Despite high infection rate, Greece said to weigh allowing in Israeli tourists

Despite high infection rate, Greece said to weigh allowing in Israeli tourists

Officials say agreements with Athens and Cyprus only a matter of time, contrary to situation in the rest of the EU, which has closed its borders to Israelis for time being

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

Cyprus is reportedly weighing allowing in Israeli tourists beginning next month, despite the high coronavirus infection rate in the Jewish state.

Athens is hoping to reach an agreement with Israel in the coming days that will allow it to accept tourists from the Jewish state as early as mid-August, even if there is not a significant improvement in Israel’s situation, unnamed officials told Channel 12 Wednesday.

Israel’s coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, spoke with his counterpart in Greece earlier this week and the sides’ agreement will likely also include Cyprus, according to the report.

The development is positive news for Israelis looking to leave the country after the European Union earlier this month left Israel off its list of countries whose citizens could visit the bloc.

Facing growing pressure to reopen Israel’s skies, health officials told the Knesset on Wednesday they were working on a plan to allow incoming flights without medical checks or quarantine requirements from “green” countries that would allow regular flights to resume beginning next month.

Incoming travelers from countries with low rates of coronavirus infections would be allowed free entry into Israel, Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto told the Knesset State Control Committee.

“Anyone flying in from a ‘green’ country won’t require two weeks of quarantine, period,” Grotto said.

The countries expected to be included on the list, according to a Channel 12 report citing airline sources, were Austria, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, Lichtenstein, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.

The new policy is slated to go into effect on August 16, Grotto added, saying, “This requires a little more preparation, it can’t happen tomorrow morning. We will make every effort.”

El Al planes at the Ben Gurion International Airport, April 12, 2020. (Flash90)

It’s unclear whether the move will allow for a significant boost to Israel’s airlines, tourism and hospitality industries. Even if Israel opens up to incoming travelers and tourists from “green” countries, it remains on the “red” list for much of the world due to the rate of the virus’s spread within Israel itself. Israelis are currently not allowed into many countries, while tourists who visit Israel from permitted countries are likely to face a two-week quarantine upon their return home, a fact that is likely to continue to suppress travel.

Israel is unlikely to get off the no-fly list for many countries. On Tuesday, data compiled by a scientific publication based at Oxford University revealed that Israel now has the fifth highest number of new coronavirus infections per capita in the world, overtaking the hard-hit United States.

On Tuesday, Israel recorded 210.96 new COVID-19 cases per million people, Our World in Data said, behind only Oman, Panama, Brazil and Bahrain. The US, which has the most reported virus cases and deaths of any country, had an infection rate of 198.64 per million people.

Israel was still well behind the US and numerous other countries in fatalities per million people, with a rate of 0.97.

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