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UPDATE 1-A quick swab and a boarding pass: Israel's El Al launches check-in COVID-19 test

Mon 8th March, 2021 8:34pm
(Recasts, adds details, CEO/passenger comments)
    By Steven Scheer
    BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel, March 8 (Reuters) - Israel's El
Al airlines  ELAL.TA  launched a pilot programme at its Tel Aviv
airport check-in counters on Monday to test unvaccinated
passengers for COVID-19 before allowing them to board a non-stop
flight to New York.
    Just before stepping up to the counters, 112 of the 280
passengers on flight 003 were required by El Al to undergo a
nose swab - a rapid antigen test, with results within 15 to 20
minutes, that detects protein fragments specific to the
coronavirus. All 112 passed the test.
    Airlines have for months been lobbying governments for such
measures to prevent people from having to go into quarantine on
    With some 40 percent of Israelis over the age of 16 already
fully vaccinated after their second dose of Pfizer  PFE.N 
/BioNTech's  22UAy.DE  vaccine, most of those tested at the
airport were children, who under current health guidelines are
not given the shots.
    "He was good. He only cried for a second," said the mother
of a 10-month-old after the nose swab by a medical team
stationed in front of the check-in desk.
    For 5-year-old Hili Lazarof, the test was "okay".
    The aim of the test was to ensure no one on the plane
carried the coronavirus or could infect others. But masks were
still mandatory for the duration of the 12-hour flight.
    "What we are trying to do in this concept is basically
taking three layers of protection for the passengers," El Al
Chief Executive Avigal Soreq told Reuters.
    He was referring to government-issued vaccination
certificates issued in Israel's world-leading inoculation
rollout, PCR tests which all Ben Gurion airport passengers must
take up to 72 hours before takeoff, and the rapid-result swab.
    Such testing could reduce social distancing that limits
turnover at airports and cramps passenger comfort, and allow
business as usual for duty-free shops and restaurants, said
Leehu Hacohen, El Al's vice president for operations.
    "Today's flight is, I think, the first in the world where
you will know that you have verified that everyone onboard is
certainly clean and non-coronavirus contagious," he told
Israel's Army Radio.
    Some passengers were annoyed they had to have another test
after a negative result in their PCR swab, grumbling to ticket
agents about a wait that took a bit longer than the promised 15
    But Hodaya Meshita, 27, from Savannah, Georgia said about
her rapid test: "It's uncomfortable for a few seconds." She has
had only one dose of a two-shot vaccine so far.
    Soreq said El Al would likely carry out similar swabbing in
New York next week and then see whether to add the process to
other flights as the airline and Israel's tourism industry
struggle to recover from the pandemic.

 (Reporting by Steven Scheer;
Additional reporting by Dan Williams;
Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Howard Goller)
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