On Monday, Israel opened its borders to tourists for the first time since March 2020. They are now allowing in people who have recovered from the coronavirus, or have been vaccinated against the disease. Since the beginning of the global pandemic, most tourists were banned from entering the country. A number of times Israel had planned to open the borders, but it was delayed because of COVID infections waning and waxing. This move to open the borders is considered a key step to restoring the tourism industry in Israel, which has suffered significantly because of the pandemic and the restrictions that have accompanied it.
The reopening on Monday was welcomed by the Tourism Ministry and it said that even throughout the global pandemic, there had been a great deal of interest in visiting Israel. It said that the Ministry of Tourism had put in a lot of effort to come up with creative solutions for facilitating the return of tourists safely. According to the ministry, they had put a trial program in place in recent months and it involved several thousand tourists hailing from Europe and the USA. These people had visited Israel’s cultural, historical, religious and natural sites in a tourist-friendly and safe environment.
Despite the reopening of the borders, it should be noted that not everyone will be eligible to visit the country and those who do visit will have to deal with some restrictions. Only tourists who belong to countries that have not been labeled ‘red’ because of high rates of infections will be permitted to enter Israel, although there are no countries that are considered red for now. Moreover, the new regulations also dictate that those who wish to enter Israel should have been vaccinated 180 days before they board the flight. There should be a gap of fourteen days between the second or third shot of the traveler and their entry into Israel.
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires a single dose. From the middle of this month, Israel will also permit tourists who have been vaccinated by the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia. This is a policy change as up until now, Israel had only recognized vaccines that had been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Nachman Ash, the Director-General for the Health Ministry, confirmed this policy shift and disclosed that those vaccinated with Sputnik V would be required to take a serology test, along with the standard PCR tests that have to be taken before boarding the flight and upon landing in Israel.
He said that the purpose of the serology test was to determine if those who are entering the country have really been vaccinated because it will detect antibodies. Tourists had started arriving in Israel in May under the older regulations, but only in a limited number. Likewise, first-degree relatives of citizens of Israel could also apply for permits to enter the country. Tourism officials have welcomed the reopening of the borders, but health officials have had a mixed reaction because of the risk of new variants entering the country.