Emirates airline postpones start of flights to Tel Aviv

Israel shields itself from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and forces the company to postpone its services

AP/ADAM SCHRECK  -   Emirates aircraft at Dubai International Airport, UAE

The Emirati airline on Sunday postponed its flights to and from Tel Aviv, which were originally scheduled for 6 December, according to a company spokesman. The decision comes after the Israeli government banned foreign nationals from entering the country to prevent the entry of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. 

The postponement comes "in response to recent changes in entry protocols issued by the Israeli government", the airline said, pledging to "resume services to Tel Aviv as soon as the situation permits". The statement issued by Emirates therefore attributed the decision to the health shield imposed by the Israeli government.

Natfali Bennet, the prime minister, announced on Saturday the partial closure of air travel while waiting for more information on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines to treat the new variant. For the time being, the Israeli authorities have set a prohibitive 14-day deadline for access by foreign nationals.

Aeropuerto Ben Gurión
AFP/JACK GUEZ  -  Security personnel measure the body temperature of an arriving passenger at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, 14 May 2020

Israel is so far the only country to completely close its borders. An action that has been criticised by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. He called for the restrictions to be reversed because there is no scientific justification for them. In any case, Bennet also revealed that he would use anti-terrorist phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

Israeli citizens entering the country after midnight on Sunday will have to undergo a quarantine period, even if they have received the full course of vaccine, Bennet added. This marks the end of the reopening of tourism in Israel since November, marking the first time since the start of the pandemic that the country has left behind a period of isolation.

Plans by the UAE's flagship airline are postponed until further notice. Emirates planned to connect Israel with its air services to more than 120 destinations, and was to become the third major Emirati carrier to start direct flights to Tel Aviv following the normalisation of relations a year ago in the Abraham Accords, after Etihad and FlyDubay.