Photo: Flash90

Israel to quarantine all international travelers

Every international traveler returning to Israel must now observe a self-imposed 14-day quarantine.

The latest restriction aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus was implemented immediately after being announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night, following what he described as “a day of complex discussions.”

The latest measure will remain in effect for two weeks, which Prime Minister Netanyahu said was “essential to maintaining public health, which takes precedence over everything.” He added that “at the same time, we will make decisions to safeguard the Israeli economy.”

The compulsory, 2-week isolation is applicable to Israelis and foreign nationals alike. A statement from the Population and Immigration Authority underscores that non-citizens will be barred from entering the country at any of the international border crossings unless they can provide proof of having a place to remain quarantined.

These drastic steps prompted two smaller Israeli airliners to institute major scheduling changes. IsrAir will cease all outgoing flights and provide returning flights until the end of this week for any passengers currently abroad, but all international flights will be cancelled for the month of March. Arkia Israel Airlines immediately halted all international flights and will continue operations exclusively on a national basis.

Returning Israelis voiced frustration over the situation. One unnamed passenger had been informed of the impending measure shortly before boarding in Washington D.C., having attended last week’s AIPAC policy conference. Saying it isn’t “the best-case scenario,” the traveler expressed the Hebrew-equivalent for “this, too, shall pass.” Another said no one had been told about the quarantine prior to take-off in Bansco, Bulgaria, and they were only told upon landing in Israel. “It’s very sad because we are not going to work, not for studies,” said the passenger, adding, “That’s life.”

It is important to mention that Israel is not the only country in the region that decided to seal itself off from the rest of the world. Italy has imposed a self-isolating quarantine on itself nationwide in its struggle to cope with the worst known outbreak among all Mediterranean and European states. “I am about to sign a decree that we can describe as ‘stay at home,’ declared Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, “There will not be any more Zone One or Zone Two in the country – it will be Italy – Italy a Protected Zone.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu held a simultaneous video-conference with heads of several European states in an initiative to promote a united global effort to limit the coronavirus and to deal with the outbreak. The first of three objectives he believes the multilateral task force should work to achieve is the the need for “clean airports” to facilitate shipment of vital commodities. “We can get very quickly into a position of shutdowns of aircraft, or constriction of air travel – that is happening as we speak. We have constricted air travel to people who can come and be tested. I know other countries are doing the same, that’s going to happen. In order to assure supply chains, I propose that we have safe hubs and safe planes for travel. In other words, we can designate airports for us, for all of us, in Europe and we say ‘this is a clean airport, we apply consistent efforts to keep it clean. We scrub it, we disinfect it all the time, around the clock and we also text the people who work there all of the time,’” he said.

In addition to proactively safeguarding the national economic systems from possible collapse, Netanyahu advocated the “ultimate goal” for the public to have access to “home tests, just the way you do for pregnancy or HIV, that people can test themselves.” This second step, he said, will allow for more effective separation of “efficiently healthy people from sick people. This is good for health and its very good for our economies, because we are going to run into serious problems of mass quarantines, and you cannot run economies in that way.”

“The third is of course the exchange of best practices,” suggested the Israeli leader, adding, “We each have our own experiences; we see what works, what doesn’t work and we can trade with each other.”

Israel is also coordinating efforts to combat the contagion with the Palestinian Authority, which is facing a relatively minor outbreak of its own. Following the imposition of a military closure on Bethlehem upon confirmation of several cases of the disease, P.A. Government Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem announced that on instructions from Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, all visitation by foreign nationals would be immediately barred until further notice and that 64 tourists currently in the Bethlehem must leave within hours.

The P.A. Government Spokesman further revealed that Ramallah is also “assessing the possibility of closure with the Jordanian side and the Israeli side; if the matters develop, God forbid, to the closure of the borders – all the precautionary procedures we will take to protect population.”

Meanwhile in the United States, President Donald Trump held a press briefing, together with the members of the Coronavirus Task Force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence. According to the American leader, pharmaceutical companies in his nation are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine and that home tests will soon be available.