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Israel shuts Pilgrimage, borders to remain closed to foreign visitors until at least September

Airports Authority says current restrictions, under which entry granted only to nationals or those obtaining special permit from Immigration Authority, to stay in force

By TOI staff, July 20, 2020

Restrictions preventing foreign visitors from entering the country due to the coronavirus pandemic will be extended until the the beginning of September, the Israel Airports Authority announced Monday.

The ban will continue until September 1 due to the recent surge in virus infections in Israel, the IAA said.

Recent weeks have seen daily infections climb consistently to nearly 2,000, although on Monday the Health Ministry reported a drop to 1,139 cases in the previous 24 hours. The death toll increased by six overnight Sunday and Monday morning, to 415.

The ongoing ban allows only returning Israeli citizens or those who obtain special permission from the Population Immigration and Border Authority to enter the country. All those who do arrive are required to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Last week Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Radio 103FM that one of the biggest impacts on the economy by the virus was the limitation of international air travel, and that reopening Israel’s skies was a priority. Many carriers have canceled their routes to and from Israel, and with the infection rate climbing are not likely to change that policy anytime soon. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2019. (Flash90)

Israel, he continued, has an “export-orientated high-tech economy. The interaction between Israel and the world has been seriously damaged because of the aerial lockdown.”

Israel closed its borders to foreign travelers in mid-March and has periodically extended the restrictions since then.

Almost all air travel to Israel was shut down due to the coronavirus restrictions, with only a handful of flights weekly, including a daily route to Newark, New Jersey, flown by United Airlines.

Several airlines have since resumed flights. Air Canada, Delta and German carrier Lufthansa all began flying to Israel in June. Budget airlines Wizz and Ryanair have also resumed flights.

Israel’s tourism industry, which employs some 80,000 people and contributes some 3 percent to the gross national product, has been gutted by the virus and its impact on air travel.

Earlier this month Israel’s struggling national carrier El Al accepted a government bailout that would likely give the state some 61% of the firm. Under the deal, the airline will get a $250 million government-backed loan, with guarantees for 75% of the loan, in case the firm defaults.

The company has entered deep financial trouble due to the pandemic, and last month shut down all air operations amid an ongoing labor dispute.

After initially bringing daily infection rates down to low double digits Israel has seen the numbers climb again after it rolled by lockdown measures that impacted all areas of the economy. There has been renewed talk of a looming second lockdown if the new wave doesn’t fade.

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