Amid efforts to prevent coronavirus carriers from entering Israel, travelers arriving from countries with widespread cases of COVID-19 will disembark at a separate terminal at Ben Gurion Airport, the Transportation Ministry announced Tuesday.
At the order of Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, arrivals from these countries will be separated from other passengers and taken to Terminal 1, beginning in the next few hours.
The ministry also decided to increase the number of shuttles operating in the airport, in order to reduce crowding.
Under Health Ministry orders, Israelis are currently barred from Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia. The ministry has also issued “severe” travel warnings for a number of other countries over COVID-19 concerns.
According to Channel 13 news, travelers from the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Chile, Costa Rica and Georgia will be taken to Terminal 1. Travel advisories are now in place for the first four of countries listed, but not Georgia.
After touring the airport last week with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, Michaeli said she proposed using Terminal 1 for travelers from “red” countries, who have not been separated from arrivals from “green” locations with low infection rates.
Meanwhile, the Israel Airports Authority said Tuesday that vaccinated Israelis are exempt from taking a coronavirus test when entering Egypt through the Taba border crossing, a requirement that has been in place since it was reopened in March, after a yearlong closure due to the pandemic.
Health officials have linked the recent spike in infections in Israel to travelers who brought back new variants of the virus from abroad and did not properly quarantine after arriving.
Israelis who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from quarantine upon returning to the country, unless returning from COVID-19 hotspots from which travel is barred.
Earlier in the day, Bennett said the government would strive to clamp down on Israelis who visit banned countries where there is a high risk of COVID-19 infection.
“We are working to completely prohibit flights to red countries,” Bennett said while touring a youth vaccination center. “It will be a violation of the law.”
He noted that efforts were being made to close loopholes at Ben Gurion International Airport that had previously enabled some flyers returning to Israel to pass through the terminal without being checked for infection.
“We are in the process of closing that,” Bennett said. “One hundred percent of people are being checked, but there are still bugs that we are correcting and checking.”
Earlier this week, the Health Ministry introduced regulations requiring all Israelis leaving the country to sign a form declaring they will not visit countries on the ‘red’ list. Any Israelis who visit a banned country can face a NIS 5,000 ($1,500) fine.
With the rise of daily infections, there are 1,537 COVID-19 patients in Israel, according to Health Ministry figures released Tuesday morning. Of those, 21 are in serious condition.
Despite the apparent surge in Delta variant cases in Israel, serious cases and hospitalizations in the country have remained relatively stable, and only one death has been recorded in the past two weeks.
Since the start of the virus outbreak in the country last year, there have been 841,319 COVID-19 cases detected and 6,429 people who have died of the disease.