In a historic first, El Al flew a commercial flight directly from Israel to Australia to evacuate Israelis as it became increasingly difficult to leave the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 17-hour flight landed in Perth on Tuesday morning Israel time and took off several hours later. About 230 Israelis registered for the flight from Perth, 80 of whom came from New Zealand.
Like many other countries in the world, Australia plans to close its borders to foreigners and stop all commercial flights on Thursday in the wake of the spread of coronavirus.
The Israeli Embassies in Canberra and Wellington worked in the past few days to help Israeli tourists in the two countries to reach Perth, including arranging permission for those in New Zealand to enter Australia even if they did not have the appropriate visas. The diplomats also coordinated the security and logistics for the El Al flight to arrive in Perth.
The El Al flight sold out 15 minutes after it was announced and there was a long waitlist. Passengers had to pay for their tickets. This was El Al’s first commercial flight to Australia, though the airline had flown directly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his entourage aboard in the past.
The Foreign Ministry urged the Israelis remaining in Australia and elsewhere in the Pacific region to find their way home before they are no longer able to leave, even if it means taking flights with two or three connections.
At Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s request, El Al sent a special flight to Bogota, Colombia to evacuate 150 Israeli backpackers. The flight will leave Bogota at 10 p.m. on Wednesday. The passengers will pay a regular ticket price and the government will cover additional costs.
“The worried families of the Israeli backpackers in Colombia can smile,” Katz said. “Israel is not abandoning its children.”
Half of the 6000 Israelis that asked the Foreign Ministry for help in recent weeks have already returned, including about 1,000 from India, 1,000 from Peru, hundreds from Australia, Brazil and Mexico and about 100 each from Nepal and Myanmar. Over 1,000 Israeli students returned from Eastern Europe.
The Foreign Ministry emphasized the “mutual responsibility and effort the State of Israel makes to help its sons and daughters return home at this time of the worldwide coronavirus crisis.”
El Al, Arkia and Israir have agreed to plan flights to a variety of destinations in which there are large concentrations of Israelis, according to Foreign Ministry recommendations.
Flights evacuating over 250 Israelis from Rome and Milan headed to Tel Aviv on Monday evening. Upon their arrival in Israel, they were put in quarantine in a hotel, under the Health Ministry’s supervision.
Also Monday, the Foreign Ministry worked to help Israeli backpackers get out of Bolivia. Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General Ephraim Modi made calls to try to arrange flights to remote locations.
Spokesman of the Israeli Embassy in Spain Yoav Katz warned on his twitter account that there will no longer be connecting flights through Spain, so Israelis in Latin America should try to find other ways to return.