IDF COVID-19 hotel commander: Those flying into Israel aren't the problem

Only two out of 34,000 people who landed in Israel between May 1 and July 1 were confirmed to have the virus.

El Al Israel Airlines planes are seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)
El Al Israel Airlines planes are seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020.
As government officials push to reopen the skies, the commander of the IDF’s coronavirus facilities told The Jerusalem Post the majority of people entering Israel by air do not have the coronavirus.
“Between May 1 and July 1, some 34,000 people landed in Israel, and only two people were diagnosed with the virus – one from the United States and one from Paris,” Col. Nir Baron said in his office at Home Front Command headquarters in central Israel.
Israel shut its borders to foreigners in mid-March, allowing only citizens and non-nationals whose “center of life is in Israel” back into the country as long as they enter quarantine once they land. In the beginning, all were placed in state-run coronavirus facilities.
Eventually, the government allowed those who were able to safely self-quarantine at home to do so.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, some 64,334 people have landed in Israel, and 8,699 of them went to state-run coronavirus facilities run by Baron. Another 55,228 spent their mandatory two-week long quarantine at home.
But it was not only those returning from abroad who were sent to the various coronavirus facilities set up across the country. Some 29,000 Israelis were sent to hotels, including about 16,000 confirmed coronavirus patients in light condition and another 12,000 who could not safely self-quarantine at home.
During the first wave of coronavirus, there were 12 facilities for patients confirmed to have the virus and in light condition and another 12 for those returning from abroad or who had been suspected of being in contact with a coronavirus patient.
Since the number of people who now test positive for the virus is more than double compared with the first wave, there have been more hotels opened to house them, Baron said.
“At the peak, we had 2,860 sick in hotels and were evacuating 450 people to hotels per day,” he said. But during the second wave, “we are now seeing 6,030 sick in 24 hotels for coronavirus patients and bringing between 750 to 800 per day.”
There are another four hotels for quarantine, for a total of 28 hotels across Israel during the second wave.
The problem isn’t those returning from abroad, but rather those in Israel who continue with their everyday lives while not showing symptoms and transmit the virus, Baron told the Post.
And once they do start showing symptoms and are entered into the Health Ministry’s system, they must quarantine to stop infecting others.
But there is some good news. The numbers are stabilizing and even starting to go down, according to Baron and health officials.
The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 1,689 new cases, a slight drop in the infection rate. The coronavirus cabinet decided to impose restrictions on 22 towns with particularly high rates of infections, but the government canceled weekend restrictions that have been in place for the past three weeks.
But “it’s not over yet,” Baron said, adding that the hotels cost millions of shekel to run. He told the Post he would prefer to rent cruise ships that can house more people and dock them in Israeli ports or provide alternative options instead of opening additional coronavirus hotels.
The second wave “is much stronger, and the only thing there is to do is quarantine those who are sick,” Baron said. “During the first wave, we had the lockdown, and people were afraid.”
Government officials are against the idea of imposing another nationwide lockdown, but to make sure the numbers don’t go up again, Israel should impose a lockdown in the form of a long weekend, he said.
“We are now going down in numbers, but we have to take a few more steps to flatten the curve,” Baron said. “We will need to implement a lockdown in the form of a long weekend [so that the numbers do not] go up again. That way we will cut the chain of infection, and we will wake up in a whole different place.”