'No Hugs': Passengers Fly Direct From N.Y.C. to State-run Quarantine in Israel

Arrivals on what has become a rare flight were examined by medics and sent to either hospital or hotel as Israel belatedly implements travel restrictions

Bar Peleg
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Home Front Command officer directing arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2020.
Home Front Command officer directing arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2020. Credit: Meged Gozani
Bar Peleg

The 158 passengers on United Airlines flight 090 from Newark to Tel Aviv who landed Tuesday morning at Ben-Gurion International Airport were received by the army, paramedics and the police. They were sent off to hotels where they would spend the next 14 days in quarantine, according to a cabinet decision made this week.

Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troopsCredit: Haaretz

The decision to quarantine all arrivals in state-run facilities has been in place for two weeks but was not fully implemented. This is only the second commercial flight to land at the airport since the new directives went into effect, while the first one was a much smaller flight, not requiring as much preparation on the ground as Tuesday's one.

According to a Haaretz-TheMarker report published Tuesday, people arriving on private jets are still able to enter the country without oversight.

A passenger being greeted at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2020.
A passenger being greeted at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2020. Credit: Meged Gozani

The passengers entered arrivals hall through a side door, as a police officer asked the many relatives who came greet the passengers to not get close. “Assume that 50 percent of the people on this flight are sick with coronavirus,” he called to the friends and families, “So no touching and no hugs.”

The screening procedure began as soon as passengers got off the flight. After providing their details, they were checked by a paramedics for symptoms. If they had symptoms they were given a coronavirus test, and those that required hospitalization were evacuated. The rest were sent off for isolation in a hotel in Jerusalem. Seven passengers with complex medical conditions were sent to home isolation.

Roy from Herzliya had not seen his partner for three months. When he saw her, they touched elbows and he handed her a large bag with snacks. “She could have gone into isolation alone in an apartment in Tel Aviv. She is depressed about it because she has a place to go that is not a hotel,” he said. When the two met over a low fence separating them, she asked him to come visit her outside the hotel. He promised to try.

Passenger greeted at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2020.
A passenger being greeted at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2020. Credit: Meged Gozani

Most of the passengers did not know exactly where they would be taken when they got off the plane. Buses were waiting for them outside the terminal along with representatives of the military's Home Front Command. They were put on the buses in groups of 50. Many of the passengers were young, and the atmosphere of a school trip was in the air. “I don’t know what hotel I’m going to, I wanted to go home,” a passenger told journalists and others who gathered around.

“They’re turning us into lepers,” said Tanya from Jerusalem. She decided to return to Israel because she realized it would be a while before flights resume. “I finished my business there and worried I wouldn’t see my family for a long time. I have to say, nothing was clear and certainly not for me … I had no idea where exactly I was going and what the procedure is,” she said.

Ronit, whose partner had spent the last two months in Georgia because of his work, said they planned for him to be in isolation in a separate residential unit in their house. “We made all the preparations and there were no problems. Until a few days ago, we were sure it would go as planned but everything changed,” she said, referring to the change in policy that now required her husband to be isolated in a hotel. ”In principle, I understand it, but on a personal level it’s upsetting. He would have been more comfortable going through the isolation period at home.”

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