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Social distancing fiasco at airport as huge crowd gathers at passport control

TV news reporter publishes image showing hundreds of passengers crowded together; Interior Ministry said to send top immigration official to deal with matter

Illustrative: An Etihad Airways plane lands at at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on October 20, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Illustrative: An Etihad Airways plane lands at at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on October 20, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Passengers returning to Israel from abroad are failing to maintain social distancing as a precaution against coronavirus infection while they wait in line for passport control, with a Channel 12 news reporter publishing a photo Thursday showing hundreds of people crowded together the night before.

Yoav Limor, who took the photo and posted it to his Twitter feed, wrote that in addition to not observing correct distancing there was also no separation between passengers returning from “red” countries with high coronavirus infection rates and those from “green” countries with low infection rates.

He said the congestion was caused by a shortage of passport control clerks on duty at the time, around midnight.

Under Health Ministry orders, those returning from red countries must quarantine for 14 days while those who come from green countries do not.

Later Thursday, Limor tweeted that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri had sent Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Director-General of the Population and Immigration Authority, to the airport to check what was going on “and shake up his people.”

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told Kan news earlier that the government is planning to tighten virus testing and quarantine requirements for passengers returning from red countries such as Turkey, which has been identified as a prime source of infection among returning travelers.

Earlier this week, Channel 12 reported there is concern that some of the latest infections in Israel are being driven by arrivals from abroad who are failing to properly quarantine as required by law, with only a quarter of those returning following the quarantine requirements.

It said the government is currently looking at introducing a new quarantine tracking system that will automatically send text messages to those ordered to quarantine twice a day, at random times. The individuals will need to confirm they are at the quarantine location, with the system able to confirm whether the text message was sent from where the person was instructed to stay. But there remain legal obstacles to the plan surrounding privacy concerns.

National Insurance Institute head Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Despite rising infection numbers and health officials warning that a third virus wave is coming, the government on Thursday dropped its plan to impose additional pandemic restrictions over the Hanukkah holiday, and will instead tighten health rules when the number of daily new cases hits 2,500, Hebrew media reported.

The decision came after ministers in the so-called coronavirus cabinet protested the plan to ban Israelis from visiting other people’s homes during the evening hours of the eight-day holiday, which began on Thursday night. It was unclear how police would have enforced such an order at any rate, as they cannot legally enter homes without a warrant.

Another proposal to impose a nightly nationwide curfew was similarly abandoned earlier this week after facing legal obstacles.

Daily infection numbers were at 1,849 on Wednesday, the Health Ministry said Thursday, the second time this week that the daily caseload has been over 1,800 and, alongside Monday’s 1,854 cases, the highest rate since October.

Of the 15,997 active cases, 321 people were in serious condition, 94 of them on ventilators. Over 72,000 tests were conducted on Wednesday, with 2.5 percent returning positive.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 2,937.

Health officials have warned that another nationwide lockdown — the third since the start of the pandemic — could be unavoidable as the number of cases continues to rise. Israel imposed its second nationwide lockdown in mid-September over the High Holidays, and it remained fully in place until mid-October, when the government began to gradually lift the rules. It has yet to lift all of the restrictions imposed at that time.

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