coronavirus throughout the day.