Israel could open its skies by mid-August

Health Ministry: Visitors from ‘green states’ could travel without isolation, testing * Netanyahu discusses virus with world leaders * Israel sets new daily diagnoses level: 2,104 in a single day

Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto pictured attending a State Audit Committee meeting.  (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESWOMAN - ADINA WALLMAN)
Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto pictured attending a State Audit Committee meeting.
Israel could reopen its skies as early as August 16, according to the Health Ministry – and anyone who wants to visit Israel from a “green state” may not have to go into isolation or even take a coronavirus test.
Speaking at a meeting of the State Audit Committee overseen by MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto said: “We are preparing to approve an outline for opening the skies,” adding that it “won’t happen tomorrow morning, but as far as we are concerned, we will make every effort.”
The expected date for the start of some of these flights is August 16, Israeli media reported.
The announcement came on a day when Israel hit another coronavirus peak: 2,104 new patients in one day, the Health Ministry reported on Wednesday. An additional 1,207 people were diagnosed between midnight and press time.
There were 328 people in serious condition, among them 99 who were intubated. Four more people died, bringing the death toll to 491.
Tourism Minister Assaf Zamir said that “the sky should open as soon as possible, even if it is partial and under restrictions or the obligation to isolate.” He said he expects that travel challenges will plague Israel and the world for years to come.
The likely list of “green” states includes the following: Austria, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.
Israel, of course, is still considered a “red” state. As such, Israelis cannot travel to European countries. In some other countries, Israelis can enter but require either a negative coronavirus test or isolation.
Tourists from countries not on the list will still need to isolate upon arriving in Israel.
“I am glad the Health Ministry agreed to my request to open the aviation industry,” Transportation Minister Miri Regev said after the meeting. Earlier in the week, Regev said she was working on an outline that would allow for the return of flights at the request of the prime minister.
Those at the meeting also reacted to the news with accolades.
“Aviation is one of the industries that were hit fast and deep,” said Shelah. “Assuming there is no vaccine in the next six months, we should not get ourselves into a situation where Israel does not open and the day after finds itself without Israeli aviation.”
Hundreds of employees of Arkia Airlines protested on Wednesday against the Nakash brothers, who hold a 70% share of the company, demanding that they let them return to work. The protests took place throughout the country.
The airline put 500 staff members on unpaid leave in March. The employees are asking the brothers to accept a bailout offer and resume operation.
“We urge the owners to remember that behind these names there are people, families and a prestigious airline,” said Arkia National Workers’ Committee chairwoman Aliza Balaish. “We cannot sit quietly and see our home burning down. Arkia is not just a balance sheet of incomes and expenses: It’s a company of devoted employees who give their hearts and souls into their company.”
Also on Wednesday, the head of the “coronavirus hotline” at the Health Ministry, Ayelet Greenbaum-Arizon, announced she was stepping down. Although her decision came in the immediate aftermath of much chaos that ensued as a result of the surveillance program being carried out by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which has put many Israelis wrongly into isolation, she said that the move was not connected.
“My departure has nothing to do with coronavirus,” she said. “If anything, this is what made me stay until now.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participated in a conference call with world leaders on Wednesday to discuss their responses to the novel coronavirus.
The call was hosted by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and included the participation of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
Netanyahu shared that Israel is testing as many as 30,000 people a day for COVID-19, and that “we will still be able to increase the quantity.” He said that Israel is working on an industrial-sized system that can mass test, and on a new method for rapid detection and isolation. “It is essential for us to contain the pandemic long-term,” he said.
He also shared what Israel has learned from the first peak of the pandemic: to limit gatherings to prevent infection.
The police gave out more than 1,500 tickets to people on Wednesday for breaking restrictions, including more than 1,400 to those who were not wearing masks in public spaces.
The leaders agreed that it was necessary to maintain some restrictions in order to avoid a significant renewed outbreak.