Tel Aviv: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel would significantly reduce the entry of foreign nationals into the country in an effort to keep out the new, more contagious coronavirus variant.
“A new pandemic is spreading, with a virus that we don’t really know about. This mutation may be a coronavirus two,” Netanyahu said during a tree-planting ceremony in Jerusalem.
“Therefore, we have implemented Israel’s decision to close the skies,” he said.
The announcement comes a day after foreigners travelling from Britain, Denmark, and South Africa stopped their entry, where the new coronavirus strain was detected.
Netanyahu said that most foreigners would not be allowed entry “without diplomats, exceptions,” and without providing further details.
Officials at the Premier Office, the Airport Authority and the Immigration Authority said that no details are yet available on the new measures.
Netanyahu said, “The verdict is valid for ten days with the possibility of it being valid.”
“I know it’s a difficult decision, but we have no choice.”
The move came as Israel began vaccinations for its general population, a day after some 10,000 medical staff received the first-round prison.
Monday’s shots were given to elderly and low-risk citizens, with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein saying more than 200,000 vaccination appointments had already been made.
One of the vaccinators in Jerusalem was 67-year-old Moti Zameer, who said the shot would enable him to embrace his family again.
“I have barely seen my grandchildren and children since March-April, we only see them from a distance on the zoom or 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 per person are required – from US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and US biotech firm Modern.
About 380,000 people in Israel have tested positive for the virus since the first confirmed case in February.
More than 3,100 people have died in a country of nearly nine million.
Israel implemented a second nationwide lockdown in September when the country had the world’s highest per capita infection rate.
Sanctions have been gradually reduced, but the number of cases is increasing again.