El Al introduces trials for rapid COVID testing before flights from Israel

In hopes of reopening travel again soon, El Al launched a pilot program for rapid coronavirus testing this week at Ben Gurion Airport for unvaccinated passengers.

Sheba Medical Center developed the test, a nasal swab which produces results within 15-20 minutes. The tests will be necessary for people who have not been vaccinated including children under 16 and are not allowed to travel without either a green passport (digital vaccine certificate) or special exemption.

“Today’s flight is, I think, the first in the world where you will know that you have verified that everyone onboard is certainly clean and non-coronavirus contagious,” said Leehu Hacohen, El Al’s Vice President for Operations.

The airline hopes to set up a trial in New York next week as well, El Al CEO Avigal Soreq said.

One of the main complaints by travelers during the past year was the lack of rapid testing at the airport which would have enabled easier travel and possibly eliminated the need to quarantine upon arrival. 

Israel has ended the controversial “corona hotels,” which were state-run quarantine facilities. Instead, officials are testing using an electronic bracelet for the wrist or ankle to monitor travelers movements to ensure that they self-isolate at home.

The quarantine restrictions were quickly relaxed after the special exemptions committee that approved entry into Israel during lockdown was accused of making their decisions based on politics, disproportionately favoring ultra-Orthodox Jews over other travelers.

The coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, expressed his reservations over starting to let 1,000 -3,000 Israelis back in the country each day. He said that mutations of the virus, which had prompted the closure of the airport, could now find their way into the country.

“There is need for self-control. We don’t have enough enforcement and there is more than a little danger that mutations will enter the country,” Ash said.

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