Israel decided to ban inbound and outbound passenger flights from Monday at 22:00GMT until the end of January to stem the spread of COVID-19 and new strains of the coronavirus.
Flights leaving Israel for legal or medical reasons will be permitted, as will those for family funerals or relocations. Travel for personal or humanitarian needs will require approval by the government’s director-general of health and transportation, Haaretz reported.
Exceptions will apply to cargo and firefighting flights, as well as trips for medical treatment, funerals, and legal procedures.
The decision comes along with the third national coronavirus lockdown. It was initiated in late December and extended on Tuesday until the end of the month due to a surge in Covid-19 deaths.
“We’re closing the skies hermetically, except for rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of virus mutations, and to ensure that we make swift progress with our vaccination campaign,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a cabinet meeting.
Later on Sunday, the health ministry announced it had identified cases of a coronavirus variant originating in Los Angeles.
“In the health ministry’s central virus laboratory, a variant from Los Angeles has been located using a sequencing process,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The person confirmed to have this variant has infected four other people.”
Variants from South Africa and UK have also been found in Israel.
More than 2.5 million of Israel’s 9 million people population have been vaccinated since vaccination was introduced last month.
On Saturday, Israel began vaccinating teens aged 16-18 who need to pass high school exams.