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Israel media review

Fly the infected skies: What the press is saying on December 14

The airport is the hot new virus zone, with Israelis smooshing together to get to the UAE and other destinations, and a lack of testing reportedly making things worse

Screen capture from video showing crowding at Ben Gurion Airport, December 13, 2020. (Channel 12 news)
Screen capture from video showing crowding at Ben Gurion Airport, December 13, 2020. (Channel 12 news)

1. Seeing red: There are many questions, and few good answers, as Israel reaches the dolorous mark of 3,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

  • The first question is “what the heck is going on with the airport?” in response to reports of overcrowding and returnees from so-called red countries (those deemed high-infection areas) not being tested after they disembark.
  • “Open skies failure,” reads the top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, which features pictures of said overcrowding (but also of people being tested there).
  • “If the airport were a city, it would be under lockdown. I have no way to explain why they are not testing those coming from red countries,” public health expert Ran Balicer tells Army Radio.
  • Channel 12 news reports that even before ministers ordered a crackdown on crowding at the airport, “there were inspectors going around and separating between travelers to make sure they were keeping Health Ministry guidelines, but controlling such a large number of people was very complicated.”
  • Even with all that crowding, Walla still describes the airport as a shell of its former self, noting that plans drawn up to deal with the influx of passengers in recent years have been put on hold by the virus.
  • “The effect of the coronavirus on travel will continue to be felt at least through the second half of 2021,” an airport source is quoted saying. “It’s possible we’ll see a recovery only in the second half of 2022, when the number of travelers passes 8 million.”
  • The news site notes, “just to highlight the regression,” that 8 million passengers is the number that passed through the airport in 2004.

2. Don’tbai: While Yedioth mentions the crowding issue, it calls it “small” compared to the lack of testing, with no tests for those coming back from red countries, no requirement to test before getting on a plane to Israel, no separation between those coming from red countries and green countries, and no enforcement of quarantine requirements.

  • “At border control they asked me a few questions, like how many rooms I have at home, and told me to quarantine,” says one returnee from Turkey, a country as red as the USSR.
  • One of the biggest issues, it seems, is Israel’s newest bestie the United Arab Emirates, which Israel has declined to label a red country, reportedly due to political pressure.
  • “Dubai is our new Turkey,” an unnamed Health Ministry official is quoted as saying by Ynet.
  • Israel Hayom reports that some of the crowding seen at the airport is being blamed on heavy traffic to and from Dubai, with some 50,000 Israelis expected to visit the chintzy jewel of the Gulf this month alone, coronavirus be damned.
  • That could mean a whole lot of returnees bringing the coronavirus in their luggage. Haaretz estimates that only 30,000 Israelis will fly to and from the UAE this month, but based on that figure “ministry officials say they expect at least 240 of the travelers to test positive for coronavirus after their return to Israel,” it reports.
  • “Israelis tend not to obey the regulations overseas,” a government source tells the paper. “They travel in large groups and aren’t strict about the rules of social distancing and masks. Moreover, there are quarantine violations by tens of percent of people returning from abroad, and it’s very hard to enforce this.”

3. The shot we want: Other news sites highlight the drive toward vaccination, as Israel readies to start handing out shots.

  • Prime vaccinee (and premier) Benjamin Netanyahu will hear none of it, telling Channel 20: “The risks in not taking the vaccine are far greater than the risks in taking it, and that’s why I’ll get vaccinated first and I expect everyone to get vaccinated.”
  • Israel Hayom picks up the baton, running a large front-page headline on the “PR challenge: Faith in the vaccine.”
  • “Beyond PR, public transparency is also needed on reports on the vaccine and side effects,” writes former Health Ministry head Arnon Afek in the paper. “The public hearing from the FDA on Thursday for the Pfizer vaccine was a great example of transparency and public participation.”
  • Kan reports that Netanyahu and Edelstein will be the first to get the shot, and will do so in front of the cameras not to taunt everybody else but to build up public trust, though it’s not yet known when they will do so.
  • Channel 12 news claims many are still worried about getting the needle, and looks into whether Israelis will be allowed to choose which company’s vaccine they get.
  • The answer from a Health Ministry source: We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
  • But at least they’ll know if they are not getting what they want: “Like any medication that a doctor prescribes to a patient, it’s clear people will know which vaccination they are getting, and nobody will hide information,” the source says.
  • Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells Army Radio that he doesn’t think people need to be picky. “It’s important to be vaccinated, it doesn’t matter with which.”

4. Going green: Health Ministry sources tell Kan they expect Israelis to get the shots in large numbers, but they don’t think people will be flocking to vaccination centers because Bibi and Yuli are getting it. Rather, they want to travel.

  • “As the [global] vaccination drive progresses, more and more countries will demand vaccination as a prerequisite to enter and will refuse to allow in Israelis who don’t vaccinate” — which is expected to push Israelis to vaccinate.
  • Plus, they want something called a green passport. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tells Channel 13 that this so-called green passport which the vaccinated will get will enable travelers to fly abroad without having to first get a virus test.
  • According to Kan, it will also allow them to skip quarantine upon returning.
  • There’s more too: “This passport will show that a person is vaccinated and will give a number of advantages such as not needing to quarantine, entry to all kinds of culture events, restaurants, and so on,” Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy tells Channel 12.
  • But Walla reports that some of those same benefits will be given to those who already had the virus, which could encourage some to get the virus rather than the shot.
  • “This is especially true among young people with no underlying conditions, who have a lower chance of showing symptoms compared to the rest of the population,” it reports.

5. Hack job: Perhaps presaging Monday’s Google disaster, Haaretz’s lead editorial tackles the issue of cyberattacks on Israel, especially after a major insurer had its info stolen and held for ransom. The situation should be much better, it says.

  • “Israel, as usual, entered the cyberwar with a certain amount of arrogance, assuming that it had better cyberattack capabilities and that its cybersecurity home front was prepared and protected. But that isn’t the case, as the incidents of the past several days have proven. In fact, even though some of the world’s biggest cybersecurity companies are Israeli, Israel’s economy has poor cyber defenses. This is due to both a lack of funding and an Israeli management culture of ‘it won’t happen to me,’” it reads.
  • Kan reports that it appears there is a wave of cyberattacks on Israel, including one under something called Pay2Key that broke into Israel’s Habana Labs, though the government is mum when asked whether they are all connected.
  • Expert Jack Altel tells the station that “after looking at the information the attackers published on the dark web, you can see files that include internal data about the company’s structure and copies of their system, including technical details about the makeup of the Habana Labs network.”
  • Geektime reports that experts believe the hackers to be connected to Iran, and Lotem Finkelstein of cybersecurity firm Checkpoint tells the tech news site that the tools used by hackers “are relatively more advanced than other ransomware attacks.”
  • More may be on the way. BleepingComputer.com highlights a warning from Israeli Omri Moyal, head of cybersecurity firm Profero, who is telling everyone in Israel to get their security shipshape, now.
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