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Shock at Ben-Gurion Airport: Police escort Israelis returning from UK to quarantine hotels

Chaos and anger as citizens carted off to hotels without forewarning

Police escorting returning passengers to quarantine hotels, Dec. 20, 2020 (Photo: screenshot Twitter)

Police met Israeli citizens landing in Israel on flights from the United Kingdom, took their passports and ushered them directly to a bus to take them to hotels.

The dramatic scene at the airport sparked chaos and anger after Israel’s coronavirus cabinet decided to deny entry to all foreign citizens arriving from Denmark, the United Kingdom and South Africa and that all Israelis returning from the three countries must isolate at special state-run quarantine hotels upon arrival.

They will remain at the hotels for 14 days with the possibility of leaving after 10 days if they receive two negative coronavirus test results. 

Dual British-Israeli citizen Ellen Steel described her experience to The Times of Israel from a bus driving to the corona hotel.

“At Luton [airport], check-in was normal, but then they called boarding 1.5 hours early. At the gate, they turned everyone away [all non-Israelis] who had a British passport with permission to enter. They then took Israelis aside and explained that the chances were that by the time we were back we’d have to go to a corona hotel but it wasn’t 100% yet. Quite a lot of people didn’t get on the flight and we had to wait for luggage to come off.”

“We weren’t given any advance information that we need to enter forced quarantine. This a scandal for the State of Israel… this is chutzpah,” another passenger told the Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

The cabinet decision was taken this morning and is aimed at preventing the spread of new coronavirus mutations registered in the three countries. The cabinet made the decision, as flights were still en route to Israel from the UK, so that returning Israelis were very surprised to learn that they would not be returning to their homes. Instead, they were taken to an isolated area in the airport terminal, where they underwent coronavirus tests, and were then taken immediately for isolation in the hotels.

Some 30 of the passengers refused to cooperate, and police were called to the airport. Eventually about 30 of them boarded flights back to London, according to a report by Times of Israel.  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers that apart from Denmark, the UK and South Africa, more countries will likely be added to the list. The emergency decision by the Israeli government was made after consultation with Israel’s coronavirus czar, Professor Nachman Ash, who had urged even stricter measures, such as completely closing Ben-Gurion Airport. If implemented, this extreme measure would effectively close off Israel from the rest of the world. 

Israel is not the only country currently barring entry for travelers from the UK. Following the outbreak of a more infectious corona variant in Britain, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium have all banned flights from the UK. France is reportedly also considering stopping passenger traffic from Britain. The new corona variant is reportedly up to 70 % more infectious. 

In addition, this morning the Ministry of Health decided to designate all countries "red," which requires returning Israelis to enter into a mandatory quarantine period.

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

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