Confirmed coronavirus carries have been identified on 17 different flights to Tel Aviv from Ukraine and Belarus, senior Health Ministry officials told Channel 12 Tuesday.
An annual pilgrimage over the Rosh Hashanah holiday in Uman, Ukraine, which usually draws tens of thousands of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims, was curtailed this year due to the pandemic. Despite Health Ministry warnings, however, thousands of Israelis flocked to Ukraine to the pilgrimage site of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, before Kyiv closed its borders in September to avoid an outbreak.
Thousands of others then traveled to neighboring Belarus in an attempt to cross the border to Ukraine, but were blocked by local authorities.
Many of the pilgrims have since returned to Israel — some of them with COVID-19.
Some returning pilgrims boarded planes to Tel Aviv while displaying symptoms of the disease, health officials told the network.
Others refused to cooperate with contact tracing or get tested for the coronavirus, the officials added.
“It’s one failure after the next,” an unnamed official said. “They aren’t willing to get tested, are unwilling to cooperate and aren’t declaring that they’ve entered quarantine. It will simply hurt us all.”
חולי קורונה מאומתים התגלו ב-17 טיסות שחזרו מאומן לישראל. משרד הבריאות: "הם לא מוכנים להיבדק, לא מוכנים לשתף פעולה ולא מצהירים על בידוד" > https://t.co/ntASkdzH4X@yollancohen pic.twitter.com/emGkjvMw98
— החדשות – N12 (@N12News) September 29, 2020
Leading up to the Rosh Hashanah holiday on September 18, the pilgrimage was a major bone of contention between ultra-Orthodox leaders and health officials, who feared the virus would spread among densely packed worshipers and travelers.