The national El Al airline carrier has launched a pilot program at the airport check-in counters, where unvaccinated passengers are tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to board planes.
The rapid antigen test was developed by the Sheba Medical Center, and results are determined within 15 to 20 minutes after passengers’ noses are swabbed.
Airlines have long been pressing governments to implement such measures to prevent people from having to go into quarantine on arrival after international travel.
As at least 50% of all Israelis over the age of 16 have already been fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer /BioNTech vaccine, so far most of those tested at Ben Gurion were children, who are eligible for inoculations under current health guidelines.
“He was good. He only cried for a second,” the mother of a 10-month-old baby told Reuters after the nose swab was administered by a medical team stationed in front of the check-in desk.
Even though the test is being done to ensure no one aboard the flights carry the coronavirus or could infect others, the wearing of masks remains mandatory for the duration of flights.
The Israeli government-issued vaccination certificates issued in the country’s world-leading vaccination campaign, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests required within 72 hours of takeoff and the rapid-result swab provide “three layers of protection for the passengers,” commented El Al Chief Executive Avigal Soreq. He added that the airline is likely to begin similar testing at its counters in New York next week, after which it will be determined whether the procedure will be required for additional routes as the company and Israel’s tourism industry start to recover from the pandemic.
El Al’s vice president for operations Leehu HaCohen told Israel’s Army Radio that a landmark flight to New York from Tel Aviv on Monday was “the first in the world where you will know that you have verified that everyone onboard is certainly clean and non-coronavirus contagious.”