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Virus cases said found on 17 flights as pilgrims return from Ukraine, Belarus

Confirmed coronavirus carries have been identified on 17 different flights to Tel Aviv from Ukraine and Belarus, senior Health Ministry officials told Channel 12 Tuesday.

An annual pilgrimage over the Rosh Hashanah holiday in Uman, Ukraine, which usually draws tens of thousands of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims, was curtailed this year due to the pandemic. Despite Health Ministry warnings, however, thousands of Israelis flocked to Ukraine to the pilgrimage site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, before Kyiv closed its borders in September to avoid an outbreak.

Thousands of others then traveled to neighboring Belarus in an attempt to cross the border to Ukraine, but were blocked by local authorities.

Many of the pilgrims have since returned to Israel — some of them with COVID-19.

Some returning pilgrims boarded planes to Tel Aviv while displaying symptoms of the disease, health officials told the network.

Others refused to cooperate with contact tracing or get tested for the coronavirus, the officials added.

“It’s one failure after the next,” an unnamed official said. “They aren’t willing to get tested, are unwilling to cooperate and aren’t declaring that they’ve entered quarantine. It will simply hurt us all.”

Leading up to the Rosh Hashanah holiday on September 18, the pilgrimage was a major bone of contention between ultra-Orthodox leaders and health officials, who feared the virus would spread among densely packed worshipers and travelers.

Header: Belarusian soldiers guard the border to Ukraine against hundreds of Jewish pilgrims on Sept. 15, 2020. (Courtey of Shahar Eliyahu via JTA)

Source: TOI