Shasha-Biton: Where is the Ben-Gurion Airport COVID-19 lab?

The Knesset coronavirus committee sat on Monday to debate when Israelis can fly overseas again.

An Israeli flag carrier El Al Airlines plane is seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
An Israeli flag carrier El Al Airlines plane is seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Knesset Coronavirus Committee head Yifat Shasha-Biton blasted the government on Monday for dallying with the airport COVID lab.
“We were supposed to see a working COVID-19 lab at Ben-Gurion Airport by this time,” she said. “But there is no such lab.”
The Airports Authority told the committee that the COVID-19 lab had been up and running since Thursday, but the Health Ministry needs to approve it.
Meanwhile, head of the Flight and Tourism Committee David Sprecher informed the panel that there is not a single green state in Europe today, but despite this, the sky over Europe is open for flights.
He pointed to how Iceland, which the EU regards as a red state, with a high infection rate, is green from the Health Ministry’s point of view.
He also asked how is it possible that the UAE was declared a green state on the same day a tourism agreement was signed between it and Israel.
“When I ask the Health Ministry how they make decisions they tell me ‘there are many factors,’” he said. “They must tell us the truth.”
He suggested flights should focus on the well-being of the passengers and not the countries where the flights originate. According to Sprecher, passengers should be checked before they board a flight and when they arrive. Such a step would allow businessmen to visit Israel and “would contribute to Israel’s economy.”
MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh warned that immigrants are unable to see their families due to COVID-19 and that “other countries were able to find an outlay to allow people in.”
MK Yosef Taieb supported her and argued in favor of having a scale that would give preference to immigrants, students and businessmen. MK Yoel Razbozov raged that “week after week we are being presented with solutions, yet none are being implemented.”
Head of the Foreign Ministry consular section, Eyal Sisu, claimed that his department is “working around the clock” to process requests from non-Israelis who want to visit, such as grandparents who wish to visit their Israeli-born grandchildren.
When slammed by the MKs who pointedly asked what the point is of having a policy with so many exceptions to the rules, he argued back that “it’s not our policy – there’s a government decision, and we need to uphold it.”
DR. ASHER SALMON, head of the Health Ministry’s International Relations Department, said the EU doesn’t allow any Israelis into its countries regardless of what Israel decides. “We declared the Czech Republic a green state and allowed their citizens to enter this country without even spending time in quarantine,” he said. But “they didn’t allow us into their country [due to the EU policy] in return.”
He added that Iceland became a red state on Sunday and that the UAE was declared a green state before the tourism agreement was signed. He was slammed by Shasha-Biton after he refused to present her with data, offering her to send questions, and he will send her the information later.
“Why do you always do this?” she said. “You know what we want to ask you about; why don’t you prepare the data ahead of time?!”
Salmon, who was speaking via Zoom, apologized and offered to attend the next meeting in person with the data.
“Every day we allow infected passengers into the country – roughly 3,000 people,” he said. “Since we cannot check all those who enter the country, we don’t have absolute numbers.” Salmon added that “many sick people” entered the country from Turkey and Greece and that even students and Masa groups brought COVID-19 with them.
He explained that the policy is based on the random numbers of people who were checked before they left the country and those checked when they returned. He washed his hands of the lab issue, saying “the lab isn’t ours; once it is ready, we will inspect it and give it a work permit.”
While Israelis are debating whether flights could be made safe again, London and Vienna are imposing new policies to break the chains of COVID-19 infections.
Austria will begin a night-curfew policy on Tuesday which will close restaurants, coffee shops and bars until the end of the month. And England will begin a nationwide lockdown on Thursday.
Even when Israelis are able to fly again, it’s unsure where they might fly to during the Christmas holiday season  to enjoy a vacation even  somewhat resembling the pre-COVID-19 age.