Israel’s COVID Czar to Travel to Ukraine to Oversee Uman Pilgrimage

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Religious Jews attend midday outdoor prayers in the city center prior to the annual Rosh Hashanah celebration in Uman, Ukraine, in 2018.
Religious Jews attend midday outdoor prayers in the city center prior to the annual Rosh Hashanah celebration in Uman, Ukraine, in 2018.Credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images IL

Israel’s coronavirus czar, Prof. Salman Zarka, is scheduled to travel to Ukraine early next week to supervise the public health aspects of this year’s Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman.

Health Ministry officials want to ensure that pilgrims follow the guidelines while in Ukraine, fearing that their return could prompt an outbreak of new coronavirus variants.

Tens of thousands of Jews – many of them followers of the Bratslav Hasidic sect founded by Rabbi Nachman in the late 18th century – gather for the pilgrimage every year.

Last year the flights to Uman from Israel were the focus of much political controversy after Health Ministry officials concluded that Israelis should be barred from traveling to Ukraine for Rosh Hashanah. This year guidelines were drawn up in advance and approved by the coronavirus cabinet.

Under its provisions, passengers heading to Uman must present a negative coronavirus test taken no more than 72 hours before boarding their flight in Israel and another before boarding their return flight. Returning passengers are also required to self-isolate for 14 days, or one week after twice testing negative for the virus.

This is despite the Health Ministry's announcement that fully vaccinated individuals and recovered coronavirus patients returning from abroad will only have to self-isolate for 24 hours after arrival, or less if they receive a negative PCR swab test, which started from Friday. Unvaccinated individuals who have not had COVID-19 will have to quarantine for the full period. 

The eased quarantine terms apply to passengers returning from “orange” and “yellow” countries, as well as “green” states where coronavirus rates are low. Although Ukraine is currently defined as an "orange" country, the restrictions will still apply. 

Israelis are still prohibited from travelling to “red” countries, including vaccinated and recovered individuals. The shortened quarantine period for vaccinated individuals and recovered COVID-19 patients applies to anyone with a valid Health Ministry proof of inoculation.

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