Health Official: Ben Gurion Airport Must Stay Closed for Month

People at the almost empty Ben Gurion International Airport, on Sunday. (Flash90)

Israel’s public health chief said on Monday that Ben Gurion Airport must stay closed for a month in an effort to battle the spread of new coronavirus variants.

The government on Sunday approved the closure of Israel’s main port of entry starting Monday midnight until the end of the nationwide lockdown next Sunday night, Jan. 31. The move sets to hermetically seal Israel’s border after U.K., South African and California mutations of COVID-19 were detected in the country.

Head of Public Health Services at the Health Ministry Dr. Sharon Elrai-Price told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that a prolonged ban on international flights is the only way to battle the U.K. variant of coronavirus, which she said has become the predominant.

“We are in a problematic situation, the numbers are starting to go down but we [the health system] are still very busy,” she said. “We are seeing a very rapid spread, at least 50% of the positive tests are the U.K. variant.”

Elrai-Price said the current lockdown together with the shuttering of the airport will allow health services to continue the vaccination campaign. “We must buy time … I guess we will need a few weeks to allow the vaccination campaign to progress at a rapid pace so the majority of the population is vaccinated.”

She said the U.K. variant seemingly leads to more serious complications than previous strains, especially when it comes to expectant women and children.

“The U.K. variant is 50% more contagious,” she said. “Some 40% of the infections at the moment are among children and when we came out of the second lockdown, [the children] were 29% of the infected population. We are seeing an increase in the percentage of infected students in first and fourth grades and we are concerned about that.”

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