The majority of COVID cases that have been detected during mandatory testing at Ben Gurion Airport in recent days appear to be among pilgrims returning from the Ukranian city of Uman, according to new data obtained by Ynet.
Every year, thousands of members of the Breslov Hasidic movement descend on Uman in time for the Jewish New Year for a three-day celebration at the gravesite of the movement's founder Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. This year, some 30,000 Jewish pilgrims were reported to have flown to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.
According to the data, of the 16,388 COVID tests performed at Ben Gurion Airport on pilgrims who had returned from Uman between September 9-10, more than 1,400 came back positive.
On Thursday - a day after Rosh Hashanah - the national emergency service Magen David Adom revealed that the contagion rate among the worshippers returning from Uman is particularly high, standing at about 13.5%.
Out of the tens of thousands of arrivals from Ukraine over the weekend, 117 were summoned for questioning on suspicion of falsifying their COVID test results so they could enter the country unabated.
So far, at least 13 pilgrims who arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on a flight from Kyiv were found to be carrying forged documents. Authorities are expected to launch criminal proceedings against them for knowingly spreading a communicable disease.
Ukrainian police also reported several incidents of fraudulent certificates and COVID tests among the worshippers. Local residents, meanwhile, complained that the pilgrims did not obey the instructions, and refrained from wearing masks.
While the lion's share of worshipers arrived from Israel, many others came from France, Britain, Canada, and the United States among other countries.
An internal letter received by Ynet reveals that coronavirus czar, Prof. Salman Zarka, warned the authorities a month ago about the danger of allowing the Uman pilgrimage to take place.
In his letter, Zarka stated that the pilgrimage has potential to spur "mass infection," which might have severe epidemiological consequences for the entire population.
"This event is a crowded, multi-participant meeting, which does not operate in accordance with Israel’s Green Pass outline,” Zarka stated in his letter. "The surroundings of the Rebbe's grave and the ways to get to and from it could be a possible source of mass infection.
“These returnees from Uman are citizens from all parts of the country, and are expected to be at synagogues during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There is a fundamental concern that upon their return they could ignite a new wave of infection and import new variants to Israel,” the health official added.
Israel, meanwhile, has issued a travel warning to Ukraine due to relatively high coronavirus infection rates in the Eastern European country, and requires returnees to self-isolate for seven days upon their arrival in Israel.