Dozens of passengers who arrived Sunday in Israel on flights from the United Kingdom refused to be sent to isolate at a Jerusalem hotel, after ministers required that all Israelis arriving from the country must quarantine at state-run facilities, due to fears of a coronavirus mutation discovered there.
Those who agreed were put on buses and taken to the Dan Panorama Hotel, escorted by a convoy of police vehicles.
Passengers were given little forewarning that they would be forced to quarantine at a hotel before boarding the flights, one passenger said,
“At Luton [airport], check-in was normal, but then they called boarding 1.5 hours early. At the gate, they turned everyone away [all non-Israelis] who had a British passport with permission to enter. They then took Israelis aside and explained that the chances were that by the time we were back we’d have to go to a corona hotel but it wasn’t 100% yet. Quite a lot of people didn’t get on the flight and we had to wait for luggage to come off,” Ellen Steel, a British-Israeli citizen, told The Times of Israel, from a bus on the way to the hotel.
She added: “When we landed, someone from the Health Ministry came on [the plane] and announced we’d all have to go to hotels — if we wanted to have a fight about it we could, but only at the hotel and not before.”
According to Steel, the passengers had their passports taken from them as they got off the plane, but were not told why. She said they got them back 30 minutes later, after they were put through passport control.
“We got bused to Terminal 1, where there was press waiting. They gave us water and our baggage came. Then they told us to get on buses but didn’t say where to. So people packed onto these buses, but there was zero distancing, etc. So I refused and am now on one [bus] with, like, 10 people on the way to the Dan Panorama Jerusalem. The buses have police cars escorting them, front, back etc.,” Steel said.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) December 20, 2020
Some of the passengers who refused to board the buses sought to fly back to London, but the pilot of the EasyJet plane they arrived on refused, saying they had not been denied entry to the country, according to the Ynet news site.
Several of the passengers bought tickets for a return flight, while 15 passengers on a British Airways plane refused to disembark and will fly back to the UK, the news site said.
Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, a couple who was on the flight with their two 11-year-old children likened the incident to a “kidnapping.”
“We weren’t given any advance information that we need to enter forced quarantine. This a scandal for the State of Israel… this is chutzpah,” another unnamed passenger told the broadcaster.
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) December 20, 2020
Besides requiring all Israelis coming from the UK, Denmark, and South Africa to quarantine at designated hotels, the coronavirus cabinet barred entry to Israel of all non-nationals traveling from those countries.
All Israeli returnees from those countries will now be required to undergo a coronavirus test. They will need to remain in the hotels for 14 days, unless they receive two negative results, which will enable them to leave after 10 days.
Health officials are specifically concerned about the new coronavirus strain found in England, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said data suggests is up to 70% more transmissible.
Other countries have similarly barred incoming travelers from Britain, which says the new variant is “out of control.”
Outside Britain, nine cases of the new strain have been reported in Denmark, as well as one case in the Netherlands and another in Australia, according to the WHO.
Separately, a severe variant of the coronavirus has been detected in South Africa that could explain the rapid spread of a second wave that affects younger people, the South African health minister said Friday. Known as the 501.V2 Variant, it was identified by South African researchers and details have been sent to the World Health Organization.
Until now, foreign travelers have been allowed entry into Israel only to attend Health Ministry-approved life-cycle events for first-degree relatives, and for several other reasons. Non-Israelis from those countries will now not be allowed into the country, even in cases that have thus far been exempted.
In addition, the Health Ministry was working to identify individuals in the country who had arrived from the UK, Denmark, or South Africa in the last two weeks, to test them for the coronavirus, Kan public reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Sunday advocated for a more extreme solution that would close Israel’s skies to all international flights.
Following Sunday’s meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, he said that the new strain appeared to spread faster, but was not necessarily more deadly. He also said there was “no sign that the vaccine we have will not overcome it.”
Agencies contributed to this report.