Netanyahu warns virus surge may force shutdown of air travel

Surging virus infections may lead to air travel ban as Israel bars visitors from the UK over a mutant coronavirus.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that surging coronavirus infections and a possible mutation in the virus might force the closure of air travel to Israel to all except for returning citizens.

At the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Netanyahu said that due to reports of a new mutation of the coronavirus, passenger air traffic to Israel should be restricted to returning Israelis only and most outbound flights should be halted.

“We need to close the whole world immediately,” Netanyahu said. “This is an extreme step, but if there is a result [from the mutation], it will be difficult. There is no legal impediment to closing the sky except for the return of Israelis.”

Netanyahu was supported in his position by Israel coronavirus task force head Prof. Nachman Ash, but the suggestion for a near total shutdown of air travel brought angry responses from others in the cabinet, including Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who fired back saying “there is no reason to close the skies.”

“A targeted stop from one country does not block the infection because the mutation has probably already spread throughout Europe,” said Prof. Ran Blitzer, a member of the Ministry of Health’s epidemic treatment team.

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Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi took a middle position, saying the focus should be only on preventing entry from the countries where the mutation had been detected, which reports indicated are the UK, South Africa and Denmark.

Ash told the cabinet that without additional restrictions and with infections rising in Israel, hospitals could be filled in three months with up to 1,900 patients in critical condition and a death toll of up to 3,400 more Israelis, but that could be more than halved if the government “tightened restraint” for the next five weeks.

On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported 1,866 new infections in the past day with the number of active cases rising to 24,356 people – almost double the number from two weeks ago. There are 799 Israelis hospitalized with coronavirus, 466 of them in serious condition, and the death toll rose by 32 since Friday to 3,082.

The director general of the Ministry of Health, Prof. Hezi Levy, told the cabinet meeting that the Ministry’s goal is to vaccinate 60% of Israel’s 9.2 million population within the next four months and that by the end of January, the Ministry will be prepared to store up to seven million vaccine doses in deep freezers.

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