Gov't approves: No foreigners to enter Israel after Wednesday

All Israelis returning to Israel from abroad must enter a coronavirus hotel.

THE EMPTY arrival hall at Ben-Gurion Airport on March 11. (photo credit: FLASH90)
THE EMPTY arrival hall at Ben-Gurion Airport on March 11.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Foreigners, including those with existing travel permits, will not be able to enter Israel beginning December 23, after the government approved a decision Monday evening made earlier by the coronavirus cabinet.
The new rule will last for 10 days, with the option for it to be extended.
A spokesperson for the Health Ministry said there could be some very rare exceptions to the new regulation.
In addition, beginning on December 23 at 10 p.m., any Israeli returning to the country from abroad will be required to be isolated in a coronavirus hotel. People will isolate for between 10 and 14 days, depending on if they agree to be screened for the virus.
Until then, returnees will still need to isolate, but they can choose to isolate at home.
Israeli airline companies are preparing to operate a massive airlift for Israelis currently abroad and in a hurry to return to Israel, following Monday’s decision by the coronavirus cabinet to impose mandatory quarantine in hotels on all Israelis returning from abroad starting Wednesday.
Meanwhile, dozens of passengers who were about to deport the Ben-Gurion Airport to Dubai have canceled their flights and have returned home.  
Israir will operate 12 flights that will return Israelis interested in avoiding quarantine. Arkia, El Al and FlyDubai will operate dozens of flights as well.
El Al updated its policy as well in light of the new directives.
"Clients holding flight tickets can still change the date of their flight without paying any fees or alternatively, to freeze their tickets and use them at a later time, until December 31, 2021," a statement from El Al noted. "Clients looking to return to Israel sooner than planned, until December 23, can do so without additional payment."
Monday’s coronavirus decisions go above and beyond those made the day before that closed the skies to any foreigner traveling from Britain, Denmark or South Africa, and required hotel isolation for any Israelis returning from those places.
"I have just come from a cabinet meeting,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday. “We have, at the moment, a new pandemic that is spreading, with a virus that we do not yet know about. This mutation could also be coronavirus two. Therefore, I decided last night – and we implemented today – to close the skies of the State of Israel. Foreign nationals will not enter the country, other than exceptions such as diplomats.”
“I know that this is a difficult decision, but we have no choice,” he continued. “I understand the difficulty that is also being caused to families, travelers, to everybody. Nevertheless, this decision is critical because we must safeguard your health and your lives.”
But many people who planned to travel are not taking the decision in stride.
“I am super angry,” said Shabbos Kestenbaum from Riverdale, New York in a Facebook interview with The Jerusalem Post. “I was going to quarantine and get tested both before and after I arrived. It makes no sense why I would now be refused entry.”
Others posted in response to an appeal by the Post that they were considering cancelling trips abroad or worried that their non-citizen spouses or children would now not make it to the country.
“My friend is right now in Europe for Christmas with her family, and worries, if they will be able to return back to Israel and how to go with kids to coronavirus hotels,” posted Martina Pospisilova.
Others simply posted crying emojis.
The decision was made against the backdrop of rising infection - 3,046 new cases were diagnosed on Sunday, the Health Ministry reported on Monday - 4.4% of those screened tested positive. Another 1,929 people were diagnosed on Monday between midnight and press time.
Of the country's total infected, 463 were in serious condition, and 109 were on ventilators. At last count, the death toll was 3,111.
At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu raised concerns that the new strain of the virus was spreading throughout the world and that it was still unclear what the consequences are of the new strain, which is 70% more transmissible than the original virus, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash told Kan News that while the strain has still not been detected in Israel, the Health Ministry is checking to see if the rise in infection rates in Israel is connected to the new strain.
"Since last night's meeting, the mutation has been spreading in many countries and it is clear to us that we are at the beginning of a very rapid outbreak," said Netanyahu during the meeting on Monday. "We need to reduce the viral mass entering the country as much as possible, while we are currently examining in England what exactly this virus is, whether the vaccine is resistant to it and other questions. To do this, I want to replicate what we did in the first wave of the coronavirus: close the sky as quickly as possible."
In addition to the travel restrictions, Netanyahu called for a total lockdown to be implemented across Israel to fight rising infection rates. Health officials are still pushing to "tighten restraint," while opposing ministers believe the country can maintain the status quo.
No discussion was had on the subject at Monday's meeting, but it is expected that the cabinet will reconvene in two days to raise the issue again. At that point, there may be no alternative to lockdown.
Earlier this month, the cabinet had agreed to impose new restrictions if Israel surpassed 2,500 new cases a day or the reproduction rate (R) hit 1.32 – meaning when every three sick people infect four more.   While the R number is currently at 1.27, the daily number of cases has surpassed 2,500 several times in the past week.
Elad, Beitar Illit, Bnei Brak and the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem became red zones on Monday. Ashdod, Tayibe and a number of other Jerusalem neighborhoods became orange. In total, 48 neighborhoods, towns and cities across Israel were red and 69 were orange as of Monday morning.
The Arab sector made up 30% of the total cases in Israel, while 16% were from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector with the remainder being from the rest of the public.
On Sunday, Ash released a report predicting that, without any further limitations, between 1,340 and 1,900 people would be critically ill and between 3,085 and 3,700 would die in the coming month if nothing is done. He said that with a tightened closure for five weeks, there would be 800 critically ill and 1,250 dead; and with full closure for three weeks, there would be 700 critically ill and 1,100 dead.
During a Sunday cabinet meeting that lasted more than six hours due to disagreements among the ministers, the cabinet failed to make any decisions regarding the imposition of further restrictions or another lockdown.
Tightened restraint would include closing shops, malls and marketplaces and limiting gatherings and public transportation. It would also close the education system in orange and red cities. “One-on-one” services, including beauty salons and hairdressers, would likely remain open.
The government is trying to avoid a third lockdown, but implementing a lockdown now would mean it would be shorter than if one is implemented later, Ash told Kan News.
Further restrictions could include closing shops, malls and marketplaces and limiting gatherings and public transportation. The "tightened restraint" plan presented by Ash would have the education system close in orange and red cities. "One-on-one" services, including beauty salons and hairdressers, are expected to remain open.
Ash told Kan News that while the government is trying to avoid a third lockdown, implementing a lockdown now would mean it would be shorter than if one is implemented later.
Edelstein stressed during a visit to the Leumit health fund in Tel Aviv on Monday that the cabinet must decide on restrictions because the vaccines will not have a big enough effect for another two or three months.
"To assume that it is possible to continue without restraint measures for another two months, is to assume that thousands more will reach hospitals, and some will die, unfortunately," Edelstein said. "I am not willing to agree to this."
On Monday, thousands of seniors over the age of 60 began vaccinating at health funds across the country. Around 200,000 people have made appointments thus far, the Health Ministry said.
Moshe Cohen of The Jerusalem Post's sister paper, Maariv, contributed to this report.