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European Union recommends reopening to Israeli tourists

European Council adds Jewish state to list of countries whose citizens should not face entry restrictions to the bloc’s 27 countries due to COVID

Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel has been added to a European Union safe list for countries that the EU says should be allowed to freely travel to Europe for tourism, a statement said on Thursday.

The recommendation is not legally binding, and local authorities in member states of the 27-country bloc are responsible for implementing it, while having the right to decide which restrictions they want to ease.

The European Union has imposed a blanket ban on non-essential travel during the pandemic, though with exceptions for a few individual countries, including Australia, South Korea and Thailand. Other recommended exceptions to the EU travel ban include New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore and, as of Thursday, Israel.

Israel has since late December undertaken the most rapid per capita vaccination campaign in the world. As of mid-April, nearly five million people had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab in Israel, more than 70 percent of the population, the threshold commonly seen for herd immunity. Israel has brought its daily virus caseload down from several thousand to a few dozen.

Britain has not yet been added to the list by EU member states. Its vaccination drive has seen 65 percent of adults receive a first jab of the vaccine.

“Following a review under the recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU, the Council updated the list of countries for which travel restrictions should be lifted to add Israel,” the European Council said in a statement.

China is to be added subject to confirmation of reciprocity, the statement said.

The move came after last week the European Commission presented a proposal to further lift restrictions on nonessential travel from the listed countries due to the developing epidemiological situation and vaccination campaigns.

It suggested countries should allow travelers into the EU if they have been vaccinated with serums approved for use in the region. Member states could also individually decide to accept travelers immunized with vaccines listed by WHO for emergency use.

The Commission also proposed to raise the threshold related to the number of new COVID-19 cases used to determine the list of countries from which all travel should be permitted.

Travel to the EU is currently extremely limited except for a handful of countries with low coronavirus infection rates. But with the summer season looming, the European Commission hopes that the new recommendations will help dramatically expand that list.

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