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Ben-Gurion Airport is closed - and could stay that way for weeks

Citizens, new immigrants not allowed in or out of Israel until at least Jan. 31 while health ministry officials press for extending the closure to keep out COVID strains

The departure hall at the almost empty Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on January 25, 2021. (Photo: Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel’s main airport is closed to all commercial air traffic.

Citizens cannot return and new immigrants - scheduled to arrive this week - have had to push back plans to move to Israel. 

And no one can leave either. Exceptions will be made in emergency cases, but such permission must be obtained by specially appointed commission.

The order to close Ben-Gurion International Airport went into effect on Monday night, after less than a week of discussion. The closure was pushed forward by Ministry of Health officials who said it is the only way to keep out new mutations of the coronavirus. It is scheduled to be reopened on Jan. 31, however, officials are already hinting at extending the closure.

Israel has hit its highest number of serious COVID cases and has hit record levels of daily new infections in the past few weeks despite a third national lockdown which has been in effect for weeks and a month-long vaccination campaign that has seen more than 30% of the population inoculated.

Discussions on shutting the airport began a few days before the closure went into effect giving Israelis abroad scant time to get back to the country. Some, in fact, were stranded overseas.

An Israeli mother who was in Panama was unable to get on a flight back to Israel on time and told Channel 12 she is not sure when she will be reunited with her children who are in Israel. New immigrants, also scheduled to move to Israel this week, have also been blocked from entering the country.

Though Israel has been shut to foreigners and the millions of tourists who planned to visit the Holy Land since March 2020, previously, when Israel shut the airport as part of a lockdown, at least citizens of the Jewish state and new immigrants were still able to enter. 

This draconian closure was praised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said "hermetically closing the skies" was the right thing to do to prevent mutations of the virus.

"Contrary to what is being said, we are ahead of the whole world. No country has done what we are about to do," he said.

Even before the closure went into effect, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at the Health Ministry, had said one week is too short a time.

“The six days that we have decided to close Ben-Gurion Airport will not be enough. We will have to extend the closure by at least a few weeks to buy time for the vaccination campaign,” Alroy-Preis said.

Yes, you read that right — weeks. 

Deliberations on whether to extend the closure will begin again toward the end of this week.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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