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Israel checking claims passengers boarded El Al flight with fake virus tests

Traveler alleges she heard group of ultra-Orthodox men saying they had not been tested before getting on plane; 11 on board later diagnosed with COVID

A traveler approaches a medic to be sampled while testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, upon arrival at the rapid testing center in Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2021.  (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
A traveler approaches a medic to be sampled while testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, upon arrival at the rapid testing center in Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Israeli authorities are investigating claims that passengers on an El Al flight from New York, which was later discovered to be carrying 11 travelers infected with the coronavirus, had provided fake test results before boarding the plane.

A woman on the plane claimed that she heard ultra-Orthodox passengers boasting that they had used fake coronavirus tests to get on the flight, Hebrew media reported. Other passengers said that during the flight ultra-Orthodox passengers did not wear masks at times and that the cabin crew did little to encourage them to cover up.

According to regulations, all passengers on the Sunday flight were required to present a negative test result before being allowed on the plane. On arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, passengers were again tested.

Two days later, dozens of passengers were notified by the Health Ministry that 11 of those on board were found to be infected with the coronavirus and that they must enter quarantine. Reports did not specify which passengers on the plane were identified as having the virus.

Tal, a passenger on the flight, told the Ynet website that as passengers were getting on the plane she noticed a group of young ultra-Orthodox men boasting that they had obtained faked tests “and saying that they hadn’t taken them at all.”

Tal said that she had approached staff about the matter and was told there was nothing they could do. She also said that although the cabin crew assured her they would require all passengers to wear masks during the flight, the ultra-Orthodox passengers moved around, stood in groups praying, and did not wear masks.

“I pleaded with the stewardesses to ask them to put masks on but I got the response ‘you are hysterical, you have nothing to fear,'” she said.

Another passenger, who declined to be identified, told Channel 12 News that the cabin crew did not intervene when he raised the issue of the masks.

“We approached the cabin staff, we asked that they make sure they wear masks, but they assured us that everything was okay and we are panicking for nothing,” said the passenger.

“They were playing with our lives,” he said. “The flight attendants were afraid to confront them and we paid a heavy price.”

The Health Ministry on Wednesday asked the IDF Home Front Command and the Shin Bet security agency to check if the passengers really did fake the virus tests they had presented before getting on the plane, Channel 12 reported.

El Al, Israel’s national carrier, said in response to the report that all of its flights are handled in accordance with the instructions of various authorities.

“The claims made by passengers were passed on to the acting authorities and we are investigating the claims with the flight crew,” El Al said.

Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, with Ben Gurion Airport shuttered for all but a few special flights by Israeli airlines to bring back citizens stranded abroad. Health officials are concerned that more contagious strains of the coronavirus could arrive in the country from abroad, as is the case with the so-called British mutation which now accounts for almost all new COVID-19 infections in the country.

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