Coronavirus Claims New Victim in Israel: Tolerance of Chinese Students

Joe Yu arrived at New York’s JFK Airport for his return flight to Israel last week after attending a short academic conference at Rutgers University. Yet after handing the Aeroflot attendant his passport at check-in, Yu was informed he could not board the flight.

“They just told me, ‘Chinese passport, no, we’re not taking it,’” says Yu, who works as a postdoctoral student in mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot. (Like everyone quoted in this story, Yu’s name has been changed to protect his identity.)

Yu was seemingly the latest victim of confusion surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 800 people and infected more than 37,000 globally since first being reported late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

At the end of January, Israel’s Health Ministry issued a guideline “to deny entry to anyone who is not an Israeli resident and who has stayed in China over the last 14 days.” However, Yu hasn’t been to his hometown of Dalian, Liaoning province – some 900 miles, or 1,450 kilometers, from Wuhan – since last October.

He called the airline four times but received the same response each time. He recalls various Aeroflot employees telling him: “The order we got is that we’re not taking Chinese passports.” Yu believes Aeroflot misinterpreted a directive from Israel’s Health Ministry, which he says declared that entry be refused to “Chinese citizens and foreign nationals who have been to China during the last 14 days.” He believes Aeroflot interpreted the first part of the clause as meaning a blanket ban on all Chinese citizens. Haaretz did not find such a directive on the ministry’s website. Aeroflot has yet to respond to a request to comment.

After calling the Israeli Embassy, Chinese Embassy and even making a trip to the Aeroflot offices in New York, the Weizmann Institute eventually arranged for Yu to return to Israel on an El Al flight.

Yu says he has heard of other cases where Chinese students, despite not having traveled to China in recent weeks, encountered similar problems when returning to Israel.