Israel appoints special Covid commissioner for airport

Ben Gurion International Airport seen as weak link in nation’s battle to contain pandemic.

By World Israel News Staff

With a rising number of Covid cases traced to people flying in from overseas, the Israeli cabinet appointed a special corona commissioner for Ben Gurion Airport.

“For 18 months there has been a giant national weak point, and that is Ben-Gurion International Airport,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in remarks at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.

“The responsibility will be to deal with this now as well as look toward the future. Vaccinations do not always work. There can be variants, next month, next year or in four years, for which there is no vaccine. Therefore, in Israel, which does not have very many crossings, in effect it is a kind of island, there is no reason why we cannot protect ourselves even if there is no vaccine,” Bennett said.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Roni Numa, who helped coordinate Bnai Brak’s efforts to push back the pandemic, was tapped to serve as the airport’s Covid commissioner.

Sunday’s cabinet meeting was due to discuss enacting restrictions such as requiring masking in open spaces, reducing the size of permitted gatherings, and testing unvaccinated individuals before allowing them to participate in certain activities.

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Under the Health Ministry’s traffic light system, as of Sunday, Binyamina and Givat Ada were designated red, the most serious level of infectious spread. Graded orange were Modiin-Maccabim-Reut and Kochav Yair, while Kfar Saba, Herzliya, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Tzofim, and Aviel were all graded yellow.

The Ministry of Education reported on Sunday that there are 606 students and 45 teachers and staff infected. Another 9,891 students and 97 educational workers are now quarantining. The ministry added that two-thirds of the infected students were in middle or high school.

As of Sunday, there were 1,175 active cases of Covid, compared to 340 a week ago. Of the new active cases, eight were serious enough to require hospitalization. The total number of Israelis hospitalized with the infection stands at 26. Preliminary reports indicate that 90 percent of the new cases are of the Delta variant, which originated in India. The Delta variant has fueled similar Covid surges in the U.S., Europe and Australia.

Bennett stressed that he preferred masking and vaccinating as many people as possible over another lockdown.

“Our approach is simple,” he said. “Maximum protection for the citizens of Israel with minimum disruption to routine and the economy in Israel. Masks instead of restrictions. Vaccinations instead of lockdowns. The Delta variant, as it has been said, infects 50% more but we know that the vaccine works. It simply works. People who can be vaccinated and are not doing so are simply putting themselves and those around them in danger.”

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To date, 5.1 million Israelis have received both vaccines, while 5.5 million have received one dose.