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British Student Group Participants Develop COVID in Israel

British Student Group Participants Develop COVID in Israel

Double-vaccinated member of 2-month student trip unknowingly came into country with delta variant

A member of an organized two-month student trip from the United Kingdom says that an individual from his group, part of the governmental initiative Masa Israel Journey, developed a case of the coronavirus while in Israel.

Aaron Black, who traveled to Israel with a UK educational organization, told The Media Line that he came down with the coronavirus about a week into his two-month program.

“This is after I tested negative in the airport PCR test when I arrived,” he said. “I had been vaccinated twice in the UK with AstraZeneca.”

A representative of the trip from the UK told The Media Line that another member of the group came into the country while infected with COVID-19.

“Yes, one member of our group brought COVID from England to Israel. But the funny thing was he has been double vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.

This occurred despite the numerous precautions required by the Israeli government before foreign nationals are permitted to enter the country, including a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of boarding a plane, a second negative test taken upon arrival in Israel, and a positive antibody test.

The previous government guidelines were that anyone who had been double vaccinated did not have to isolate if they came into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus but simply had to test negative for COVID-19.

I had been vaccinated twice in the UK with AstraZeneca

But once two vaccinated members of the UK student trip developed the virus, the entire group was ordered to isolate and get tested again; they remained in isolation for five days. A third student, who was not vaccinated, developed the virus while in the isolation required upon entering the country.

“For our group, they got worried, as two of the three had been double vaccinated and still had COVID,” the UK group representative said.

From his interactions with the Health Ministry, he suggested that ministry officials “did not know what strain they had and were scared that the delta strain may beat the vaccine. So, they said for our group only, until they get all the test results back, they need everyone to isolate.”

The Health Ministry did not respond to emails from The Media Line requesting comment by publication time.

Group member Aaron Black confirmed to The Media Line that while his variant was never confirmed, “One of the people that I was exposed to was told they had the delta variant.”

The British student group in question entered the country in mid-June, around the same time that several other groups arrived in Israel as part of a tourism pilot program. Israel’s pilot program is a trial test of twenty tour groups, intended as a precursor to Israel’s full reopening to tourists.

According to Lydia Weitzman, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Tourism, around 1,500 tourists are expected to visit Israel by the end of July within the framework of the ministry’s pilot project. This is occurring as large groups of foreign nationals arrive for educational and Birthright programs.

One educational organization, Onward Israel internship, has brought eleven groups into Israel, made up of nearly 190 students from North America and the UK for work placements. A program director for the organization, Esther Jankelow, told The Media Line that the organization will continue bringing groups into the country until it is forced to stop.

This appears increasingly likely as the number of daily infections has continued to rise since the educational groups and pilot groups arrived.

Since early to mid-June, when the groups began entering the country, daily infection rates in Israel have risen from under forty per day up into the hundreds, with 519 infections on July 4, and 765 infections on July 14.

Pini Shani, senior deputy director-general of the Tourism Experience Administration, told The Media Line in a statement that the “pilot project to bring groups of vaccinated tourists to Israel is continuing.”

In response to the question of whether any of the pilot groups brought cases of the coronavirus into the country, Shani said: “To date, there have not been any cases of a [pilot group] tourist testing positive for corona while touring the country.”

However, the UK student group which entered the country around the same time as the pilot groups was subject to the same testing, with one individual unintentionally slipping through the safeguards.

Shani added that the government’s decision to open the country to vaccinated tourists “depends on issues related to the morbidity rate in Israel and around the world, rather than the success of the pilot project.”

On Wednesday, the coronavirus cabinet released new guidelines for controlling the spread of the coronavirus but did not announce a decision on when it would allow the country to open up to individual tourists. The tourists were scheduled to be allowed in, pending the success of the pilot program, at the beginning of August, but reports have indicated that this could be pushed off until early September.

Aron Rosenthal is a student at the University of Edinburgh and an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.

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