Later on Monday, Israir received approval from Greek authorities to send rescue flights to Thessaloniki for the purpose of returning Israelis home.
The Greek government announced on Monday that it has decided to completely shut down the airport in the city of Thessaloniki due to rising morbidity rates in northern areas of the country, stranding thousands of Israelis who are now unable to return home, Israeli media reported.
Athens and several areas in northern Greece are expected to enter lockdown on Tuesday morning, following a dramatic increase in daily coronavirus infections in the past few days, having recorded 1,686 new cases on Friday, 2,055 on Saturday and 1,678 on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the country so far to 40,929 since February, according to the Worldometer website.
By comparison, for almost all of the first two-thirds of October, there had not been more than 400 new cases per day, only breaking a thousand per day starting on Tuesday the 27th with 1,256.
In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus to other parts of the country, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a series of restrictions expected to last throughout November. These include closing restaurants, bars, cafes, cinemas and gyms in most parts of the country, imposing a nationwide night curfew and shutting down all activity at the Thessaloniki airport for two weeks.
Israeli airline companies El Al and Israir announced that they will be canceling all flights to and from northern Greece, leaving stranded thousands of Israeli tourists who had hoped to escape lockdown measures in Israel. Due to the expected lockdown in these areas, Israelis are unable to travel to other parts of the country that still offer flights to Israel.
Later on Monday, Israir received approval from Greek authorities to send rescue flights to Thessaloniki on Tuesday for the purpose of returning Israelis home. The approval was given after Transportation Minister Miri Regev turned to Greek aviation officials and asked that Israeli airplanes be allowed to land despite the lockdown, according to Ynet.
Greece is currently the only “green” country that allows Israelis to enter and leave its borders without entering quarantine. Other destinations that had remained available for Israelis, such as Serbia, have already turned red.
While Health Ministry officials recently estimated that Greece would soon be designated as a red country, it was decided to postpone the decision due to “political and economic pressure to keep it green,” senior Health Ministry officials told N12 last week.
Natan Rothstein contributed to this report.