Analyzing coronavirus tests (illustrative)
Analyzing coronavirus tests (illustrative)Yossi Zeliger/Flash90

Ben Gurion International Airport will only have its own coronavirus testing facility in October, the Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee clarified Wednesday morning.

According to Transportation Ministry Director General Ofer Malka, "We set August 16 as a goal to reopen the skies. Yesterday, we submitted an additional list of countries from which Israelis can return without being required to quarantine."

"We requested approval for a plan for returning [to Israel] without quarantine [for travelers coming] from 'red' countries where the rate of infection is not very high. The Ministry has asked the Health Ministry to examine whether the quarantine period can be shortened."

He also said that the Transportation Ministry "is working to allow businessmen to travel more easily and to move the wheels of the economy. We are working to allow the entry and exit of tourists in capsules, and hope to manage it by next week. The Israel Airports Authority is working on a tender to open a lab at Ben Gurion Airport."

When asked by Economic Affairs Committee Chairman MK Yakov Margi (Shas) if "it is true that the testing facility will begin operating in mid-October," Malka said: "That's true, and we are making every effort so that it will happen even earlier. We are in a situation of a coronavirus plague which does not afford us the certainty to set dates for anything."

Dr. Asher Salmon, who heads the Health Ministry's International Department, explained to MKs that "the issue of the skies is sensitive, and we have been working on it for three months already, together with many other bodies. We are ready to move forward to the 'green countries' model. On August 16, the plan is supposed to be ready, and I hope we will make the deadline for making the regulations."

"The plan deals with the ability of Israeli citizens to enter and exit the country without needing to undergo tests or quarantine. Currently, there is a list which changes a bit every day. We have no intention of causing delays in the 'green countries' plan. This plan is limited, we need to remember that most countries in the world do not allow Israelis to enter their territory. The goal is to reach agreements with those countries which will allow, under whatever conditions, Israelis to enter."

However, he said, until a lab is opened at Ben Gurion Airport, Israelis will able to undergo tests via the national system. "We will insist that results are received within 24 hours," he emphasized.

"Regarding the 'red countries,' the issue is painful and complicated, and it's clear that countries like the US have the status of 'red countries.' Right now the required quarantine period is 14 days, and most OECD countries have not shortened it. There have been plans proposed to integrate a shortened quarantine period with tests on various days. It's not accepted in most countries, but we are examining it."

For the businesspeople, he noted that "with 'green' countries, there won't be an issue. From 'red' countries we cannot allow entry without quarantine. There is an interim solution, to [hold] business meetings at the airport."