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Haredi passengers said to refuse to wear masks on flight from New York to Israel

Passenger describes trip as traumatic, saying people tried to stay away from ‘coronavirus breeding ground’ and would only drink in the bathroom due to fear of removing masks

Illustrative: A United Airlines commercial jet taxis away from Terminal C before lift-off at Newark Liberty International Airport, July 18, 2018, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Illustrative: A United Airlines commercial jet taxis away from Terminal C before lift-off at Newark Liberty International Airport, July 18, 2018, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox passengers refused to wear face masks throughout a United Airlines flight from New York to Israel that landed last week, ignoring repeated requests by fellow passengers and staff, Hebrew-language media reported Sunday.

Traveler Tali Tenenbaum described the flight that landed on Friday as traumatic, saying passengers tried to stay away from the “coronavirus breeding ground” by going to the bathroom to drink, and couldn’t eat or sleep.

In an interview with Radio 103FM, Tenenbaum said that she started to become concerned when she boarded the plane and noticed a large number of ultra-Orthodox passengers were not wearing masks, adding that the majority of the travelers on the flight were Haredi.

“The flight was three-quarters full, there were empty seats,” Tenenbaum said in the interview cited by Maariv. “In all honesty, in my whole life I have never seen such behavior, such contempt… We sat for the whole flight in the coronavirus breeding ground because one does not know if they were tested [for the virus].”

Tenenbaum said that all passengers had filled out health declarations but there was no real enforcement.

“People sat without masks for the whole flight, for almost 10 hours,” Tenenbaum said. “We did not eat, did not sleep. We went into the bathroom to drink because we were afraid to remove our masks.”

Tenebaum said that passengers and flight crew asked the passengers without masks to put face coverings on, but they were ignored. Additionally, they requested that the maskless travelers not gather to pray, but were ignored again.

United Airlines declined to respond to the report.

“When we arrived in the country, everyone went straight to do a coronavirus test. But I have to ask myself whether someone who doesn’t wear a mask will actually quarantine,” Tenenbaum said.

Illustrative — A man walks through the almost empty Ben Gurion International Airport on January 24, 2021 (Flash90)

The flight landed last Friday, when travelers were not obligated to be tested when flying in, though they were required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

As of Sunday, arrivals from abroad without a negative COVID-19 test carried out within 72 hours prior to their flight were subject to a stiff fine, and from 12:01 a.m. Tuesday Ben Gurion Airport will be nearly completely shut amid fears over fast-spreading or vaccine-resistant coronavirus variants entering the country.

There have been multiple instances of violations of coronavirus regulations among some sectors of the ultra-Orthodox community, in both Israel and the United States. Sunday saw fierce clashes in Israel between police and ultra-Orthodox rioters in a number of cities as cops attempted to enforce health rules.

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