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Covid: Sweden shuts borders; Israel shuts skies; Ireland to follow?

Photo Credit: Billy Hicks under CC licence

A notable decision by the Swedes who, after nearly a year of following their own unique path in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, have latterly shifted more in the direction of the rest of Europe. The land border with Norway, they say, is to be sealed:

Sweden is closing its border with Norway after the government in Oslo introduced its strictest measures of the Covid-19 pandemic so far following several deaths close to the Norwegian capital from the more contagious variant first discovered in the UK.

Anders Damberg, interior minister in Stockholm, said on Sunday that the border to Norway would be closed until mid-February. Similar bans will be in place with Denmark and the UK, both due to the new variant.

The decision comes about two weeks after the Swedish Government passed an emergency law giving itself the power to impose lockdown restrictions as and when necessary.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu is going further: The whole country is a no-go zone for foreigners who might want to enter the Holy Land:

Israel is banning all passenger flights in and out of the country to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and prevent variants from getting a foothold among its population.

Late on Sunday evening, the Israeli Cabinet approved measures to close nearly all incoming and outgoing air traffic, with exceptions for humanitarian travel such as for a funeral or for medical patients.

The order still requires parliamentary legislation to be made lawful and will last until the end of January, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He said: “Today we are closing Ben-Gurion International Airport. Contrary to what is being said, we are ahead of the whole world. No country has done what we are about to do.

The exceptions for humanitarian travel and medical patients are probably exceptions in name only, of course, since it’s unlikely anybody is going to decide to put a commercial airliner into the air to carry one or two passengers from A to B. If flights are closed, they’re closed for everyone. That’s just a neat little way for the Government in Jerusalem to avoid the blame if somebody can’t get home for a funeral.

Incidentally, we’ve pretty much already adopted the same policy in Ireland, even if it hasn’t been formally announced. Look at this, from the Gardai, over the weekend:

We haven’t actually banned flights just yet, but given that the Gardai are apparently interpreting the existing Covid restrictions as meaning that you cannot travel to the airport, haven’t we basically banned flying? It’s non-essential travel, apparently.

That’s a lot like the Israeli line about funerals and medical travel. The Government hasn’t banned travel on the basis of those needs, they’re just making it practically impossible. The Irish Government is taking that a step further: They’re not banning flights in and out of the country, they’re just doing what they can to make flying practically impossible.

The problem though, is that kind of measure only works, in the absence of a total ban, for travel that can be characterised as non-essential. People can still, and are still, flying to and from Dublin for essential business travel: About a thousand people a day, in fact, are still coming in. That’s tiny, by normal standards, but if even one in twenty of them are carrying a new variant, then that’s a potential disaster.

The Government’s present solution is to demand that all incoming passengers have a recent PCR test showing them to be Covid negative, but that has its problems too, says NPHET:

The problem, if you’re wondering, isn’t that the Government consider PCR tests to be unreliable (though others certainly do). It’s that a test only measures whether you are positive or negative at a moment in time. In other words, you could take a PCR test a day or two before you fly, get infected the morning of your flight, and slip through the net. Or you could be tested, have the virus, but simply not be at the stage where it shows up in the test.

We’re probably headed towards some sort of flight ban, if the EU agrees, or mandatory quarantine for all passengers, in the alternative, sometime this week.

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