Israeli disinfectant tunnel may lead way to safer public events during pandemic

Startup RD Pack uses technology developed by Bar-Ilan University researchers to spray attendees at entrance to sports and performance venues; pilot installed at Tel Aviv stadium

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative: Maccabi Tel Aviv fans during the UEFA Champions League playoff round second leg soccer match between Switzerland's FC Basel 1893 and Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Maccabi Tel Aviv fans during the UEFA Champions League playoff round second leg soccer match between Switzerland's FC Basel 1893 and Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A new way to make disinfectant out of water may offer a way to reduce teh danger of congregating in synagogues and schools, sports games and concerts even during pandemics.

A Karmiel, Israel-based industrial automation firm, RD Pack, has taken disinfecting technology developed by researchers at Bar-Ilan University and created a sanitation and disinfection tunnel that sprays visitors at mass events with the liquid.

The tunnel, composed of an aluminum and polycarbonate frame, is now being piloted at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv as soccer teams are set to resume playing there albeit without fans in the stands.

“When people walk through the tunnel, their whole body gets sprayed with the disinfectant, which works fast and efficiently, and provides the complete sterilization of a person,” said Eran Druker, business development manager at RD Pack, as the firm showcased the tunnel at one of the entrances of the imposing white stadium on Tuesday.

Eran Avraham, right, and Izaak Cohen, researchers at Bar-Ilan University, standing at the entrance of the sanitation and disinfection tunnel developed by RD Pack which uses their technology, Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv, June 2, 2020 (Yoni Reif)

The coronavirus pandemic has killed over 377,000 people worldwide and infected over 6.3 million people. In Israel the death toll from the virus has reached 289, with over 17,000 people infected. Countries have put lockdowns into place to enforce social distancing in a bid to halt the deadly spread of the virus.

In March, UEFA postponed soccer’s Euro 2020 games by a year because of the pandemic and Tokyo has done the same for the Summer Olympics. Concerts have been cancelled, with artists taking their shows online: see Andrea Boccelli’s YouTube Easter concert from a vacant Duomo in Milan or the “One World: Together At Home” TV special concert that raised millions of dollars to fight the pandemic.

All of this raises the question: Will we ever go back to crammed concerts, rowdy sports events and packed movie theaters? The answer could be affirmative if the RD Pack and the Bar-Ilan researchers’ pilot works out.

Argentinian football player Lionel Messi at the friendly football match between Argentina and Uruguay at the Bloomfield stadium in Tel Aviv on November 18, 2019. (Flash90)

In April, the university researchers said they developed a way to make strong, environmentally friendly disinfectants to kill bacteria and viruses by using tap water, which is electrified to produce hypochlorous acid at defined levels of acidity.

The method was developed and patented by Dr. Eran Avraham, Dr. Izaak Cohen and Prof. Doron Aurbach, head of the electrochemistry group of the Department of Chemistry and Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at Bar-Ilan University.

The advantage of the disinfectant over others, said the researcher Eran Avraham, is that hypochlorous acid, unlike other commercial disinfectants like bleach, is not harmful to human skin or food.

The tunnel is the first implementation of the technology, said Avraham at the demonstration on Tuesday. “It will help reduce the chances for infection,” he said.

Dr. Izaak Cohen, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University, walking through the sanitation and disinfection tunnel developed by RD Pack which uses their technology; Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv, June 2, 2020 (Yoni Reif)

The coronavirus is highly infectious, and is mainly spread via droplets expelled via the nose or mouth. However, it also has the ability to survive on hands, clothes and other surfaces for a period of time. So, if someone was in touch with another person who was sick, and still has droplets from the sick person on their clothes, the tunnel would destroy those droplets, halting their spread, Avraham explained.

“If you cross the tunnel, the germs on your body are eliminated. This reduces the spread of the virus and a lot of other pathogens,” he said.

An entrance to Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium equipped with the sanitation and disinfection tunnel developed by RD Pack based on Bar-Ilan University research; June 2, 2020 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Moreover, if a sick but asymptomatic person walks through the tunnel, explained RD Pack’s Druker, the disinfectant would destroy viral droplets on their body and clothing before they enter the venue. So, if once inside the person adheres to basic hygienic rules, including wearing a mask and washing hands, then the chances of infecting others drop significantly, he said.

The idea is to place the tunnel at the entrance to “everywhere,” both public and private spaces, including stadiums, airports, schools, offices, shopping malls, trains and buses, Druker said.

Eran Drucker, the business development manager at RD Pack, the developer of the sanitation and disinfection tunnel, Tel Aviv, June 2, 2020 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

The firm is also in touch with sports and school organizations in the US, Brazil and Europe to deploy the technology there, Druker added. “We are waiting to finish the pilot first,” he said, after which Israeli regulators will decide if it is as effective as hoped in halting infections.

Druker said the firm is also looking to develop air purifiers, using the same technology, that can be placed in large public spaces. “The development of that is at a very advanced stage.”

The tunnel pilot will last for a month, and will spray some 200 people, mainly close relatives and press who will be allowed to attend games, though fans are still banned. After months of lockdown, men’s professional soccer in Israel resumed Saturday night with three Premier League games, held in largely empty stadiums and under strict hygiene guidelines.

The coronavirus pandemic “is a huge crisis,” said Maor Binyamini, the director general of Sport Palaces of Tel Aviv Yafo Ltd., a municipal company that runs sports and cultural facilities for Tel Aviv, including Bloomfield Stadium. “We were the first to close and we’ll be among the last to open again, because of the huge amount of people our venues can hold,” he said.

Bloomfield Stadium can hold up to 29,000 people, while Menora Mivtachim Arena and the Shlomo Group Arena, also managed by Sports Palaces, can hold 10,300 and 3,500 people, respectively.

The tunnel will hopefully be able to give the public the medical and psychological reassurance they need to get them back to these massive events, he said.

“We are happy to try out anything that gets us back to normal,” he said, adding that Sports Palaces will also have an automatic temperature reader in place at the entrance of the tunnel. “We want to use the best brains and the best technologies to take back the stage.”

At the moment there will be only a single tunnel at Bloomfield, he said, but tunnels could be deployed at other venues as well. “What we know about this virus is that we know nothing at all,” he said. “Becoming a beta site for technology will give us a way to find solutions to get back to normal.”

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