How an American With Coronavirus Was Allowed on an Aliyah Flight to Israel

The case of a U.S. immigrant in her eighties who was allowed to board a flight to Israel this week even though she was infected with the coronavirus has raised questions about what, if any, measures are being taken to screen new immigrants arriving in the country.

Information obtained by Haaretz shows that Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization responsible for aliyah from North America, knew that the woman and her daughter, who planned to travel together, might be carriers of the virus and had instructed them several days before the flight to conduct tests.

However, the two women were allowed to board the flight before receiving their results. Only upon landing in Israel was the woman notified that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. Her daughter was negative.

The mother and daughter were among 51 immigrants traveling to Israel on an El Al flight from New York that landed in Israel on Tuesday. The oldest person in the group – not the infected woman herself – was 87 years old, putting them in the higher risk category for severe illness if they were to contract COVID-19.

Some of the 51 new immigrants who landed on the flight from New York at Ben Gurion Airport, June 9, 2020. Those pictured are not suspected of having coronavirus.Yonit Schiller

Israel Hayom reported Tuesday that a passenger with the coronavirus was on board the plane, adding that social distancing rules were not being observed during the flight.

With the exception of new immigrants – and, more recently, individuals possessing special student visas – only Israeli citizens have been allowed into the country since mid-March. A Tel Aviv University study, published last month, found that 70 percent of coronavirus cases in Israel had originated in the United States. All individuals entering the country are required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Some 2,000 immigrants from all over the world have arrived in Israel since mid-March, when the country went into lockdown, with Nefesh B’Nefesh reporting a surge in interest in aliyah during this time. This appears to be the first known case of an oleh arriving with the coronavirus.