On Sunday, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the country would be shutting down its international airport for most flights, as the government is attempting to control a raging coronavirus outbreak. The safety rules were rather poorly enforced in ultra-Orthodox communities and the highly contagious variants of COVID-19 also entered into the country. The combination of both of these has resulted in the highest rates of infection in Israel. It has also threatened to undercut the highly successful campaign in the country for vaccinating its population against the disease.
The Israeli Cabinet gave its approval a bit late for what Netanyahu claimed was going to be a very tight closure of both outgoing and incoming air traffic. According to the government, they would be making exceptions for only a handful of humanitarian cases, such as medical patients, funerals, as well as cargo flights. Netanyahu announced that flights would be hermetically closed and only rare exceptions would be made, as their goal was to prevent the entry of the virus mutations into the country and to ensure that their vaccine campaign can continue to progress quickly.
The order will be put into effect from Tuesday and would remain so until the 31st of January. Netanyahu’s office said that parliamentary legislation was still needed for the order to be finalized. During the coronavirus pandemic, the entry at Israel’s main international airport has been restricted. However, some exceptions have been made for certain categories of people, which include Israelis coming back from abroad and religious students. In addition, they have also allowed Israeli tourists to travel to a few ‘green countries’.
Nonetheless, it seems that even this limited air travel has allowed the highly contagious variants of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom and other places to come into the country. More than 595,000 cases have been recorded by Israel’s Health Ministry since the beginning of the pandemic and there have been a total of 4,361 deaths. There is an increase in new cases as well, even though the country has launched one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in the world and is currently in the midst of its third lockdown. The Israeli authorities have been struggling to enforce compliance with safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities.
On Sunday, there were clashes between religious demonstrators and police in a number of cities. During the pandemic, a number of ultra-Orthodox sects have been flouting safety regulations, as they have continued to pray in synagogues, open schools, and hold funerals and mass weddings. This has led to a disproportionate infection rate, with one-third of the coronavirus cases in the country coming from the ultra-Orthodox community, even though they are only 10% of the population.
With the coronavirus outbreak raging in the country, the Israeli government has extended the third lockdown until the end of this month. The clashes on Sunday were just the latest incident of increasing tensions over the enforcement of the safety rules in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities. The disputes resulted in five police officers being wounded.