What do Iran, Yemen, Syria and Libya all have in common?
None of these states has any kind of diplomatic relations with Israel, but according to data released by the Health Ministry, hundreds of people have recently entered Israel after traveling to those countries.
The information appears on the ministry’s online dashboard, which provides COVID-19 statistics. One set of data shows how many cases were found in tests on people who recently entered Israel from foreign countries.
Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Brunei and even North Korea are among countries that don’t recognize Israel, yet they appear on the dashboard. It’s not clear if these people are Israelis who traveled to those countries and returned, citizens of those countries who entered Israel, or citizens of third countries who traveled to Israel after visits to Iran and the other states.
By publishing this data, the ministry aims to increase awareness on the countries from which Israelis and visitors are bringing in the coronavirus, presumably to discourage such travel. The online chart shows the number of people who have entered from different countries over the past four months, and how many of them tested positive for the virus.
Some of the numbers – such as the two people entering from Iran – could potentially be explained by the arrival of new immigrants, or family members visiting the small community of Jews in the Islamic Republic. According to the numbers, seven people arrived from Yemen, four from Libya and five from North Korea. One person entered from Brunei and one from Pakistan.
The larger numbers are more surprising and hard to explain. The chart says that since the spring, 502 people have entered Israel from Syria, 161 from Saudi Arabia, 147 from Lebanon and 96 from Iraq.
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While security risks associated with such travel exist, the COVID risk is not that high. From the list of countries that are ostensibly off limits, only two travelers have returned testing positive for the virus, one from Iraq and one from Saudi Arabia.