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For First Time in 20 Months, Israel Welcomes Tourists

Israel on Monday, November 1, opened its borders for the first time since March 2020 to tourists who are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from the disease.

The vast majority of tourists have effectively been banned from entering Israel since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The reopening of borders has been delayed numerous times throughout the year, as COVID infections waxed and waned.

The move is seen as a vital step to somewhat restoring Israel’s tourism industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic and accompanying restrictions.

The Tourism Ministry welcomed Monday’s reopening, saying that “throughout the global corona pandemic, interest in visiting Israel has remained high and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism has worked hard to find creative solutions to facilitate the safe return of tourists.”

The ministry said that in recent months it had put in place a trial program with “several thousand tourists, primarily from the USA and Europe, visiting Israel’s religious, historical, cultural and natural sites within a safe and tourist-friendly environment.”

However, not all tourists will immediately be eligible to visit Israel, and those that do come will face restrictions.

Only tourists from countries that aren’t defined as “red” due to high infection rates will be allowed in, although currently there are no countries labeled as such.

Under the new regulations, only tourists who have been vaccinated during the 180 days before they boarded the plane will be allowed to enter Israel. Fourteen days must elapse between the traveler’s second or third shot and entry to Israel (for Johnson & Johnson, one dose is required).

The serology test, which detects antibodies, will verify that those who enter the country really are inoculated against the coronavirus, he said.

Under the previous regulations, tourists began arriving in organized groups in May, though in a very limited capacity. Additionally, first-degree relatives of Israeli citizens or residents were able to apply for permits to travel to the country.

While the reopening has been welcomed by tourism officials, it has received a mixed reaction from health officials with some concerned it will expose Israel to new variants.

“We shouldn’t over-test the immunity we’ve built up here,” Prof. Gabi Barbash, a former director-general of the Health Ministry, told The Times of Israel last week.

In contrast, Prof. Eyal Leshem, an infectious disease specialist at Sheba Medical Center, said that prior to widespread vaccination, there was a logic to keeping tourists out — as a single COVID-positive foreigner was liable to infect many others. But the risk is much lower now that inoculation has reduced transmission rates.

Israel appears to be at the tail end of its fourth coronavirus wave, as new infections and serious cases have ticked down over the past few weeks. (TOI/ VFI News)

“Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.” - Jeremiah 33:6