Israeli officials divided over quarantine for arrivals from US

Tourism minister: Decision must be made in cooperation with US; reported conflict said to lead to delay for statement on isolation for some travelers from the US

Empty departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport on March 4, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Empty departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport on March 4, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Government officials are reportedly in disagreement over how to proceed with potential quarantine measures for Israelis and tourists travelling from the US to Israel.

On Saturday, the director-general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, indicated that Israel was about to place restrictions on flights arriving from some parts of the US.

Specifying flights from New York, Washington state, and California, he said a decision would be announced later Saturday or Sunday.

But despite an Army Radio report Saturday night saying that the new regulations, designed to help battle the spread of the deadly coronavirus, would be formally announced within hours, no such decision had been confirmed by Sunday morning.

ILLUSTRATIVE — People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at the Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020 (Flash90)

According to the Ynet news site, there was dispute among various officials over the order.

“There are objections to the Health Ministry’s recommendations,” one official was quoted as saying.

They said that the decision reported “won’t necessarily be the final wording.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said Sunday that any decision must be made in consultation with the Americans due to its sensitivities.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attends a conference on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

“This decision has internal significance in the US. It is important to work on this issue in cooperation with the Americans,” Levin told Army Radio.

Under the reported decision, Israel was planning on banning any flights from the United States and people returning from last week’s AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, would not be required to enter quarantine.

The pro-Israel lobby group warned US Congress on Friday that two attendees of the group’s annual conference have tested positive for the coronavirus.

But, in addition to imposing self-quarantine measures on some traveling from the US, Israeli authorities have also decided to bar entry of non-residents flying in from Holland, and to require self-quarantine for Israelis returning from Holland, Army Radio said.

Israel has already required returning Israelis from several countries to self-quarantine, and barred foreigners from a slew of European and Asian countries. Some 80,000 Israelis are now reported to be in self-quarantine, and large events such as concerts and sporting matches have been canceled.

Israelis have also been advised against all non-vital international travel.

Over the weekend the Health Ministry added San Marino and Andorra to its list of quarantine countries.

Air France said on Saturday it had halted all flights between Paris and Tel Aviv until March 28.

Lufthansa, Iberia, Wizz Air and Alitalia have already canceled flights to Israel.

Israel on Wednesday barred entry to almost all non-residents of the Jewish state arriving from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. The measures come on top of restrictions previously imposed on arrivals from mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Macau, South Korea, Japan and Italy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier Saturday that the coronavirus was a pandemic more severe than any disease outbreak in the past century.

“First of all, this is a global pandemic, whether the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) calls it such or not,” said Netanyahu. “It is doubtful whether there has been a similar pandemic in the last 100 years. It seems that the rate of infection is greater than we figured.”

Prime Minister and leader of the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Petah Tikva on March 7, 2020. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

He went on: “The assumption that the virus will disappear or evaporate in hot weather is unproven. At the moment, this has no basis that we can build on. The virus is currently spreading to Africa. There is no vaccine and anti-viral drugs are ineffective. Economies are starting to be hurt. Governments are ordering their gates closed. This is important for the supply of products for all economies. Nobody knows how the pandemic will end.”

Twenty-five Israelis are currently known to be infected with the virus, the latest four of whom were announced on Saturday night. One of the 25, a bus driver who ferried Greek pilgrims who later turned out to be infected with virus, is in serious condition. This patient, 38, “is fighting for his life,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said he was in touch with other world leaders and had discussed international cooperation to stem the spread of the outbreak. The virus hit a milestone Friday, infecting more than 100,000 people worldwide. It has killed nearly 3,400 people.

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