When news broke on Monday evening that Israel would be quarantining all visitors for 14 days, it was as if an asteroid had smashed into Golders Green.
Pesach is fast approaching. Hundreds are booked onto flights and into hotels. Thousands of families are planning to spend their holidays together. Or they were. The virus has thrown everything up in the droplet-laden air.
Few planning to go to Israel will do so if they have to stay isolated in a room for a fortnight upon arrival – few even go for that long in the first place. Cue a flood of frenzied refund requests and desperate flight rescheduling.
Travel agents here feel the Israelis are doing themselves a disservice by shutting the gates, but the Israelis don’t see it like that.
Public health is priority number one, two and three in a tiny state with an already-creaking healthcare infrastructure.
But this announcement didn’t come from nowhere. Two days before, it was clear that the coronavirus had already taken its toll when Israeli flag carrier El Al said it was laying off 1,000 permanent and temporary staff in the coming days due to a “significant drop in passenger demand”.
The cull, representing a staggering one sixth of the airline’s staff, is accompanied by a significant 20 percent salary cut for directors, who said revenues were expected to drop by up to £50million between January and April.
In short, the situation was bad anyway.
Yet all this goes far beyond pounds and shekels and holiday plans. A British Jewish man due to make aliyah this month now has his life on-hold, while an Orthodox couple from Stamford Hill had to cancel their wedding in Israel.
Likewise, the yeshivas in Israel all closed this week, four weeks early, meaning hundreds of Jewish boys from places like London and Manchester were left fighting for seats on flights from Ben-Gurion to Blighty. Some won’t manage to get home.
It’s a mess. One well-known Jewish travel agent called it “a total disaster”.
But he also reminded us that “the weather changes.” In the interim, let’s knuckle down and ride out the storm.
Anyone got any toilet paper?