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Birthright calls off trips to Israel over coronavirus concerns

Organization says decision will affect some 500 would-be participants from US, Germany and former Soviet Union; plans to have trips back up and running in May

Illustrative: A group of American Birthright tourists visits the Dead Sea on July 10, 2015. (Matt Hechter/Flash90)
Illustrative: A group of American Birthright tourists visits the Dead Sea on July 10, 2015. (Matt Hechter/Flash90)

Taglit-Birthright announced Sunday that it was canceling trips to Israel in the short term “out of an abundance of caution due to coronavirus concerns.”

The group, which brings Jewish young adults on trips to Israel, said the decision would only affect a small number of people scheduled to go on trips.

It said 500 people from the US, Germany and the former Soviet Union have had their trips called off.

“We look forward to restarting trips for summer season in May and will be staying in close contact with the Israel Ministry of Health,” the group said in a statement.

Over the last two decades, Birthright trips to Israel have been taken by more than 700,000 young American Jews.

The free 10-day trip, founded in 1999, takes participants throughout the country — from the stone streets of Jerusalem and the beaches of Tel Aviv to the ancient plateaus of Masada and the Golan Heights.

It is yet another program hit by the global coronavirus outburst, which has curbed international travel, stopped countless sports and culture events, and plunged a huge number of businesses into uncertainty.

Participants in the Birthright Israel trip. (courtesy)

The virus hit a milestone Friday, infecting more than 100,000 people worldwide. It has killed nearly 3,400 people.

Twenty-five Israelis are currently known to be infected with the virus, the latest four of whom were announced on Saturday night. One of them is in serious condition.

Israel has already required returning Israelis from several countries to self-quarantine, and barred foreigners from a slew of European and Asian countries. Some 80,000 Israelis are now reported to be in self-quarantine, and large events such as concerts and sporting matches have been canceled.

People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at Ben Gurion International airport, February 27, 2020. (Avshalom Shoshani/Flash90)

Israelis have also been advised against all non-vital international travel.

Air France said on Saturday it had halted all flights between Paris and Tel Aviv until March 28. Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia, Iberia and Wizz Air have all cut back or halted flights to Israel.

Israel on Wednesday barred entry to almost all non-residents arriving from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. The measures come on top of restrictions previously imposed on arrivals from mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Macau, South Korea, Japan and Italy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday described the disease as a pandemic.

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