Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Saturday said he’d instructed the ministry to put together a “national emergency plan” to bring home Israelis stranded abroad by the coronavirus crisis.
The plan, he said in a statement from his office, would include mapping concentrations of stranded Israelis and opening a “war room” that will monitor efforts and requests for aid 24/7. The state will enlist the aid of Israeli airlines to arrange special flights for Israelis in need in coordination with the countries in which they are located.
“We are at a time of national emergency in relation to bringing Israelis back home, due to the closures taking place around the world at a growing pace,” Katz said. “The principle of mutual responsibility will continue to lead us until all Israelis return home.”
A statement from the Foreign Ministry said ambassadors around the world were calling on Israelis to book flights home before countries’ shut down their airports.
“Flights can still be found, even if in somewhat roundabout ways,” the ministry said.
According to Channel 13, two planes will be sent on Monday to extract Israelis from hard-hit Italy. The Israir flights will leave from Rome and Milan, the report said. The routes will also transport the Italian diplomatic staff in Israel back to their home country, it said.
In recent days many Israelis have made online appeals for assistance, saying they could not find flights back home due to flight cancellations and border closures enacted as a result of the virus.
Some accused the Foreign Ministry of not doing enough to help them.
On Thursday the ministry published on its website a list of countries (Hebrew) that fly to Israel, with updates regarding whether such flights still exist as well as details of border closures and whether neighboring countries will allow them in.
Thousands of Israelis are believed to be in South America, where several countries have announced border closures to combat the spread of coronavirus. Argentina and Peru both announced border closures Sunday, while Chile implemented one on Wednesday. A travel ban on foreigners took effect on Monday in Colombia, and Brazil has said travelers should be prepared for a ban to be put in place.
On Friday four specially organized flights evacuating Israelis who had been stuck in Peru arrived in Israel. The four El Al flights brought back some 1,100 Israelis, but 23 backpackers were left behind with no space on the planes and were working with Israel’s embassy in Lima to find a solution.
El Al also said it was sending two flights to India, where some 3,000 Israelis were reported to be stranded. The company said it was examining the possibility of also sending a third flight.
Any Israelis returning to the country must quarantine for 14 days in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines
Also Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced it had been exempted from government cutbacks to public service due to the pandemic under which up to 80% of staff must be placed on leave. Instead, the Jerusalem-based ministry will reduce its diplomatic staff by 50%, while diplomats abroad will continue to work at full capacity.