Deadly H1N1 bug closes Israel airports for 14 days

Written by CNN Staff Paris, France

Israel said Monday it was shutting the border and its airports to non-citizen international travelers until February 21 due to the deadly oicron variant in H1N1, or swine flu.

The government ordered a rolling 14-day closure of entry to a population of over 5 million in seven regional airports on its southern border with Egypt, Tel Aviv, Eilat, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Netanya and Modiin.

The practice was set up after the H1N1 scare two years ago, and has been temporarily put into effect in 12 other countries since then.

The H1N1 virus is a virus that is extremely contagious and turns deadly for those who have underlying respiratory problems, such as asthma, and is associated with high levels of medical care.

If a visitor needs to enter Israel, he or she must show proof that they have regular health care providers in the country and have a plane ticket or stay at least one night, airport spokeswoman Imna Timon said.

Those who claim that they have show proof of their medical diagnosis and the doctor issuing them a prescription can enter Israel, and those that get special permission to stay and travel for a short time are allowed through.

For a truly vaccine-preventable infection such as H1N1, the government can resort to closing schools, hospitals and other critical sites.

“The government has the power to declare an emergency in any citizen,” Timon said. “So to some extent, we are already paralyzed.”

Hotels and casinos are exempt from the closures, and some areas outside the closed airports have been opened for public travel, Timon said.

CNN spoke to a few Israelis who were in the early stages of the closing.

“A week is a lot of time to wait. I travel frequently and this is one of the longest journeys that I’ve had so far this year,” told CNN via text message from the Red Sea city of Eilat, where he had been recently.

“Staying outside of the closed airports is preferable to staying inside, but I’m still affected, so I’m planning on going to the airport when they open. I’m worried if I visit the airport, and I may not be able to go if I go back to Israel. Hopefully, on the other hand, I won’t be affected. Then I’m staying here. The government decided to close the airport, and that’s the only option that it is providing.”

“I’m definitely concerned about the quarantine situation. But my job is complex. I have to work. I’ll stay at the hotel and come back. In the end, I’ll do my best to stay here,” said Sufian Kahn, one of Israel’s best violinists, who was in Beersheba.

Organizations and companies

The closures also affected the Caritas Internationals NGO, which said it would find alternate means of transportation for those in need of lifesaving medical care outside Israel.

“We consider this decision part of a concerted effort to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus, as we strongly oppose it in these times of economic and social distress,” Caritas spokesperson Christian Schindler told CNN in an email.

“This decision is in addition to the efforts already made and continued to take by Caritas internationally and locally to render emergency care. I am looking into the possibility of finding other routes for transferring the cases to hospitals outside of Israel as well.”

The London, United Arab Emirates and Jordan Airport Authorities have also advised their respective populations not to travel to Israel on January 30 for the same reasons.

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