Israelis coming from US, Italy, France, Spain to be tested for virus upon return
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Israelis coming from US, Italy, France, Spain to be tested for virus upon return

Defense Ministry says those coming from those countries have highest risk of disease, will be held in quarantine facility until tests come back

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli travelers who had been stranded in South America, arrive at Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israeli travelers who had been stranded in South America, arrive at Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Anyone returning from four coronavirus hotspots will be tested for the disease immediately upon landing in Israel and may be quarantined away from home for two weeks, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday.

The ministry said the rule, to go into effect Saturday night, would apply to all travelers from the United States, Italy, France and Spain, four countries that have seen a massive uptick in cases of the virus in recent days.

If the test is negative, they will be released to complete their 14-day quarantine at home. If it is positive, a decision will be made what to do with them depending upon the extent of their symptoms.

Those coming to Israel from other countries will continue to be sent to home-quarantine, the ministry said.

The effort was estimated to cost NIS 55 million.

The Israel Defense Forces was working to convert hotels into quarantine facilities before the program started on Saturday night.

Israel announced earlier this month that only Israeli citizens and residents were permitted to enter the country in light of the coronavirus. In recent days, the Foreign Ministry and other government offices have been working to bring home Israelis who are still abroad.

An Israeli backpacker disembarks an El Al flight from Lima, Peru, at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, March 2020 (Sivan Farage)

Up to 10,000 Israelis are currently abroad and seeking to return home, Israeli officials estimated this week, amid growing concerns that the widening coronavirus pandemic may make their return exceedingly difficult or even impossible as countries shut down their land and air borders.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry said it would send an El Al plane to Colombia to bring back some 150 Israeli backpackers stranded in the South American country.

The flight was set to depart for Bogota at 10 p.m. Wednesday, according to a ministry statement.

Flights were also planned this week to bring back travelers from India and Hungary.

Last week, the Foreign Ministry organized four flights from Lima, Peru, bringing home more than 1,000 Israelis on four El Al 787 Dreamliners. These flights — the longest ever by an Israeli airline — were free of charge for the backpackers, as the costs were footed by various sponsors.

Times of Israel staff, Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.

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