Miss Universe Pageant Proceeding As Usual, Despite Competitor Testing Positive for COVID

Miss Universe pageant organizers announced Monday that one of the contestants tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Israel, but they will continue with the event despite new lockdowns following the omicron variant.

The Associated Press reported that the contestant has not been named and that it is unclear whether she had the variant.

Though Israel closed its borders to foreign travelers after finding an omicron case, the Miss Universe Organization said most of the 80 contestants have already arrived and the pageant will continue as scheduled on December 12 with strict COVID protocols. The event is being held in the southern city of Eilat.

Pageant organizers told the AP the contestant was vaccinated and been tested prior to departure, but tested positive upon arrival in Israel. She was immediately taken to a government-run isolation hotel.

The Miss Universe pageant has been running since 1952. Contestants compete in national dress, evening gowns and swimwear. They also answer timed interview questions.

Israel's first omicron case came from a vaccinated traveler returning from Malawi. Though first documented in South Africa and Botswana, the variant has already spread to Hong Kong, Australia and several European countries.

Many are boycotting the pageant not just due to the virus, but because of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Miss Universe, Israel
The Miss Universe pageant will continue as scheduled in Israel on December 12 despite lockdowns due to the omicron variant. Above, Miss Universe contestants arrive to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, east of Tel Aviv, on Nov. 28. Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Citing COVID, Malaysia had announced it won't send a contestant. And South Africa's government said it was withdrawing support for the country's representative over her participation in the event.

Both countries support the Palestinian cause.

Andrea Meza, the current Miss Universe, said the pageant shouldn't be politicized in an interview with the Associated Press in Jerusalem, the epicenter of the conflict, earlier this month.

"Everyone with different beliefs, with different backgrounds, with different cultures, they all come together and when you are in there you forget about politics, about your religion," she said. "It's just about embracing other women."

Meza, 27, represents Mexico and was crowned in May, during a COVID-delayed ceremony in Florida, where contestants accessorized their sparkling gowns with face masks. She hands over the crown in Eilat on December 12.

Supporters of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as BDS, view it as a nonviolent way of advocating for Palestinian rights. Israel's occupation of lands the Palestinians seek for a future state is well into its sixth decade, with peace talks having ground to a halt more than 10 years ago. Two prominent human rights groups say Israel's policies amount to apartheid.

Israel rejects the apartheid label, accusing the rights groups of being biased against it. It accuses BDS of antisemitism—allegations that boycott leaders adamantly deny—and says the movement's end goal is to delegitimize and destroy Israel itself.

PACBI, a Palestinian activist group and founding member of the boycott movement, had called on contestants to "do no harm to our struggle for freedom, justice and equality by withdrawing from the pageant."

The boycott movement has notched a number of successes over the years, with major artists like Lorde and Lana Del Ray canceling appearances because of Israel's policies. But big stars keep coming, and major events like the Eurovision song contest—which included a performance by Madonna—have been held in Israel despite boycott calls.

Miss Universe, Andrea Meza
Current Miss Universe Andrea Meza said the competition should not be politicized after calls to boycott the event being held in Israel this year. Above, Meza visits the Old City of Jerusalem on November 17 ahead of the 70th Miss Universe pageant to be held in Israel's Red Sea resort of Eilat. Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images