No Check, No Quarantine: Israel Bizjet Arrivals Exempt From Coronavirus Screening

Haaretz-TheMarker has learned that people arriving on private planes were not required to enter quarantine facilities, and at least one has been found to be infected

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Two Gulfstream business aircraft at the airport in Zurich, Switzerland, January 20, 2020.
Two Gulfstream business aircraft at the airport in Zurich, Switzerland, January 20, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Controversy erupted this month over the sight of passengers arriving on commercial flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport from countries with serious coronavirus outbreaks being allowed to leave the airport unimpeded. That prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce that all incoming flights would be halted until arrangements were made to direct arriving passengers to government-run facilities where they can be quarantined for two weeks.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett made his own formal announcement about the arrangements. Exceptions allowing people to isolate at home would need individual approval. There had been discussions regarding the matter for several weeks, but there is one segment of the population that has evaded the restrictions from the beginning – incoming passengers on private planes, and there is a considerable number of them. They haven’t been screened for the coronavirus at all, TheMarker has learned, and haven’t been required to go into quarantine facilities.

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Health Ministry officials who spoke to TheMarker confirmed that the ministry has not received any directives on private plane passengers, but said that the passengers were the responsibility of the Interior Ministry’s immigration police. “We have understood that the private flights are from people who are going to their homes. They are not people who go from one place to another,” TheMarker was told.

But when we asked if they were treated differently because they are wealthy, the answer was in the affirmative. And we were also told that from now on, private flights will apparently begin getting oversight.

It is not rare for a private plane to land in Israel. Even recently, somewhere between 50 and 100 private flights have arrived in the country. Most of the planes seat five to ten people and have been coming from Europe and Africa, but there have also been larger private flights that have brought more than 100 people to the country. The air traffic includes businessman Eitan Stiva plane's on the Tel Aviv-London route and businesswoman Nicol Raidman, who posted about her travels on Instagram.

Stiva's jet operators said "Stiva was not on the plane. Those returning on the jet from London were Israelis working for his firm and their family members, sent to 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Israel, after which they were all found to be healthy".

At least one passenger arriving on a private plane has since been found to have the coronavirus, whom the Health Ministry has designated as patient 270. The ultra-Orthodox press has reported that this was a well-known Hasidic figure “who understood that it was safer at the moment in Israel than the United States and brought his family directly to a private home that he rented in Safed, for the short term, which was prepared and equipped and arranged with every luxury.”

Another private plane recently landed in Israel carrying the body of Chaya Nechama Halberstam, the widow of the late head of the Sanz-Klausenberger Hasidic dynasty. Other prominent rabbis from the community were also on board. And on Sunday, Channel 13 reported on a plane that landed just prior to the Passover holiday with caskets containing the bodies of 16 coronavirus patients.

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