The government on Tuesday decided to allow flights to and from Israel from four new international locations, following heavy pressure from Israelis who have been stranded abroad by coronavirus travel restrictions.
New flights will be allowed between Israel and Athens, Rome, Moscow and Addis Ababa.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev ordered professional staff at the ministry to coordinate the flights with the foreign and health ministries, the Ynet news site reported.
At first, only one flight will be allowed from each location to bring back Israelis from abroad. More flights will be allowed later if needed.
The maximum number of entries, which will ramp up to 3,000 by the middle of next week, will not be increased with the new flights.
People are currently able to enter Israel only on flights from specific locations — New York, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Kyiv, Toronto and Hong Kong.
Israel on Sunday eased restrictions on air travel to the country, enabling thousands of citizens to return home and doing away with the requirement to stay in state-run quarantine hotels.
Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, leaving thousands unable to return. Ben Gurion Airport has been shuttered for all but a few special flights by Israeli and some foreign airlines to bring back citizens stranded abroad.
Under the new rules, 1,000 Israelis will be permitted to enter the country every day, before the figure climbs to 3,000.
Special exceptions from the daily quota are being granted to new immigrants who can’t delay their arrival to the country, essential foreign workers, relatives of Israelis who need to visit under extraordinary circumstances and professional athletes.
Instead of the previous requirement for all returnees to quarantine in designated state-run hotels, travelers commit to self-isolate at home. There is also increased police enforcement to make sure that those who return keep to the rules. The punishment for violating the rules is a fine of NIS 5,000 ($1,500).
A border crossing with Jordan is being opened up twice a week, and the border with Egypt will be opened once to allow any Israelis there to return. Those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 are able to leave at will to Jordan, although the Taba crossing into Egypt will remain shut.
Though Israelis can now enter the country, there remain limited options for travel abroad without quarantining at the destination. Currently, only Georgia recognizes Israel’s so-called green pass, identifying those who have either been vaccinated against the coronavirus or have recovered from COVID-19.
National coronavirus czar Nachman Ash expressed concern over the flight changes on Sunday morning, and in particular the risk that mutated strains of the virus, which had prompted the closure of the airport, could now find their way into the country.
Ash told Army Radio “there is need for self-control. We don’t have enough enforcement and there is more than a little danger that mutations will enter the country.”