Coronavirus Cabinet Votes to Close Skies to Foreigners; Israelis to Quarantine Hotels

Passengers at the departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport, last week. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Coronavirus Cabinet decided on Monday to ban the entry of all noncitizens into Israel from Wednesday afternoon and require all citizens who enter the country to quarantine in coronavirus hotels, as a new coronavirus strain from the U.K. raises concerns around the world. The decision will take effect starting Wednesday afternoon.

If the quarantine hotels run out of rooms, the Health Ministry will set a order of priority for people to be authorized for home quarantine.

A discussion on a possible third lockdown to stem the continued spread of the coronavirus was dropped from the agenda.

The Health Ministry on Monday morning reported that 2,821 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Sunday, after 70,000 tests conducted, indicating a 4.1% positivity rate.

Of 24,999 patients currently battling the disease, 456 are in serious condition, with 117 patients connected to ventilators. Eight people succumbed to the virus in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s death toll since the start of the pandemic to 3,101.

On Sunday, ministers decided to require all arrivals from the U.K., Denmark and South Africa to quarantine in government-operated coronavirus hotels to prevent the spread of the new, mutated strain of coronavirus.

The decision was made as two flights from London were en route to Israel, carrying a total of 120 Israeli passengers. Dozens of the passengers decided to return to the U.K. rather than go into isolation, despite having been informed before boarding of the new policy.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is pushing for all arrivals from abroad to be required to quarantine and that all non-Israelis be banned from entering Israel.

His proposal, if accepted, would mean that Ben Gurion International Airport would be shut for a period of two weeks, excluding special flights.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev is opposed to the move, saying the circumstances do not call for such a drastic step.

Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash, who backs the closure of the airport, also told the ministers that he recommends a partial lockdown that includes suspension of all commerce.

Ash said the rise in the number of seriously ill patients surpassed the amount recorded in November.

He warned that with no mitigation measures taken, Israel would see up to 1,900 seriously ill patients within three months and the death toll rise by up to 1,250 in the same period.

National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat also expressed his preference for a full lockdown, while Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said the difference between a partial and full closure was the education system.

“The cost to the economy in the event of the suspension of commerce cannot be compared to the damage caused to the education system,” Edelstein said. “I prefer to keep schools open for as long as possible.”

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