These Three Loopholes at Israel’s Airport Let Delta Variant Spread
Lax enforcement, delayed COVID tests, electronic bracelets languishing in warehouses: Israel talks tough on unauthorized travel to high-risk countries, but the flights keep coming in
Almost a year and a half after the
beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Israeli government has
decided the time has come to appoint a supervisor for the main entrance
to Israel – Ben-Gurion International Airport, which has turned out to be
the country’s Achilles’ Heel.
At the outset of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced the appointment of Ronny Numa,
the retired general who was the project manager for dealing with the
coronavirus outbreak in the Haredi community, as the new COVID
commissioner for Ben-Gurion Airport.
Bennett’s decision came a week after the coronavirus testing system for arriving passengers broke down, letting hundreds of people into Israel untested. At the same time, the number of confirmed cases of COVID is rising by the day, and some of them have been found to have the delta variant of the virus, previously known as the Indian variant.
These are the three issues Numa will have to face on his first day on the job:
Israelis flouting travel ban on “red” countries
the beginning of May, the previous government approved Health Ministry
regulations banning travel by Israelis to a number of countries with
especially high rates of coronavirus infection. So far, the government
hasn't imposed any sanctions or enforced the rules against those who
to the regulations, an Israeli citizen may travel to one of the
countries on the “red” list only if they live there permanently, or if
they have approval from the exceptions committee of the Population and
Immigration Authority in the Interior Ministry. In the request for
approval from the committee, a person must note the reason for the trip
to the banned country – for example, for a humanitarian or life-saving
reason. But it is also possible to mark: “Other” and provide an
explanation and supporting documents for the request.
seems the committee is only for show. On the list of countries today
are Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia. There are
no direct flights to most of these countries, so to reach them Israelis
need to change planes in a third country, which is not on the “red”
list, providing a loophole. The loophole works on the return, too: An
Israeli can spend weeks in one of the banned countries, and when they
return they can take a connecting flight through a third country and
arrive in Israel without having to go into isolation.
even for the countries Israelis can fly to directly, such as Russia, it
seems there is no enforcement – and anyone can fly there without any
provided by the Population and Immigration Authority show that since
the cabinet added Russia to the list of forbidden destinations on June
1, and through June 24, the exceptions committee has turned down 2,200
requests by Israelis to enter Russia – and approved only 557 requests.
But during the same time period, 34 flights left Israel for Moscow and Saint Petersburg with 3,537 passengers.
Russia is also a connection destination for other countries, but even
if we take this into account, it is clear that not all of these
passengers continued on. Another indication of the persistent travel to
Russia is the two-to-three daily El Al and Aeroflot flights to Russia
and back. If the demand wasn’t there, they would quickly be taken off
the schedule.- Advertisment -
Health Ministry said: “If citizens travel to these countries through a
connecting flight, this is of course an improper and illegal action that
endangers them, their family and their community. Every one of us has
personal responsibility. In addition, the issue of enforcement is in the
hands of the Israel Police.”
response to a question from Haaretz concerning enforcing the
regulations, the Population and Immigration Authority admitted that
“there is no way to know where people are going to and from where they
are coming.” Most of the passengers passing through Ben-Gurion go
through the border control points without any interaction with an
inspector, as everything is done digitally.
Isolation orders delayed by bottleneck in airport testing
who are fully vaccinated and return from overseas are required to take a
coronavirus test less than 72 hours before their flight and an
additional test at the airport on landing. While unvaccinated arriving
passengers who land in Israel are required to leave the airport directly
into isolation, vaccinated passengers have no such restriction.
people are required to enter isolation only if the test they took at
the airport comes out positive. Until then, a long time can pass, often
more than 24 hours – during which they can spread the virus.
the Omega company ran the coronavirus testing compound at the airport
for incoming passengers, the system worked smoothly, and most people
received their results within eight hours. In a highly criticized move,
the Health Ministry decided to end its contract with Omega and two
weeks ago brought in a new company, Femi Premium, to do the testing.
used a lab it set up at the airport for its testing, because it
understood that speedy results were critical. But things changed with
the switch to Femi. Today, passengers sometimes receive their results
only after 36 hours.
Omega, Femi doesn’t have its own labs but uses the services of three
labs approved by the Health Ministry. Two of these labs are located in
the south in Be’er Sheva and Omer. In order to make money off its
investment, Femi has to wait until enough coolers with enough test tubes
are ready to send off for testing – and even then, the trip takes a
long time, especially at rush hour.
May 1 through June 16, 139 travelers who had been vaccinated entered
Israel and tested positive for COVID at the airport. If the test results
take days, another solution will need to be found to prevent vaccinated
passengers from moving around freely before they’re officially cleared.
No possibility of enforcing isolation without technological supervision
passengers who have not been vaccinated are required to enter isolation
for two weeks immediately upon leaving the airport. Do they do it?
According to police data concerning all the violations of isolation
rules in the past two months, at least some of those who returned from
overseas did not go into isolation. In May, the police issued 156
tickets for violating isolation requirements, while in April they issued
253 such fines – and another 5,880 warning tickets.
new law on technological supervision of isolation was drafted months
ago and was finally approved by the previous Knesset in March. The law
gives the government the authority to require arriving passengers to
wear an electronic monitor while they are in isolation; if they refuse,
they will be sent to a hotel for a supervised isolation. Even though the
law was passed by the Knesset, the cabinet hasn't yet moved to
implement it. That is why for over three months after the bill was
passed into law, people required to enter isolation do not wear the
electronic monitors. For now, the enforcement relies on surprise visits
by the police and inspectors.
About 10,000 electronic bracelets
are waiting in the warehouse of SuperCom, the company that won the
competitive bidding tender to supply the monitoring – and they are ready
for immediate use. In addition, the company said it is able to
manufacture another 1,000 new electronic bracelets a day, if needed. Now
all that is left to do is implement the law in practice.