The newly appointed official tasked with steering the country through the coronavirus crisis said Sunday that any foreign students allowed in under a contentious plan could be deported if they violate quarantine regulations.
“I am saying to the heads of the institutions — whether they are yeshivas or universities or colleges — if there is anyone who comes and is supposed to be in a [quarantine] capsule and does not stick to it, we will take steps against the institution and also perhaps toward the individual, possibly even deportation,” Prof. Ronni Gamzu told the Kan public broadcaster.
Students will be required to quarantine in capsules of up to six people for 14 days after arrival.
“The decision [to allow in the students] was made before [my taking up my post],” said Gamzu, who has previously spoken out against the policy.
Last month, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein agreed to allow foreign students attending various programs to enter the country despite an ongoing ban against non-nationals arriving due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, Gamzu criticized the government decision, which could allow some 16,000 students into Israel — many of them expected to come from the United States, which has been harder hit by the coronavirus than anywhere else in the world, with over 4.6 million cases and more than 150,000 deaths, and the pandemic far from being under control.
“We need to do the wise thing here and prevent another conflagration,” Gamzu said.
An epidemiological study done during the first wave of the virus showed most of Israel’s infections at that time came from people entering from the US.
On Friday, Edelstein noted that the program allowing the entry of foreign students was not formulated only for the ultra-Orthodox community. He said criticism of the decision was “anti-Semitism,” apparently referring to anti-Haredi sentiment.
Edelstein told Channel 12 that in fact, the majority of individuals who would enter Israel under the plan were not ultra-Orthodox, citing the Masa program heritage trips and high school exchange students on the Naale program as major beneficiaries.
He did not provide figures on the numbers of those who would be arriving for such programs compared to those who would arrive to study at ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.
“It is a pity that I do not have my phone here to show you the thanks I received from the chairman of the [Jewish] Agency, from the Naale program: ‘Thank you very much for saving Zionism, for saving the institutions,'” Edelstein said.
“The next day I open the newspaper and see a huge headline, ‘17,000 yeshiva students to come to the country, a success for [Aryeh] Deri and [Yaakov] Litzman,'” he said, referring to the interior and housing ministers, both ultra-Orthodox.
“I’m tired of it, it’s anti-Semitism,” Edelstein said.
Most school programs begin in September and yeshiva studies for the coming year will begin around the last week of August.
Last month the Calcalist business daily reported that the cancellation of trips for Jewish youths and young adults due to the coronavirus crisis is set to cost the Israeli economy about $200 million.
Israel’s borders have been closed to almost all non-nationals since mid-March. Under a reported plan being formulated by the Tourism Ministry, the first people allowed back in the country would be students or participants in academic or heritage trips. Soon after, authorities would allow in visitors from other countries, including so-called “green” countries, where tourists would not need to quarantine for 14 days after entering.
In a separate interview with Channel 12 news on Saturday, Gamzu expressed support for resuming air travel into Israel by mid-August.
“I think the skies will open by mid-August,” he said. “The goal is to allow as many people as possible from ‘green countries,’ because we are plenty red compared to other greens.”
Over the weekend the death toll from the virus shot up to 526, just over two days after reaching 500, according to the Health Ministry. The number of cases has climbed by over 1,000 a day to over 72,000, of which 26,000 are active.
According to the figures, 751 patients are currently hospitalized, including 328 people in serious condition, 96 of whom are on ventilators.
Three major hospitals are at over 100 percent capacity in their coronavirus wards, and two more are at 90%, according to the ministry.
However, a Hebrew University report published Thursday asserted that Israel has managed to gain control of the second wave of the coronavirus, thanks to a recent stabilization in the number of seriously and moderately ill patients.