Israel 'closes skies' on air travel to prevent virus spread

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israel on Sunday announced a week-long ban on most incoming and outgoing flights in a bid to slow the spread of new variants of the novel coronavirus.

The measure will begin at midnight from Monday into Tuesday and remain in effect until January 31, a statement from the prime minister's office said.

Exceptions will be made for cargo and firefighting flights, as well as trips for medical treatments, funerals and legal procedures.

A panel of health and interior ministry officials will be able to issue exemptions on request "for humanitarian or personal needs," the statement said.

The decision came with the country in its third national coronavirus lockdown, initiated late December and extended on Tuesday until the end of the month due to a surge in Covid-19 deaths.

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced his government's intention to close the airport, as highly contagious variants of the coronavirus have been detected in rising numbers.

"We're closing the skies hermetically, except for rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of virus mutations, and to ensure that we make swift progress with our vaccination campaign," he said ahead of the cabinet meeting.

Since the rollout of vaccinations one month ago, more than 2.5 million of Israel's nine-million-strong population have been vaccinated, according to the health ministry.