Israelis who arrived back to the country from Italy on Thursday were surprised to find out there was no medical officials at the airport eager to examine them or transport them home for the mandated two-week quarantine due to spread of coronavirus. Many are left with no option but to take public transport and risk exposing general public to a virus they might potentially be carrying.
Earlier in the day, the Health Ministry confirmed an Israeli national who had returned from Italy on Sunday tested positive for the coronavirus. Italy is now among the countries severely affected by the health crisis, with 15 confirmed fatalities and over 600 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. On Wednesday the Health Ministry issued a travel warning to the country that now effectively joins a host of Far East state with travel advisory.
"We are shocked no one tested us when we arrived," said Eden, 22, from northern Israel who returned from a trip to Venice with her mother and sister. "The fact that employees [at Ben Gurion Airport] are not wearing masks is surprising. We walked all around Italy with masks, refrained from any crowded areas and are now heading to quarantine at home."
Ilana Mizel, who returned from Milan and was on her way to Kiryat Haim in northern Israel, called “stupid” the Health Ministry’s directive to self-quarantine.
"I think it's rather stupid to send me to a home quarantine after I stood in a packed terminal, with no one checking me,” she said.
“What if I have to take the train to get home?"
Daniela, 28, an architecture student from the Veneto region in northern Italy, decided to return to Israel because of the virus outbreak in the European country. "The authorities canceled all our classes, so I decided to return home," she said. "Even though it saddens me, I need to stay in quarantine and not meet up with my family for a long time," she added.
"And then they say that we need to be responsible," she said, referring to the oversight at Ben Gurion Airport.
Popular Israeli TV host Guy Pines, who took a flight to Europe on Thursday morning, tried to bring down the level of hysteria surrounding the new virus.
"I'm heading to a destination that isn't considered 'contaminated,' or else I would have not traveled, I keep an eye on these sorts of things. I'm not panicking, and I don't think other people should either," he said.
"I don't even think the masks really work," he added. "I think it's more to feel like something is being done, but that's not what's going to save us from this new virus."
Pines then implied the media is responsible for creating a panic over the spread of the illness, which he believes is not as dangerous as the news makes it put to be. "I don't think humanity is in danger ... we've gone a bit overboard on this," he said.
Earlier Thursday, Population and Immigration Authority inspectors at the Ramon Airport in southern Israel refused to let 25 passengers, arriving on a Ryanair flight from Bergamo, Italy, to enter the country. Nineteen of them are Italian citizens and the rest are of various other nationalities.
Israeli passengers departed the plane and were instructed by the Health Ministry to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Israeli flag carrier El Al said earlier it has ordered the immediate suspension of all flights to and from Italy, with travel to Thailand set to also be halted next week until March 27, due spread of the virus.
"In light of the health and interior ministries directive, the company is forced to announce the suspension of operations in Milan, Venice, Rome and Naples,” said the airlines in a statement. “Operations in Thailand will be halted starting Monday until March 27, with the last flight to Bangkok departing on Sunday and the last flight to Israel departing on Tuesday.”