Israel’s Ben-Gurion unlikely to welcome foreigners until mid-July

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An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

“Social distancing alone will forbid us from increasing travel.”

By MAAYAN JAFFE-HOFFMAN   MAY 25, 2020 15:28

It is unlikely that Israel will open the country to foreign travelers in any significant number before at least mid-July, a senior official with Ben-Gurion Airport told the Hebrew language news site Ynet.“Social distancing alone will forbid us from increasing travel,” airport managing director Shmuel Zakai said. “If we keep up the current pace, we will see dozens of single flights to Ben-Gurion Airport starting in mid-July and not before. Maybe by then or in mid-September we will reach half a million passengers. As long as there is no vaccine for coronavirus, and the virus can still spread across countries, there will be no significant change.”Read More Related Articles

He said that if the number of travelers to Israel in the next two years is one-third the amount of travelers in 2019, Israel will be doing well. Zakai’s comments came in light of a visit by senior Health Ministry officials to the airport on Monday, which The Jerusalem Post confirmed with the Israel Airports Authority. 

A spokesperson told the Post that ministry deputy director-general Prof. Itamar Grotto and head of Public Health Prof. Sigal Sadetsky visited Israel’s airport, along with members of the Civil Aviation Authority, National Security Council and Home Front Command, to review a proposed “blue ribbon” plan for increasing commercial flights to Israel in hopes of further improving the economy.

Currently, Israelis who enter Israel from abroad must go into 14 days of home quarantine. Foreigners are still unable to enter the country, with few exceptions.The spokeswoman said that the team reviewed the options for allowing foreigners to visit Israel, but did not come to any conclusions. She said that no date was agreed upon.

A senior health official and member of a Health Ministry committee that evaluates the coronavirus threat told the Post that the ministry is expected to discuss changing Israel’s airport policies at an upcoming strategic meeting.Grotto and Sadetsky sounded pessimistic about the return of flights in the near future, according to officials attending the tour, Ynet reported.Sadetsky said that it was from abroad that “the bad entered the country.

We need to keep a close eye so this does not happen again.”In mid-April, the Health Ministry reported that there are three main ways that Israelis got sick from the novel coronavirus: contact with another infected person in Israel (49%), exposure abroad (19%) or from visiting a public place in Israel (15%).Strikingly, Israelis brought the virus back to Israel from 67 different countries. However, most Israelis who tested positive for coronavirus after returning from abroad contracted the disease in North America or Europe, the Health Ministry said.

Last week, a researcher from Tel Aviv University revealed research that showed more than 70% of coronavirus patients in Israel were infected by a strain that originated in the United States, meaning that “those who returned from the US created transmission chains,” according to Dr. Adi Stern of the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology at TAU’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences.

One of the reasons for this, she said, is that flights from Europe and other parts of the world began to be halted between February 26 and March 4 – but not from the US.

Only beginning on March 9 did Israel block its borders to anyone who came from abroad who couldn’t complete 14 days of quarantine in Israel. “There was this gap in policy, and this gap allowed people to return from the US who thought that they could go wherever they wanted, so they probably spread the virus that way,” Stern said.

Zakai told Ynet that one avenue the country is exploring is allowing people to travel to and from “green states” – those with low or no level of infection – without a 14-day quarantine requirement. “If I travel to a country with a low morbidity rate, there is really no difference between traveling to Eilat or [the Cypriot port city of] Larnaka,” Zakai said. 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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