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Five COVID cases diagnosed at Tel Aviv judo competition after foreign athletes allowed in

Israel allows in judokas, strands citizens while government considers extending airport closure into next month

Judo International Grand Prix Competition in Tel Aviv 2020 (Photo: Flash90)

Five “borderline” COVID cases were reportedly diagnosed among athletes at the international judo competition currently being held in Tel Aviv.

Despite Israel being officially "hermetically" sealed with thousands of Israelis stranded abroad due to the closure of Israel’s main airport, Israeli authorities controversially agreed to receive more than 500 foreign athletes from 63 countries.

With the exception of cargo and emergency flights, Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport has been almost entirely closed since Jan. 25. While the closure of the airport was recently extended to Feb. 20, the closure of Israeli skies will likely be extended again. The key question is when, and under what conditions, Israel’s airport will reopen. The answer will have a great impact on thousands of people eager to catch both inbound and outbound flights. 

The decision by Israeli authorities to greenlight an international sports competition in Tel Aviv, while many Israelis are stranded abroad has evoked anger among many ordinary Israelis. 

“There’s no way I should be stuck in the U.S. for two weeks, while all sorts of athletes enter the country because they are in judo. Because judo is an Olympic sport, they care about them, while I stand here in the cold and attempt to get on a flight,” one Israeli man told Channel 12.

Many Israelis who increasingly feel abandoned by the Israeli state bureaucracy share these angry sentiments. 

However, Israeli authorities defended their decision to host the international judo competition. 

“The tournament was planned in depth to meet the strictest standards to defend against the coronavirus and received permission from the Health Ministry before the lockdown and closure of flights,” a ministry statement said. 

At the same time, Israelis stranded abroad seeking to return home face considerable Israeli bureaucracy and very few available flights. Earlier this week, the Israeli coronavirus cabinet decided to increase the daily quota of incoming passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport from 600 to 2000. Only Israelis receiving special permission are currently allowed to return to Israel. Unlike the foreign athletes, arriving Israeli citizens must spend 14 days in a state-run corona facility or at least 10 days subject to two negative COVID-19 tests. 

Another big hurdle has been Israel’s insistence on currently only allowing Israeli airlines to fly to and from Ben-Gurion. However, after U.S. protests and pressure, the Israeli government reversed its decision by allowing U.S. airline companies Delta and United to operate on flights to and from Israel. At the same time, the airport closure is expected to be extended to at least March 7.

While Israel’s airport will eventually reopen, the conditions for resumed air travel remain uncertain. As part of the eventual reopening, Israel’s Transportation Ministry is reportedly seeking to restrict international travel for Israeli citizens who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday. If implemented, Israeli citizens who have not been vaccinated will be denied permission to fly for “unessential” reasons without receiving special permission by the government committee. It remains unclear what would constitute “essential” reasons. In addition, it is not clear how these potential travel restrictions would affect dual citizens and foreign nationals.

In parallel, the Transportation Ministry is reportedly also pushing for requiring all arriving passengers who refuse to isolate at state-run corona facilities to download a tracking app on their cellular phone. 

These proposed travel restrictions need to be approved by the attorney general in order to be implemented. It is also unclear whether they are legally feasible. 


The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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