Skies reopen for Israelis, despite coronavirus variant concerns

Israelis will be able to travel for Passover, regardless of their vaccination status.

Travelers at Ben-Gurion Airport in March - to bring tourists back to Israel is not an act of lunacy. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Travelers at Ben-Gurion Airport in March - to bring tourists back to Israel is not an act of lunacy.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Israelis who wish to travel abroad for Passover should be able to do so, regardless of their vaccination status.
After the High Court of Justice struck down the government’s travel restrictions on Wednesday, Israel’s skies are expected to reopen on Sunday, at least for its own citizens, with Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy stating that there won’t be any new regulations, apart from the ones that were not affected by the ruling. These include a limit on the number of people allowed into the airport, coronavirus test requirements, and mandatory isolation for those who have not been immunized.
Ben-Gurion Airport officially resumed activities on March 7, after having been almost completely shut down for a month and a half, although significant limitations remained on Israelis able to travel.
That ruling banned limiting to 3,000 the number of people allowed to land at the airport, and approved coronavirus test requirements and mandatory isolation for those who have not been immunized.
This created many hurdles for those who wished to return to the country to vote in Tuesday’s elections, as well as for families who had hoped to travel to visit relatives overseas, since children, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, could not leave freely.
Following the High Court’s decision, which was harshly criticized by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and other health officials, government officials have been reportedly trying on a plan to prevent a complete reopening of the skies but this would need to be approved by the government before Saturday night.
According to Channel 12, Health and Transportation ministry officials were considering maintaining a cap of 6,000-8,000 passengers per day in both directions based on the number of people that the airport can accommodate while maintaining safe social distancing.
Before the pandemic, tens of thousands of passengers passed through Ben-Gurion Airport each day, so if such a limit is to be implemented, aircraft traffic would still remain very low.
Responding to a question posed by The Jerusalem Post about which new guidelines the Health Ministry was going to recommend, Levy explained that “the regulations will be what is left intact by the court’s decision, there are no new regulations at this time.
“First of all, both passengers who return and who leave have to adhere to the requirements of the Purple Ribbon,” he explained, referring to the standards set by the ministry for businesses to operate during the pandemic. These include limits on number of people allowed in closed spaces, minimum distances between each person, and the obligation to wear a mask.
“Those who are returning to Israel have to take a coronavirus test,” Levy added. “However, the most important thing as the skies reopen further, and more people can enter the country, is to strictly observe the quarantine requirements, not to go around, not to spread the infection, even when infection has not yet been identified.”
While people who have an official vaccination certificate or a recovery certificate are exempt from quarantine, everyone else, including children or those vaccinated abroad, are obliged to isolate – at least until they undergo a serological test to prove that they have sufficient antibodies in their blood.
The difficulty in enforcing quarantine and the high level of infractions were repeatedly described by the government as the reason to maintain the travel restrictions in order to avoid new coronavirus variants to enter the country.
On Wednesday, the Knesset also approved legislation considered essential for enforcing effective quarantine. Travelers returning from abroad to quarantine at home must wear an electronic bracelet or isolate at a hotel and other digital will be used to ensure that people do not break the isolation rules.
“We are working on the issue of quarantine enforcement, both by increasing manpower, police officers, inspectors and so on, and by using electronic tools,” Levy said during his press briefing.
While other health officials accused the court of acting irresponsibly, Levy said that the ruling was completely legitimate, but it remains a cause for concern because of the virus variants.
“As Israeli citizens, and as public figures, we completely accept the High Court’s decision even though we believe that there are dangers related to possible infections and the entrance of variants,” he stated. “We will do everything we can to examine it and will act to reduce morbidity.”