Israel is investigating claims that several passengers onboard an El Al flight from New York had fake COVID-19 test reports. 11 passengers on the same flight were later found to be positive and many reportedly refused to wear masks onboard. Israel has banned nearly all international flights (barring some repatriations) to prevent new variants of the virus from entering.
According to the Times of Israel, the incident occurred on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv. A passenger on the flight has said that she heard a group of ultra-Orthodox travelers bragging about faking their COVID-19 test results and skipping the test altogether.
Passengers flying to Israel must have a pre-departure test and are tested upon arrival in the country. Two days after the flight, dozens of passengers received the news that 11 passengers on the flight had tested positive.
To make matters worse, several of the same passengers moved the cabin during the flight, prayed in groups, and did not wear masks at times. This was in contravention to the rules, which require masks and minimal movement during the flight. When passengers complained to the cabin crew, they were told not to panic and that everything was under control.
One passenger said after the flight, “They were playing with our lives…The flight attendants were afraid to confront them [the group of passengers] and we paid a heavy price.”
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Following the passengers’ complaints and positive tests, the Israeli government is looking into the claims of fake test reports. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) Home Front Command and the Shin Bet security agency will conduct the investigation.
El Al has also responded to the reports of fake test reports and the crew’s non-enforcement of the protocol. In a statement to the Times of Israel, the carrier said,
“The claims made by passengers were passed on to the acting authorities and we are investigating the claims with the flight crew.”
Israel has gained prominence for its rapid rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. The country has administered at least one dose of the vaccine to over 50% of its population, according to data from Bloomberg. This has raised hopes that the aviation market can begin its recovery in the coming months as more people get vaccinated.
Tel Aviv-based carrier Israir is currently trailing flights for passengers who have either received the vaccine or have antibodies from past infection. The flight between Tel Aviv and Eliat will serve as the pilot program since the latter’s tourism industry has started to open.
As Israel races ahead in vaccines, its tourism industry could see a swift recovery by the summer as cases fall dramatically.