Middle East/North Africa

Israel to close its only major airport in bid to slow coronavirus spread

Israel will close its sole major airport for one week in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus and stymie new variants that are cropping up.

The Washington Post reports that Israel’s Cabinet agreed on Sunday to stop all incoming and outgoing flights from Ben Gurion International Airport until at least the end of January. Cargo flights, medical evacuations and “firefighting flights” will be exempted from the rule.

“No nation has done what we are about to do — we are hermetically sealing the country,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We do this to prevent the entry of the virus mutations and to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign.”

The rule will extend to Jewish immigrants traveling to the country under the Law of Return, the Post reports.

The more infectious U.K. variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Israel, the Post reports, contributing to Israel’s decision to seal itself off from the world. Another new strain has been discovered that is thought to have originated in South Africa.

The Post notes Israel has excelled in administering doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, with 27 percent of its population receiving the first dose. However, the country has received international condemnation for refusing to provide vaccines to Palestinians in its occupied territories

“Nothing can justify today’s reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian,” said Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) Omar Shakir in a statement.

“Everyone in the same territory should have equitable access to the vaccine, regardless of their ethnicity,” Shakir added.

Palestinian leaders have stated that they do not have the funds to pay for coronavirus vaccines. Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has said that Israel is not responsible for providing vaccines to Palestinians, but acknowledged it would be within Israel’s interests to do so. However, Edelstein stated that any vaccines provided to Palestine would come after Israel’s population had been vaccinated.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu coronavirus travel bans COVID-19 pandemic in Israel COVID-19 vaccine Israel Israel Palestine West Bank

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