As virus cases mount, EU leaves Israel off list of countries allowed to visit

14 countries given okay to begin reciprocal tourism with European bloc; intelligence report warns reopening of Israeli skies in August won’t be possible if infection rate persists

An airport staff cleaner in the empty arrivals hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on June 12, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An airport staff cleaner in the empty arrivals hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on June 12, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israelis will not be able to travel to the European Union for at least the next two weeks after the bloc’s council on Tuesday published a list of countries for which travel restrictions have been lifted.

Other noteworthy countries left off the list include the United States, Russia, Brazil, India and Turkey. However, the list is considered a recommendation and individual countries are permitted to decide on their own how to proceed.

Citizens from the following countries will be allowed into the EU’s 27 members and four other nations in Europe’s visa-free Schengen travel zone: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

Countries considered for the “safe list” are also expected to lift any bans they might have in place on European travelers. The list is to be updated every 14 days, with new countries being added and some dropping off, depending on whether they are keeping the disease under control.

People sunbathe on an artificial beach in Vilnius, Lithuania, on June 30, 2020. (AP/Mindaugas Kulbis)

Israel was not expected to be on the EU list, as coronavirus case numbers have risen dramatically in recent weeks. As a result of the rise, the Military Intelligence Directorate warned in a Tuesday report that Israel will not be able to more fully reopen its skies as planned on August 1 if the situation does not improve.

According to the report, the infection rate in Israel is 2.5 times higher than the one being used by the EU to determine entry of foreign tourists, which does not allow more than 16 cases per day per 100,000 citizens.

The United Kingdom, which has its own criteria to determine entry of foreigners, includes Israel on a list of “red” counties, from which travelers will be required to quarantine for two weeks upon entry. The “green” countries include Austria, Barbados, Croatia, Germany, New Zealand, Greece, Thailand and Vietnam. Amber countries from which travelers are similarly not required to quarantine include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, France and Belgium.

Israel had hoped to start welcoming foreign vacationers from select countries on July 1, but the current spike in coronavirus cases put the kibosh on that plan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Hayat told The Times of Israel.

Jerusalem had also been in talks with Greece, Cyprus and some other countries that earlier this month were seen as low-risk to discuss the possibility of a so-called travel bubble, but nothing finalized as case numbers began to increase in Israel.

The empty arrivals hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on June 12, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Travel agents increasingly say that a solution to the problem of COVID-safe tourism is staring the government in the face and it’s letting down the travel industry by failing to deploy it: virus testing at the airport.

But some health experts warn that the power of testing is overestimated. “Testing cannot solve all of our issues, because there are problems of false positives and false negatives,” said Nadav Davidovitch, a member of the National Security Council’s pandemic policy task force, and head of the School of Public Health at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Earlier Tuesday, cabinet ministers imposed new restrictions on public gatherings in a bid to stem the rising infection rate of the coronavirus, as the Health Ministry recorded 765 new infections in a 24-hour period.

The number of active cases climbed Tuesday to over 7,000. Of those diagnosed, 52 were in serious condition, 24 of them on ventilators.

The ministry also reported another death, bringing the toll since the start of the pandemic to 320. It said 18,624 tests were conducted on Monday as it expands its testing capabilities to reduce the spread.

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