Air restrictions to Israel ease as coronavirus infections drop

Up to 8,000 Israelis can now fly in and out of Israel daily. Departures are expected to increase before Tuesday’s election.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Air travel restrictions to Israel were eased Sunday, two days before the national election and traditionally one of the busiest weeks for air travel in Israel in advance of the Passover holiday next weekend.

Israel shut down most entry to the country in January and maintained severe restrictions on air travel in order to prevent coronavirus mutations from entering. Following the High Court’s decision to strike down those constraints because they were too broad, the government announced Saturday night that the latest daily limit of only 3,000 air passengers was cancelled.

However, of the estimated 600,000 Israelis living or traveling abroad, few of them appear to be in any hurry to return to vote in the national election March 23. Over the next few days, the number of people leaving Israel is expected to be greater than the number of people entering the country, Calcalist reported.

Even with the cancelling of the restrictions, the scope of daily flights remains limited due to the need to comply with other corona regulations, including the need to test all incoming passengers and maintain social distancing inside the terminal.

Dozens of coronavirus testing stations have been set up in the arrivals hall and in a large tent adjacent to the terminal. An estimated 8,400 passengers are expected to pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport on 60 flights Monday, while just before the elections the number of takeoffs is expected to be higher, with 4,600 passengers leaving Israel and 3,800 arriving.

Under social distancing limits of 2 meters (6 feet) between people, the terminal can accommodate only about 7,000 passengers a day. Airport officials are trying to reduce that distance to 1.5 meters to up the capacity.

Foreigners wishing to enter Israel still need to apply for permission before they leave their country of origin.

The Ministry of Health warned that opening the skies could lead to the entry of dangerous virus variants into Israel.

Israel’s national vaccination campaign to inoculate all of the 9.3 million citizens aged 16 and older continued Sunday. To date, 4.5 million Israelis have received both shots of the Pfizer vaccine, with another 660,000 having received their first injection.

As of Sunday morning, Health Ministry statistics showed a continuing drop in the number of daily infections and active cases. There are 561 Israelis hospitalized in serious condition with the virus, a drop two-thirds since the peak of the third wave of infections in Israel.

There are only a handful of deaths daily from the virus, compared to the peak of 79 deaths recorded on January 24. To date, 6,085 Israelis have died from the coronavirus.