Israel closes skies as fear of COVID-19 mutations grows

January 24, 2021 by Aryeh Savir - TPS
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The government is poised to announce that it will completely close Israel’s skies to travellers, as the fear of the spread of a Coronavirus (COVID-19) mutation in the county grows.

El Al’s plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport in central Israel. Lod, Nov 7, 2018. Photo by Kobi Richter/TPS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held discussions over the weekend on the issue and will submit a proposal to the Cabinet today calling for a halt of flights to and from Israel for two weeks to prevent the entry into Israel of additional Coronavirus mutations.

The UK variant and the South African variant have both been discovered in Israel. The UK variant has been blamed for an increased infection rate, dangerous infections in pregnant women, and a spike in illness among children.

The government’s plan calls for a ban on incoming and outgoing foreign and Israeli passenger flights for two weeks. However, some reports indicate that the ban will be extended for weeks, possibly into March.

Only exceptional circumstances approved by a committee headed by the Health and Transportation Ministry director generals will be allowed into the country.

In the meantime, the health system is working feverishly to vaccinate the population.

The Health Ministry announced the vaccine will be available to high school students in 11th and 12th grades who are slated to take their matriculation exams this year.

Some 195,000 Israelis received the Pfizer-developed vaccine the weekend.

In total, about 2.5 million citizens were vaccinated, some 28% of the population, of whom close to a million received the second dose.

Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein celebrated the success of the vaccination operation but noted that “there is also bad news,” that the decrease in the rate of morbidity “is too slow,” slower than expected for a country under a full lockdown and in the midst of a vast vaccination operation, “probably the reason is also the mutations.”

A report published by the IDF Intelligence Division on Saturday warned that the vaccination campaign, in parallel with the infections in Israel, could lead to the development of an Israeli mutation that would be resistant to the vaccine.

The report states that “the vaccine will allow Israel to return to routine, only if it uses the benefits it provides in terms of reducing morbidity and mortality from the strains we know today.”

To maintain the achievement of the vaccination campaign, the Intelligence Division clarified that it is “necessary to continue to adhere to the guidelines for social distancing, isolation and hygiene until a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated, and to avoid uncontrolled withdrawal from lockdown.”

The Ministry of Health updated Saturday that it documented 7,346 new COVID-19 cases over the past day.

Of the 86,016 tests done over the weekend, a high 8.8% returned positive, but it was a drop from the 10.2% recorded last Monday.

A high number of 1,177 patients hospitalized with Corona are in serious condition, 342 of them are on life support.

4, 341 Israelis have died of the virus.

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