Health official’s explanation for ban on ticket sales to green countries causes outburst

Dr. Sharon Elroi-Price, head of public health services for the ministry, said the reason wasn’t related to health but to equality.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

An official with Israel’s Health Ministry caused an in-studio outburst from one of the interviewers after she explained why Israelis were not allowed to fly to “green” countries during the lockdown in a Thursday radio interview.

Israel has put 21 countries on a “green” fly list where the incidence of the coronavirus is low. Israelis traveling to those countries don’t have to quarantine upon their return.

However, a rule established by the government at the start of the lockdown included even green countries. That rule states that only those who bought tickets before the lockdown began – 2:00 p.m. on Sept. 25 – could fly.

Dr. Sharon Elroi-Price, head of public health services for the ministry, said the reason wasn’t related to health but to equality.

“The justification is equality. It’s hard to tell people in the State of Israel that are under restrictions and can’t move 1,000 meters, 100 meters… but if you have money, you can buy a ticket and fly somewhere else,” she said in an interview with public broadcaster Kan Bet.

“From an epidemiological standpoint – in terms of risk – there’s no risk with flights,” she said.

One of the two interviewers burst out at her remarks: “I live in the Soviet Union of the 1930s? They stick it to me in order to prove some principle of equality toward someone else? I don’t understand this.”

Elaborating on her answer, Elroi-Price said, “You asked me a health question. There is a danger in flying from a health perspective,” noting that people are placed in a crowded, enclosed space for a period of time.

However, when the traveler returns “from a red country he goes into quarantine,” explaining why from the Health Ministry’s perspective, air travel isn’t considered an epidemiological danger.

The interviewers noted again that they weren’t talking about red countries but green countries.

“The decisions aren’t established by the Health Ministry,” she said in her defense.

To a question about the possibility of reducing the 14-day quarantine period, Elroi-Price said the ministry would like to lighten the burden on Israel’s citizens and has started researching the possibility. She noted that most of the advanced nations have decided not to shorten the timeframe because it’s not yet known if it’s safe.

She also said she was worried about the high rate of disease in the ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, community. Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the corona czar, said on Thursday that haredim account for 40% of of those infected in recent days.

“We meet with leading people in the ultra-Orthodox society, trying to see how we can get them information and what assistance we can give. It is difficult to do home quarantine when you are with 12 people in a 70-meter apartment,” Elroi-Price said.