Update – Monday 9th March: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a move on Monday night to force anyone entering the country to self-quarantine for two weeks. The new order will apply to both foreigners and Israeli citizens alike. Foreign nationals who cannot prove their ability to self-quarantine for the duration will be refused entry. The order is set to apply for at least two weeks.
The highest reaches of the Israeli government are said to have led an intervention late on Saturday night to prevent the country’s Ministry of Health imposing a ban on visitors from the United States as part of a desperate bid to stop further cases of COVID-19 getting through its borders. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the novel Coronavirus outbreak as a “pandemic” whether the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “calls it such or not”.
Instead, a compromise may have been reached with the government set to announce a mandatory 14-day home quarantine for anyone arriving in Israel from California, New York or Washington State. The draconian measures have not yet been implemented and if enforced would not include transfer passengers who originated in these locations.
Top officials had mulled adding the United States to a list of ‘High Risk’ countries for several days and media sources claimed the Ministry of Health was leading calls to impose a travel ban. The U.S. has come under scrutiny after an alarming rise in patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and botched testing kits that have been a cause of embarrassment for the CDC.
Last week the Israeli authorities added five European countries to a list which would be subjected to varying degrees of travel ban and which already include mainland China, South Korea and Japan, as well as other places hardest hit by the outbreak.
All Israeli citizens who had been in either Austria, Germany, Spain, France, Switzerland or Italy within the last 14-days would be subjected to home quarantine, while foreign citizens who had been in these countries would be banned from entering altogether.
The German airline Lufthansa cancelled itas services to Israel almost immediately following the ban, while Air France, Alitalia and Iberia quickly followed suit. The country’s flag carrier El Al, already crippled by the outbreak, has been forced to cancel a number of its European flights as well.
El Al fears the Coronavirus outbreak could cost it as much as $160 million by April alone and plans to lay off up to 1,000 staff by the end of the March. The latest warnings about the outbreak in the United States has led to the airline cancelling some of its flights to New York JFK and San Francisco.
For now, however, an outright ban on foreign visitors from the United States remains off the cards. Observers suspect the decision reflects a desire not to upset the Trump administration or to hurt its important relationship with the U.S.
But this intervention has led to confused messaging about other travel bans. The Health Ministry now says foreigners from previously barred European countries can now enter Israel but must spend 14-days in quarantine. That won’t be enough, however, for airlines to start flying to Israel again anytime soon.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.