‘Hotbed of bacteria’: Domestic flights to Eilat said full, flouting virus rules

Passengers in Israir flight from Ben Gurion Airport say 64 people were crammed into aircraft that can hold 72, staff didn’t check them for fever

An Israir flight seen taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, on March 24, 2018. (Shai/FLASH90`0
An Israir flight seen taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, on March 24, 2018. (Shai/FLASH90`0

While social distancing rules remain in place to prevent gatherings in public places and buses are forbidden to seat passengers next to each other, those instructions are being utterly disregarded in domestic flights, a report said Tuesday.

Planes flying between Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv and the southern city of Eilat are at almost full capacity, Channel 12 reported, citing an example from Tuesday in which 64 passengers were crammed into an aircraft that can hold a maximum of 72, in a flight operated by the Israir airline.

Some of the passengers were in high risk groups for COVID-19 and had been returning home after flying to the center of the country to receive medical treatment.

Passengers said they warned the crew they were sitting too close to one another and asked to be spaced out more, according to the report.

They also said there was no air conditioning for about 15 minutes before the flight took off.

A worker disinfects a Israir plane at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, May 5, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Nobody had taken their temperature before the flight or asked them whether they had been experiencing symptoms.

“We sat crammed one near the other, without any distancing, without two meters,” said a passenger identified only by her first name, Maayan.

She said the seats were so narrow she was touching the passenger next to her.

“It was a hotbed of bacteria,” she added. “All they did was shout at us all the time to put face masks and not remove them for a single moment from our nose and mouth.”

Face masks offer some protection against infection, but it isn’t likely to prevent it if one sits near a coronavirus carrier.

Israir claimed it hasn’t received any instruction from the Health Ministry restricting the number of passengers per flight.

An unnamed senior Health Ministry official told Channel 12 that current regulations say airlines can fly up to 100 people in a plane while keeping a distance between them. He said the intention was for no two passengers to sit in adjacent seats, and that if needed, the rules will be clarified.

Similar failures were observed Sunday morning at bus stations across the country, when there were long lines and crowded conditions as soldiers returned to their bases after the weekend, using public transportation routes running at a limited capacity due to the pandemic.

Israeli soldiers and others at the central bus station in Jerusalem on May 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Under Health Ministry guidelines, only 20 people are allowed on each bus to enable social distancing, leading to long lines at transportation hubs and overcrowded conditions with passengers sometimes unable to maintain social distancing.

Adding to the congestion, there are still no trains running at all and no buses on Saturday evenings, causing more congestion on Sunday mornings.

Footage of the crowds at stations and bus stops led to criticism of the Transportation Ministry for not properly preparing for such a scenario.

Israel has been reopening services and allowing greater freedom of movement as the number of active COVID-19 cases dwindle, though officials have warned of a likely second wave of infections.

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