As the world reopens, Israel’s skies remain closed

The Ministry of Health opposes establishing a coronavirus testing laboratory at Ben Gurion Airport, stalling progress for tourism.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

As countries around the world reopen to tourists, including nations hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic such as Italy and Spain, Israel’s skies remain closed.

Despite promises that Ben Gurion Airport would reopen on July 1 and then August 1, progress towards reopening the country to foreign tourists appears to have stalled.

In July 2019 alone, 346,000 tourists flew into Israel through Ben Gurion Airport.

In the last two weeks, only 13,000 passengers entered Israel, all of them new immigrants or Israeli citizens. Four of them were found to be positive for the coronavirus.

Iceland, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries have reopened to tourists based on a double-testing model. The policy requires passengers to test negative for the virus 72 hours before departure.

Once they arrive in their destination country, passengers are tested again at the airport and sent to a hotel for a few hours while they wait for their results. Once they receive confirmation of a negative result via SMS, tourists are free to explore the country.

“The world agrees with this model, test before take-off, test after landing,” said Alon Katzaf, CEO of David Shield, a private company aiming to establish a coronavirus testing laboratory at Ben Gurion Airport.

“With double tests, it’s almost guaranteed that the tourist does not carry the virus,” said Katzaf to Israel Hayom.

“Istanbul has set up a lab that can conduct 40,000 tests at once, and in Thailand the country is expected to open soon, using this exact model. It can be implemented in any country in the world, and it will cost the passenger about $200.”

According to Katzaf, “There are quite a few developments in terms of breath testing, and when they are ready, it will be much cheaper, faster and simpler. But until then, we must align with what’s happening in the rest of the world. We’re already behind.”

Speaking to Israel Hayom, Dr. Ashi Shalmon, head of International Relations at the Ministry of Health, explained why his ministry is opposed to establishing a testing laboratory at Ben Gurion Airport.

Testing laboratories are “a national resource, and the situation in Israel is not good, in terms of morbidity,” he said. “The skies will not reopen until September. We need to take control of what’s happening in the country, and then we can think about slowly reopening the skies.”

“We are examining and re-examining the possibilities and hope the curve will flatten soon. Then we will be able to come up with a solution for reopening the skies.”

“Closing the skies of Israel is a terrible livelihood problem that affects hundreds of thousands of Israelis in numerous industries,” MK Naftali Bennett told Israel Hayom.

“Israel is an island. It has no land connection to any country in the world and we depend on our airport. We cannot be closed for so long.”

Bennett also criticized Israel’s two-week quarantine policy for arriving passengers. “It does not make sense that everyone who lands in Israel is required to quarantine for two weeks.”

“It’s funny that we are a red country that requires citizens of green countries to be isolated. We need to accept citizens from green countries without quarantining them.”