Government task force proposes new regulations to end crowding at airport

Plan recommends opening additional check-in, passport control counters; limiting the number of planes allowed to disembark at the same time; dividing passengers into groups

Illustrative: Travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv on December 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv on December 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Government officials have proposed new measures at the country’s main international airport to ensure that proper social distancing is maintained and to prevent passengers from crowding at check-in counters or in line for passport control.

Earlier Sunday, Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein issued a joint statement saying that they will establish a work group tasked with ensuring that coronavirus social distancing protocols are observed at Ben Gurion Airport.

The group is headed by Transportation Ministry Director-General Ofer Malka and Health Ministry Deputy Director-General Itamar Grotto, both of whom toured the airport later on Sunday to hammer out the plan to reduce crowding.

According to the Health Ministry, the plan will recommend that travelers returning from “green,” or low infection, areas be allowed to swiftly enter the country, without questioning at passport control. It will suggest that up to four planes — and no more than two flights returning from high infection destinations — may disembark at the same time, with passengers divided into groups of 20-30. The airport will also urge carriers to ensure passengers fill out their health forms while on board the aircraft. It also called for expanding the check-in counters and opening the service at least four hours before the flight.

The move came after recent days have seen crowding in both the departure and arrival halls.

Video from Ben Gurion on Sunday showed hundreds of people waiting in line at check-in counters without social distancing, despite the efforts of airport staff tasked with ensuring that passengers keep to the rules.

Last week, Channel 12 reported that large crowds of returning passengers were forming at passport control to reenter the country.

The Israel Airport Authority said in a statement Sunday that it was “working to ensure the flow of passengers in a safe way with the aim of not creating unusual loads.”

The authority said it is permitted to have passengers from up to eight flights every three hours in the terminal, “and we ask the passengers to keep to social distancing and to wear masks.”

The IAA said it had requested that the Israel Police send officers to the airport to assist the dozens of staff members trying to maintain order.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev visits the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, August 13, 2020. (Flash90)

Adding to worries at the airport, a senior Health Ministry official warned Sunday that travel to the United Arab Emirates could be a coronavirus “ticking time bomb.”

The official was referring to Israel’s decision to keep the UAE on its list of “green” countries with low infection rates, reportedly to avoid a diplomatic rift just months after establishing formal ties, while morbidity rises in the Gulf country.

“Dubai is our new Turkey,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying by the Ynet news site, referring to the large number of Israelis who returned from Turkey while carrying the virus, contributing to its spread in the country.

The Health Ministry expects that 224 COVID-19 patients will return from the UAE to Israel in December, Ynet reported, more than any other country (next are Turkey with an estimated 86 and the United States with 66).

Some 10,000 Israelis are currently in Dubai, the report said.

Dubai has rocketed to become a prime destination for Israelis following the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE in September and the ensuing travel agreements that have resulted in several scheduled flights every week connecting Tel Aviv with Dubai.

An Israeli man walks past Emirati staff after passport control upon arrival from Tel Aviv to the Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates, on November 26, 2020. (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the UAE has diagnosed 183,755 virus cases and there have been 609 deaths.

With their economies hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the US-brokered normalization deal.

Direct flights between Israel and Dubai kicked off late last month with trips by UAE’s state-owned FlyDubai, followed by Israeli airlines.

Israel has been striving to halt a rise in infection numbers that came as the government rolled back a second national lockdown order to contain a second COVID-19 outbreak. With the number of daily virus cases increasing, health officials have warned a third wave, and another lockdown, could be coming.

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