Israel plans to allow visits from organized groups of vaccinated tourists after Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, and take a step toward reopening its doors to the world even as health officials record thousands of new coronavirus infections daily.
Tourism Ministry officials said the government’s decision had been approved as a pilot program and emphasized that it was only an initial step.
“This program is a foot in the door,” said Benny Shani, a senior official at the Ministry of Tourism. “It is the beginning of a process that we hope will lead to the renewal of the tourism industry.”
He then said the ministry hopes to be able to allow entry to individual travelers starting in October.
Before the pandemic, tourism was booming in Israel, with 4.55 million visitors in 2019 bringing $7.18 billion in revenue to the country, according to Tourism Ministry statistics.
The pilot program will go into effect on September 19, allowing entry into groups of five to 30 people provided they adhere to a set of virus-related measures, including submitting a negative PCR test that was taken 72 hours before landing and undergoing a PCR test. The ministry said that the second test, as well as a serological examination upon arrival.
The ministry said all travelers will be required to show evidence of complete vaccination within the previous six months or evidence of having received a booster vaccine, with a vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Union. The program will not be open to those coming from the “red” country list, which currently includes Bulgaria, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey.
The programme, announced on Sunday, will be Israel’s second attempt to begin reopening its doors to tourists. An earlier effort started in May, but stopped In August when infections rose With the spread of a highly contagious delta variant.
Mr. Shani confirmed that only three to four people out of the 2,800 people who visited under the previous pilot program had contracted the virus.
George Horesh, chief financial officer and co-founder of tour operator Alma-Israel, has expressed concerns about the “bureaucratic complications” of requiring travelers to take several tests upon arrival – particularly serological tests, which require blood to be drawn – but added that he believed authorities would find a way to make the process easier. .
“Our business has basically been wiped out during the pandemic, but we believe things are finally getting better and on the right track,” he said.