Israel's public health chief said on Monday that Ben Gurion Airport must stay closed for a month in an effort to battle the spread of new coronavirus variants.
The government on Sunday approved the closure of Israel's main port of entry starting Tuesday until the end of the nationwide lockdown on January 31. The move set to "hermetically seal" the state after UK, South-African and California mutations of COVID-19 were detected in the country.
Head of Public Health Services at the Health Ministry Dr. Sharon Elrai-Price told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that a prolonged ban on international flights is the only way to battle the UK strain of coronavirus, which she said has become the predominant.
"We are in a problematic situation, the numbers are starting to go down but we are [the health system] is still very busy," she said. "We are seeing a very rapid spread, at least 50% of the positive tests are the UK variant."
Elrai-Price said the current lockdown together with the shuttering of the airport will allow health services to continue the vaccination campaign. "We must buy time ... I guess we will need a few weeks to allow the vaccination campaign to progress at a rapid pace so the majority of the population is vaccinated."
She said the UK variant seemingly leads to more serious complications than previous strains, especially when it comes to pregnant women and children.
"The UK variant is 50% more contagious," she said. "Some 40% of the infections at the moment are among children and when we came out of the second lockdown, they [the children] were 29% of the infected population. We are seeing an increase in the percentage of infected students in first and fourth grades and we are concerned about that."