Hundreds of British-Israelis are facing another week in quarantine in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv hotels, after fears over the new strain of coronavirus provoked emergency measures as they flew back from the UK.
In Israel there was a picture of utter confusion, as passengers were told first one thing and then another on Sunday. One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “On the Easyjet flight from Luton on Sunday, people were told that the regulations were changing and were given the choice of whether to leave the flight”.
Those who remained were “hustled” off the plane at Ben-Gurion airport, their passports taken from them. The eyewitness said that passengers were “forced” onto coaches and driven to the internment hotels. There are thought to be almost 300 passengers in the Dan Panorama Jerusalem, including numerous children, and similar numbers in other hotels.
The hotel confinement is taking place under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and policed by the army. “People are under strict instruction not to leave their rooms and I have not,” one man told Jewish News, “but there are plenty of people strolling around the corridors”.
Within hours of the passengers’ arrival, social media groups operating in Israel leapt into action. Anton Delin, a Londoner who is the administrator of the 8,000-strong Britons Living in Israel Facebook group, coordinated donations of clothing and toiletries.
He said: “Everyone is just holed up in their rooms and are not allowed to congregate”. His group was working with the Keep Olim In Israel group, which is providing mental health programming for some of the frustrated one-time passengers. There has also been Zoom programming aimed at the children in the hotel, including a virtual tour of the Biblical Zoo. He paid tribute to support provided by the manager of Virgin Atlantic in Israel, Nick Bettles, who, he said, “has been fantastic”.
Among the beneficiaries of outside help is the Conservative Friends of Israel staffer in Israel, Ellen Steel, who, ironically, can actually see her Jerusalem apartment from the windows of her hotel “prison”. Expressing gratitude to Anton Delin and his group of helpers, she said: “The outpouring of love from total strangers is amazing”.
She said that all the minibar stock had been taken out of fridges in the rooms — and that no alcohol was permitted, even from outside deliveries from friends or families. Many people had resorted to takeaway food deliveries in the evening, she said, and many such meals had been paid for by Delin’s group. “We were told when we arrived that there would be three meals a day, but many people have simply not received adequate deliveries.” Delin said people had complained that food was “dumped” outside their hotel rooms and that some had “bugs” in the food.
Steel said that there were a large number of strictly Orthodox people in the hotel and no-one knew how they were managing. “We have all set up WhatsApp communication with each other but the Charedim don’t have that facility”.
Nevertheless, some people are being allowed to leave the hotel and return home, usually after applying for one of the various exemptions, such as mental or physical illness.
One British citizen, Sarah Godfrey, and her seven-year-old daughter, had good news on Tuesday were granted permission to wait out the rest of their quarantine at home in Tel Aviv. Her daughter, she said, had benefited from “on-line English lessons” during their brief stay. She had originally intended to be in the UK for 10 days to visit her mother who has Parkinson’s and related dementia, but had cut her trip back to three days when she realised that virus was spiralling out of control in Britain.
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