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Why has Israel still not opened its skies? Sources blame Health Ministry

The Airports Authority and Ben-Gurion Airport have completed all preparations to achieve the “Blue Ribbon” required by the Health Ministry to resume flights, but the ministry is procrastinating, people familiar with the matter told The Jerusalem Post.

“The plan to open the sky prepared by government officials is on paper only; no one will make a decision,” one of the sources said.

A risk-management assessment was conducted by the research and development division of the Defense Ministry, the research department of the Air Force and the Weizmann Institute of Science. It showed that the risk of morbidity due to flights is low, the sources said. Nonetheless, resuming flights continues to be delayed, putting the country’s entire aviation industry “at the point of no return.”

Aviation professionals, including pilots and ground-services companies, will lose their certification and require months of retraining to meet international regulations and operate again, the sources said.

“When they want to open the skies, there will be no one to work with due to the stringent international regulatory competencies required,” an aviation expert said.

“The need to retrain thousands of employees will not allow Israel to open its skies.”

There is a regulated plan for opening airports in more than 70 countries, which are moving forward because they understand the long-term damage closing their borders would cause, the sources said.

For example, the European countries are canceling their closure on June 15 and enabling tourists from within the European Union to enter. Austria already is allowing flights from some European countries, but not Italy.

Israel’s “Blue Ribbon” plan is already in place at Ben-Gurion Airport, including a coronavirus-free compound and a set of far-reaching safeguards that could be implemented to protect travelers, the sources said.

The plan would involve passengers arriving at the airport four hours in advance of their flight. At the terminal gate, passengers would present a boarding pass that they printed at home. Their temperatures would be taken, and they would wear masks.

All activity would take place in Terminal 3, and anyone with a fever would be refused entry.

Airline counters would remain uncrowded as they would only be used for suitcase drop-offs. Lines leading up to the counters would be marked with stickers two meters apart.

Hand sanitizers would be available to passengers throughout the process and inside the terminal.

All employees would wear masks, and attendants would be protected by a barrier.

Sanitizing robots would regularly scour the area.

Authorities would like to first implement the plan with travel to and from “green states,” those with a low level of infection – including Seychelles, Cyprus, Greece, South Korea, Slovenia, Montenegro, Georgia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Austria and Lithuania – and potentially others in the near future, the sources said.

These countries would agree to adopt the recommendations of the Health Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Foreign Ministry officials blame the Health and Justice ministries for creating unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles that are preventing the pilot program from moving forward, a source told Ynet. On the other hand, the countries that have been green-lighted are pressing Israel to move forward.

Meanwhile, resuming intercity train service also has been delayed.

Last week, Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud) announced that full train service would begin on June 8. On Sunday, the announcement was retracted as the number of people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus continues to spike.

There was an increase of 111 patients in 24 hours, crossing a redline set by Prime Minister Benjamin

Netanyahu on May 4. However, health experts said with the number of people screened reaching 10,000 or more per day, the infection rate is still around 1%, and reinstating emergency regulations may not be necessary.

At last count, of the 2,474 active cases, only 27 were in serious condition, including 23 who are intubated.

The city with the greatest increase in patients was Tel Aviv, which had 37 new people diagnosed with the virus in the last day and 47 in the last three days. In contrast, Jerusalem had 37 new cases in the last three days.

The coronavirus cabinet is scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss public transportation. The earliest train service is expected to resume is on Wednesday, but it likely will be delayed further.

One idea that was raised was requiring tickets to be purchased in advance. But that system is not in place yet, and even if it were, it could pose challenges for elderly or haredi (ultra-Orthodox) travelers who might not have access to the necessary technology.

On Sunday, inner-city buses and the light rail were packed with travelers.

Meanwhile, the infection rate in schools continues to escalate. Some 17,605 students and teachers were in isolation, and 130 schools and preschools were closed, the Education Ministry reported Sunday night.

In total, some 277 students and faculty members have been diagnosed with the virus.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud) on Sunday announced municipalities could decide for themselves if they want to operate schools according to the capsule system or via distance learning. The coronavirus cabinet is expected to discuss this issue, too.

Following the cabinet meeting, health and other officials are expected to meet again with the prime minister to determine if reinstating some emergency regulations might be necessary. It is expected that no restrictions will be reinstated but that there will be a delay in further opening up the economy next week, as originally agreed. This could include pushing off allowing gatherings of up to 100 people, opening event halls or any cultural centers.

It is too early to call the recent spike in coronavirus cases a second wave, and Israel must get used to living with the novel coronavirus, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch (Likud) said.

“It is too early to say that we are experiencing an outbreak,” he told KAN radio. “A coronavirus routine can be established that will allow us to live life almost uninterrupted.”

Kisch’s statements contradicted what Dr. Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, told KAN over the weekend. She said she was disturbed by the recent spike in cases, adding: “The seeds we are planting are very dangerous.”

Header: The empty Ben Gurion airport, as most flights have been cencelled in order to prevent the spreading of the Coronavirus. April 06, 2020.
(photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)

Original: JPost