Two-thirds of Israelis returning from abroad break quarantine — report

Health officials reportedly mull compelling all travelers to get tested prior to arrival in Israel as 1-2% of arrivals said to be infected; Edelstein: ‘Pandemic is being imported’

Illustrative -- Ben Gurion Airport, November 6, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative -- Ben Gurion Airport, November 6, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Health officials were reportedly told on Saturday that two-thirds of Israelis returning from trips abroad to countries with high coronavirus infection rates have been breaking quarantine.

The meeting between Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, ministry officials and scientists also heard that 1-2 percent of people coming back from abroad — from all locations — have later been found to be carrying the coronavirus, Channel 12 news reported.

Israelis returning from Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria were most likely to test positive, the report said.

Testing is not compulsory for travelers to Israel from any location but arrivals from high-infection countries can now use testing to have their quarantine period slightly reduced.

A technician collects nasal swab samples for coronavirus testing at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv on November 15, 2020 (Flash90)

The report said it was clear from the discussions that there was a need to perform tests on all returnees from abroad, no matter where they had been.

Under current regulations, those entering Israel from a country deemed to be “red,” with a high transmission rate, only have to fill in a health declaration form.

Travelers returning to Israel from one of those countries are required to enter quarantine for 14 days, a period which can be shortened to 12 days if the individual has two negative virus tests, one at the start and one toward the end of the self-isolation period.

The report said the officials also discussed the possibility of compelling all returnees from abroad to enter isolation, no matter where they came from, or using digital means to track those who return from abroad to ensure they remain in quarantine, a move that would require ministerial and legal approvals.

Another option that was reportedly considered was to make passengers take a test before they board a plane to Ben Gurion Airport, immediately enter quarantine upon arrival and then undergo a second test four days later. If clear, the traveler would then be released from self-isolation under the plan. The United Kingdom is piloting a similar scheme from mid-December.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during a press conference in Airport City on September 17, 2020 (Flash90)

Edelstein reportedly told the meeting that stricter measures would need to be taken to stop the virus spreading more in Israel as the result of international travel.

“There is no escape from draconian measures to combat the phenomenon. What we are seeing here is the pandemic being imported into the country. It must be stopped immediately,” Edelstein reportedly said.

The meeting came alongside news of a virus outbreak at a hotel in the Dead Sea when 10 employees at the Isrotel hotel were confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Hotels in Eilat and the Dead Sea were allowed to reopen earlier this month after legislation was passed designating them as “special tourist islands,” with tourists required to present a negative coronavirus result from no more than 72 hours prior to their entry to those areas.

The Dead Sea shore and hotels on October 18, 2020. (Menachem Lederman/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Sunday morning said 572 new coronavirus cases were confirmed the previous day. New daily case numbers are typically lower on Sundays as testing levels fall over the weekend.

However, of the 17,163 tests performed Saturday, 3.3 percent came back positive. As recently as Wednesday, the positivity rate stood at 1.8%. The number has recently tended to rise during weekends and then go down.

Hospital team members move patients to the new coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on November 16, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The reduced number of cases came after three straight days that new daily infections topped 1,000, after remaining below that milestone for over a month.

The number of infections since the pandemic began stood at 335,132, of which 9,951 were active cases.

The death toll stood at 2,854.

According to the ministry, there were 273 people in serious condition, with 100 on ventilators. Another 90 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

Top health officials have warned of rising morbidity, even as the government pushes on with rolling back lockdown restrictions.

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