Israel said planning travel ‘bubble’ with countries beating back virus

Proposal reportedly calls for tracking, testing of volunteer travelers from Greece and Cyprus to monitor new infections caused by flying

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

The Health Ministry, the Airports Authority and a team of advisers are formulating a plan to allow flights between Israel and other countries that have successfully controlled the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Monday report.

The outline will aim to create a “bubble,” allowing for travel between countries with low virus morbidity rates, including Greece and Cyprus, Channel 12 reported.

In the first step of the plan, officials will compile a list of countries with a low incidence of virus deaths. Then, they will track certain international travelers, and finally, cancel quarantine restrictions for arrivals from certain countries.

In the second step, regular travelers to Greece and Cyprus, such as businesspeople, will be asked to volunteer for an experimental program. The Health Ministry will monitor their travels, and ask them to undergo coronavirus testing when they return to Israel.

At the beginning, incoming travelers will need to spend two weeks in isolation after arriving in Israel, but if the travelers are not getting sick, officials are expected to allow regular flights between the countries and gradually reduce quarantine restrictions.

The trial is expected to launch in June or July, depending on the spread of the virus, the report said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an online meeting of world leaders that Israel would be “happy to enter into safe flight agreements” to allow international travel between countries that have had success in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, according to his office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes part in a video conference with leaders of countries who have had success battling the coronavirus, May 7, 2020. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Netanyahu participated in a video conference hosted by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, which was aimed to discuss various strategies for dealing with the virus, including ways to gradually open the countries’ economies after weeks of tight restrictions.

Other leaders on the call were Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

According to a May 2 Wall Street Journal report, the seven countries, whose leaders also met via video call two weeks ago, are joining together to promote tourism and trade between them as they look to rebuild economies battered by the virus.

The initiative, proposed by Austria’s Kurz, will reportedly provide a way for the countries, many of which are heavily dependent on tourism, to begin opening borders with less risk of letting in virus carriers.

According to the PMO, the leaders agreed on Thursday that they will hold “dedicated meetings in the areas of tourism and aviation between the tourism ministers of the countries.”

The PMO said that Netanyahu “also stressed the need to renew flights to the United States.”

Israel in recent weeks has rolled back lockdown restrictions as the virus outbreak appears to be under control. Israel’s death toll from the novel coronavirus did not rise on Tuesday, holding steady at 258, while the rate of increase of new confirmed infections continued to slow, the Health Ministry said.

Amid the sustained drop in infections, Israel has opened some schools and allowed many businesses to reopen, and was reportedly planning more such measures.

The virus’s long incubation period means that any new outbreaks that may result from the easing of restrictions may only appear in the data in a few days.

Israel is easing its requirement for all arrivals from overseas to quarantine for 14 days at state-overseen isolation hotels, and instead will allow returning Israelis and others whose lives are centered in Israel to self-quarantine if they can do so, the cabinet announced after midnight Sunday.

An entry ban on nationals from other countries whose homes are not in Israel remains in force.

The Economy Ministry on Monday reportedly presented the Health Ministry with a proposal for reopening cafes and restaurants.

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