Thousands of Israelis allowed to enter country without mandatory COVID test

Health Ministry promises to follow up and test all those who arrived Friday without undergoing a check, although it’s unclear when that will happen

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at the Ben Gurion International Airport on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion International Airport on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

According to figures compiled Sunday, several thousand Israelis were allowed to enter Israel after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport on Friday without the mandatory COVID test at the airport, due to overcrowding at the testing station.

Based on data from the Health Ministry and the Border Authority, the Walla news site calculated that 2,832 people — close to half of those who landed in Israel on Friday — were allowed to leave the airport without the required test.

A Times of Israel reporter who landed at Ben-Gurion that day said that the arrivals area was chaotic and disorganized.

“They changed the rules a few times, they were clearly improvising,” said the reporter. “Originally they only let people with an Israeli passport” who were vaccinated in Israel leave without the test, but later they also allowed some non-citizens to exit the airport without being tested, he said.

Despite a Health Ministry promise to follow up and test all those who entered Friday without a test, the reporter said that, as of Sunday afternoon, he had not heard from anyone about conducting a test.

Beginning June 1, tests for those arriving at Ben-Gurion were no longer free of charge, and starting June 15, the company providing the PCR tests was switched from Check2fly operated by Omega to Test & Go operated by Femi Premium.

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

A source in the Border Authority told Ynet that he expected the situation to repeat itself in the coming days.

“The new company is not at all prepared for this number of tests,” the source said, noting that Check2fly had its own lab while the new company is sending the samples to an outsourced lab. “We’re just ahead of an increase in flights and in the number of people who have to do a test before entering Israel,” the source added. “In this current situation, incidents where travelers are let go without a test will almost definitely recur.”

All travelers — both unvaccinated and vaccinated — are required to present a negative COVID test before boarding a flight to Israel and to take another test at the airport after landing.

“Some people waited as long as 90 minutes for a test” on Friday, said the Times of Israel reporter.

The Health Ministry said that the decision to allow people to exit the airport was due in part to the fact that Shabbat was approaching as the long delay stretched out on Friday afternoon.

Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

Currently, vaccinated Israelis who enter from most countries around the world are not required to quarantine when arriving in Israel. The exceptions are those who arrive from Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia, who are required to quarantine even if they are vaccinated, due to the dangerous rates of COVID in those countries.

The Tourism Ministry said last month that it expected to reopen to all vaccinated tourists as of July 1, but a program to do so has yet to be approved. Since that announcement, the tourism, health and transportation ministers were replaced with the installation of the new government, and the target date of July 1 could be delayed.

Over the past few days, Israel has experienced a small uptick in new COVID cases due to two outbreaks in schools in Binyamina and Modiin, where dozens of children tested positive for the coronavirus. Both outbreaks are believed to stem from individuals returning from abroad, and the Health Ministry on Sunday reinstituted the mask mandate in schools in the two towns.

Also on Sunday, the Health Ministry took the unusual step of sending all those in the audience — including those vaccinated — at a show in Beit She’an last week into quarantine due to someone in attendance testing positive for COVID. The Health Ministry said that despite the regulations that unvaccinated Israelis do not have to quarantine after exposure, they made an exception in this case due to concerns that the positive case is linked to the Delta variant, which originated in India and is thought to be more contagious and more able to bypass the vaccine.

On Sunday morning, the Health Ministry reported 46 new COVID cases the previous day, and 290 active cases in the country. Since the beginning of the COVID outbreak, 6,427 Israelis have died of the disease.

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