Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday Israel will significantly reduce entry of foreign nationals into the country in an effort to keep out a new, more infectious novel coronavirus strain.
“We’ve got a new pandemic spreading, with a virus we don’t really know about. This mutation could be a coronavirus two,” Netanyahu said during a tree-planting ceremony in Jerusalem.
“Therefore, we have implemented the decision to close Israel’s skies,” he added.
The announcement came a day after the government barred entry to foreigners travelling from Britain, Denmark and South Africa, where the new coronavirus strain was detected.
Netanyahu said most foreigners would not be allowed entry, “other than exceptions, such as diplomats”, without providing further details.
Officials in the premier’s office, the airport authority and the immigration authority said there were no specifics available yet on the new measures.
“This decision is valid, as of now, for ten days, with the possibility of being extended,” Netanyahu said.
“I know this is a tough decision, but we have no choice.”
The move came as Israel rolled out vaccinations to its general population, a day after some 10,000 medical staff received the first round of jabs.
Monday’s shots were administered to elderly and at-risk citizens, with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein saying that over 200,000 vaccination appointments have already been made.
One of those getting vaccinated in Jerusalem was 67-year-old Moti Zemer, who said the shot would enable him to hug his family again.
“Since March-April I’ve hardly seen my grandchildren and my children, we see them only on Zoom or from far away in the park,” he said.
“I have 21 grandchildren and it’s not easy.”
Israel has ordered 14 million coronavirus vaccine doses — covering seven million people, as two doses are required per person — from US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and US biotech firm Moderna.
Nearly 380,000 people in Israel have tested positive for the virus since the first confirmed case was reported in February.
Over 3,100 people have died, in a country of around nine million.
Israel imposed a second nationwide lockdown in September, when the country had one of the world’s highest per capita infection rates.
Restrictions have since been gradually eased but case numbers are again on the rise.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)