Coronavirus: Health Ministry to recommend extending airport restrictions

“The story of the airport is complicated. On the one hand everyone would like the skies to be open, to be able to travel and so on. On the other hand, the mutations are at large in the world."

A face mask is seen on the bust of David Ben-Gurion at Ben-Gurion Airport. (photo credit: ANTON DELIN)
A face mask is seen on the bust of David Ben-Gurion at Ben-Gurion Airport.
(photo credit: ANTON DELIN)
The Health Ministry will likely recommend extending airport restrictions beyond March 20, Director-General Chezy Levy said on Thursday.
“The story of the airport is complicated,” Levy said. “On the one hand, everyone would like the skies to be open, to be able to travel and so on. On the other hand, the mutations are at large in the world and some of them greatly challenge the vaccine. We therefore want to limit people leaving and entering Israel.
“At the moment the regulations are valid until March 20. I assume that we at the Health Ministry will recommend extending them until the whole issue of the mutations and their ability to withstand the vaccine becomes clear.”
The current framework allows all Israelis to enter the country and allows those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus to leave freely. However, the number of flights is severely limited as the Transportation Ministry authorizes only 3,000 inbound passengers a day.
In addition, all those who wish to depart who are not vaccinated, and have not gained immunity from having the virus, still need to receive a permission from a special governmental committee. This includes all children under the age of 16 who are not allowed to be vaccinated.
Following the high number of requests for children to be permitted to travel, the Transportation Ministry released a statement on Wednesday night saying that all applications will be denied unless they fall under the exceptional humanitarian criteria set by the committee. They include receiving essential medical treatment, attending the funeral of a first-degree relative, and assisting a first-degree relative who cannot be helped by anyone else.
The regulations are set to expire on March 20, three days before Election Day, and a week before Passover, when many Israelis travel for vacation or to visit family abroad.
Levy said that the authorities have been stepping up the process to identify mutations and carrying out genetic sequencing of the virus of those who are infected, especially for those coming from abroad. In addition, he said that the process to deploy electronic tools to enforce the mandatory quarantine for returnees is advancing, both in legislation and through ensuring the necessary supplies.
The Knesset Constitution and Law Committee met on Thursday to discuss the bill devoted to the topic of electronic bracelets. The bill will then need to be approved by the plenary in the second and third readings.
During the meeting, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said that some 5,000 devices will be available already next week, and more will come in the following weeks.
“From an operative perspective, we are preparing for a very quick purchase, while the purchase for the full supply will take three months,” Kisch explained. “We have been looking for companies that could provide an immediate answer. The offers will be presented tomorrow, and it is of great importance to pass the legislation quickly so that companies can get into the process. Next week we can already consider 5,000 bracelets, and an additional 5,000 every week thereafter.”
Kisch noted that the goal is to reach some 30,000 bracelets available so that the same number of people could use them for 10 days and then return them.
Those who will not agree to use the bracelet will be able to quarantine in a hotel.
A pilot program for the use of electronic bracelets recently took place.
Health officials have often indicated that if a system to effectively enforce quarantine of people flying from abroad is found, they would consider supporting a wider opening of the country’s skies.
Kisch also said that the government will only accept solutions suitable for those who keep Shabbat.