Israel restricts outgoing flights to bolster virus lockdown
The Israeli government slapped restrictions on outgoing flights on Friday as part of a slew of measures to bolster a second coronavirus lockdown imposed last week.
The new measures, which came into force at 1100 GMT and affect workplaces, synagogues and demonstrations, were thrashed out after the initial new lockdown rules failed to bring down the world's highest coronavirus infection rate per capita.
On the streets, movements are now restricted to within one kilometre (1,00 yards) of home.
At Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, hundreds of Israelis queued at check-in counters after days of uncertainty over how long air travel would remain possible under the tightened lockdown.
As prices soared, tickets for a flight to London that normally costs $200 went up for sale Thursday for $1,300 and were sold out by Friday.
Just before the new restrictions came into force, Transport Minister Miri Regev announced: "The skies will remain partially open.
"The arrangement agreed upon enables leaving the country for whoever bought an airplane ticket prior to the beginning of the lockdown, i.e. today, the 25th, at 1400 (1100 GMT)," she said in a statement.
"People who buy a ticket beyond then won't be able to use it," she said, while noting Israelis and residents would be able to return to the country.
A 14-day quarantine will be imposed on people landing in Israel from "red countries" with high coronavirus rates, she added.
- Prayer, protest restrictions -
The new rules -- one week into a three week lockdown -- close workplaces, shutter markets and further limit prayers and demonstrations.
Synagogues are to stay closed except on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday that begins on Sunday afternoon, during which the numbers of worshippers are to be limited.
At other times, only outdoor prayers attended by a maximum of 20 people are allowed. The same restrictions apply to demonstrations.
Late Thursday, Finance Minister Israel Katz said he had convinced fellow ministers to allow much of the private sector to continue working.
"I've managed to change the outline for the private sector shutdown and contrary to the government's original intention, enable the continued work of many factories in high-tech, the security industry, construction, finance and services," he wrote on Facebook.
- 'Total confusion' -
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a televised news conference, justifying the decision to reinforce the restrictions.
"Saving lives is our priority -- we are living in a moment of national crisis," said Netanyahu.
Israeli lockdown measures imposed a week ago had already closed schools and imposed restrictions on work and leisure.
Despite the curbs, Israel still has the world's highest coronavirus infection rate per capita, according to an AFP tally from the past fortnight.
More than 215,000 infections and 1,378 deaths have been recorded, out of a population of nine million, with more than 7,500 new cases on Thursday alone.
With discord in political ranks over the tightening of measures, Dr. Hagai Levine, a member of a medical team tasked with advising the government, lamented the "total confusion" within the cabinet over how to battle the virus.
Meanwhile, Alex Fishman, a columnist in Israel's biggest selling daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, wrote "the government's zigzags, the public's defiance and lack of trust raise fears of an extended lockdown after the three weeks are up."