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Israel and Covid

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Israel and Covid feature

Sue Fox charts the hassle of flying to and from Israel in the age of Covid.

Israel here we come.

Never mind PASSENGER LOCATOR FORM, what I need is a brain locator form.

Flights to Israel were bought pre-Covid. It was barely two years ago but I seem to have aged another decade. When Israel opened up on November 1st, we finally had no need to cancel the 6th date of a possible visit to relatives and good friends. The cotton tee-shirts were ironed, the summer trainers reappeared, and Amazon delivered half a caseload of requests from the kibbutz – arriving one pack at a time during COP26 which did nothing to help the planet. I narrowly missed a nervous breakdown ordering eights pairs of pyjamas for my sister’s eight grandkids aged from 10 going on 16 – to 9 months. Four of them have names beginning with the letter ‘Y’. They all wear different sizes. Yet this was as nothing compared to the pre-Covid testing at Brent Cross shopping centre, the passenger locator form, the Covid Travel Pass downloaded to a Wallet on an iPhone, the booking of Covid tests to take place on arrival at Ben Gurion Airport and the emailed letter of quarantine restrictions printed in Hebrew.

A seven-year-old could have done it all in minutes. Our adult children had to be roped in. Reference numbers, Q codes, passport numbers, scanning, reading glasses on/off, fat fingers on key board, forgotten passwords, booster jab proof – this is not for Jewish pensioners. This is not for any pensioners. It is discrimination big time. I know people who paid twenty pounds to GPs for some written proof of the booster. (Now available on a Covid Pass.) Friends kept Whatsapping to see how we were doing because they were due to fly to Israel the following week. It’s a wonder no one asked for my blood group. How can travel have become so complicated, woke and expensive?

The Covid test pre-travel is a minefield. A couple travelling two days before us said they were going to Brent Cross drive-in because the Q codes were too difficult to do on line, and a place in Hendon was charging 300 pounds. It costs a lot wherever you go. We booked Fly and Go tests or maybe it was Travel and Fly on-line to have at Ben Gurion. They cost 80 shekels which was about 20 pounds for the two of us. The pound was going down and the shekel going up so by now it could be more expensive. I doubt it will ever be a bargain. Checking in was a doddle (British Airways). As it was Friday, the flight was a delight. In Israel it was also pretty painless to go through passport control and find the Covid Testing centre. There were about 30 booths so getting tested was fast. Fast but I’m not sure it was thorough or even useful. A swab stick went no where near my throat and barely found the inside of my nose. There was none of the shoving up your nose coming out of your head testing, and no going down to where your tonsils might once have made a home for themselves. Fortunately my sister read the quarantine note which basically said you could be released the following day. My husband’s negative result arrived within hours. Mine came in the middle of the following night. By then we had travelled to Netanya – Temple Fortune with sand – and were looking for money changers. How anyone can afford to live in Israel is a mystery.

In Jerusalem two days later, we started to worry about booking a Covid test in order to fly home the following Saturday. As the train from the amazing new Navon station back to Netanya stops at the airport we decided to book tests there 48 hours before departure home to the UK. The train stops at the wrong terminal for the tests we’d booked. We took the shuttle bus to Terminal 1 and found the Covid centre. We showed our booking references. It was the wrong company. Fly and Go, Test and Fly… who knows? – we had wasted 80 shekels. My dearly beloved who is much calmer than me just paid up. I was cross – my usual default. A lovely young Israeli guy showed us to the testers who, once again, barely touched our noses and throats. He asked if he could help with a refund. We were amazed. He dialed the company we had wrongly booked, hung on for 10 minutes and signalled that we shouldn’t talk. “I’m telling them you’re my parents and you made a mistake and need a refund.” Moments later he told us that in fourteen days time we will find a refund on the credit card. I wanted to give him some money for his trouble to buy a drink at the very least. He wouldn’t hear of it. So I told him I would be honoured to be his mother. That night we booked more tests to be delivered to our home in London, so we could do them on day two. They cost a fortune and we had no idea how we were going to deal with getting results.

Leaving Israel we had forgotten that you have to go through security before checking in. The process was nothing like it used to be. It took moments. Check-in was easy. The flight was lovely – one whisky and I was in a coma for the entire journey. Passport Control at Heathrow took minutes – the electronic gates worked and no one anywhere asked for a Passenger Locator Form or a Covid test result. At home, our test kits had arrived. Glasses on, we tried to log on to the website, it was impossible. We did the tests. The little container showed negative results for us both which we photographed. Neither of us could decipher how to send them to the website. After an hour and a half, we gave up and threw it all out. Will anyone check on us? I have no idea. The tests cost more than the flight. The aggravation is priceless.

We are recuperating. It may take a while.  

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Sue Fox is a freelance journalist who has been interviewing famous people for the Sunday Times, Times Magazine, and many magazines since she was 18.  She has also been associate producer on TV documentaries and a film archive.
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