Over 1,800 Israeli travelers still stranded abroad amid pandemic

Foreign Ministry says many are in Thailand, New Zealand and Australia; meanwhile, Israeli embassy in Argentina struggling to get enough people to sign up for plane to Tel Aviv

Hundreds of Israeli backpackers aboard an El Al Dreamlimer taking them from Lima, Peru, to Tel Aviv, March 2020 (Sivan Farage)
Hundreds of Israeli backpackers aboard an El Al Dreamlimer taking them from Lima, Peru, to Tel Aviv, March 2020 (Sivan Farage)

The Foreign Ministry on Monday said 1,863 Israeli travelers are stranded abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic and seeking to return to the country, many of them in Thailand, New Zealand and Australia.

Israel has dispatched rescue flights to Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia and other destinations to bring backpackers home, as international flights are slashed and countries placed on lockdown to weather the global outbreak of the highly contagious virus.

According to the ministry, 200 Israelis are in Thailand, 179 in Australia, 164 in New Zealand, 144 in Argentina, 74 in Ukraine, 63 each in Mexico and Jordan, 55 in the Philippines, 51 in India, 31 in Colombia and 18 in Brazil.

Among those stranded in New Zealand was a doctor who attended a conference in Auckland, whose March 12 flight was canceled. Sveta Lipschitz, speaking to Channel 12, implored the Israeli government to send a flight to the far-flung country to extract the Israelis there.

“It cannot be that I, and many other Israelis in New Zealand, won’t be rescued, while travelers in Peru and Australia were rescued — for free,” she told the TV network.

The Israeli embassy in Argentina, meanwhile, was trying to find enough passengers for a flight to bring Israelis currently stranded in the country back home on Saturday. The Ethiopian Airlines flight apparently needs a minimum of 60 passengers but does not yet have enough. Registration for the flight ends on Wednesday.

Hundreds of Israelis backpackers aboard an El Al Dreamlimer taking them from Lima, Peru, to Tel Aviv, March 2020 (Sivan Farage)

“We are calling to all the Israelis that are in Argentina to get registered now, because we don’t know when there will be new flights again, and at the moment there does not appear to be an El Al rescue flight,” Israel’s ambassador to Argentina Galit Ronen told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The flight would go from Buenos Aires to Brazil to Ethiopia to Israel and costs $,1875 per person. Israelis in Argentina are urged to email with the subject line “Repatriation to TLV.”

Argentina is under a “preventive and compulsory” lockdown due to the coronavirus from March 20 until at least April 12. There is some speculation the lockdown could be relaxed that day, but there is no word on whether air travel out of the country would resume.

Separately, Russian tourists have slept in Ben Gurion Airport for four days after their flight was canceled last week and not rescheduled, according to the Kan public broadcaster. Some of the passengers have since moved to a hostel or stayed with relatives, but appear stranded in Israel indefinitely.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, and the two “agreed to enable movement between Russia and Israel so that citizens of the two countries will be able to return to home,” according to Netanyahu’s office.

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