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Officials defend sweeping measures after first unquarantined Israeli carrier diagnosed; travelers from Italy turned back

The entry ban for non-Israelis arriving from Italy is already in effect, the Interior Ministry said Thursday.

At least 48 foreign nationals, including at least 19 Italians, were denied entry to the country after landing at Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday, and will be flown back to their country, the Interior Ministry said.

Israeli officials defended the far-reaching steps from criticism over the rising economic and diplomatic costs.

“With epidemics, before it happens they say you’re doing too much and afterward they say you did too little,” Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said on Wednesday.

Israel did not believe it could prevent the virus from entering the country, he added, but could significantly slow its progress, minimizing its effects and preventing strain on the country’s health services.

Israel’s top infectious diseases official, Dr. Tal Brosh, said Thursday the measures were justified because Israel had easily controlled borders.

Asked in a Channel 12 interview why Israel was implementing much more drastic measures than European nations or the United States, Brosh, who leads the Health Ministry’s Infectious Diseases Unit, said, “There’s a difference with us. We’re a small country with hermetically sealed borders. We can control this. The US and Europe are wide open” and unable to meaningfully limit entry from affected areas.

Netanyahu, too, defended the measures: “I set a policy for Israel of over-preparation instead of under-preparation. There has been criticism of this, but I believed, and still believe, that a policy of exaggerated concern is the right policy because the health of Israel’s citizens is our top priority. So we took steps other countries have not taken,” he said in a Thursday statement.

The fallout from the new measures has so far been felt most acutely in the tourism and air travel industries.

El Al, Israel’s largest airline, announced Thursday it was suspending multiple routes to affected countries. They include all Italian destinations, including Milan, Venice and Rome, as well as low-cost subsidiary Sun D’Or’s flights to Naples, all of which are suspended starting Friday. All flights to and from Thailand are canceled beginning March 3. The launch of the new direct route to Tokyo, which was set to open this week, will be delayed until April 4. Plus the suspension of flights to Beijing and Hong Kong is being extended until May 2.

El Al promised to refund all tickets on the affected flights.

The airline was among several companies that warned they faced dramatic financial consequences from the current situation.

Those complaints led to the establishment earlier this week of a cabinet-level committee headed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon charged with managing a government compensation scheme for airlines and other companies affected by the coronavirus measures.

Schools, too, are feeling the effects. The Education Ministry announced earlier this week it was canceling school trips abroad, especially the annual tours of Israeli high schoolers to Nazi concentration camps in Poland.

Header: People wearing face masks against the coronavirus at Ben Gurion Airport on February 27, 2020. (Avshalom Shoshani/Flash90)