Health Ministry plans to ease pre-flight testing rules for incoming travelers

According to proposal, those flying to Israel will be allowed to choose between a PCR test in the 72 hours before departure or a rapid antigen test in the 24 hours pre-boarding

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

A medical employee takes a COVID-19 rapid antigen sample in Lod on October 17, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A medical employee takes a COVID-19 rapid antigen sample in Lod on October 17, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health officials agreed on Tuesday to ease requirements for pre-flight COVID testing for those traveling to Israel from abroad.

Currently, anyone entering the State of Israel must present a negative PCR test administered in the 72 hours before departure, or they will not be allowed to board a flight. Under the new proposal, which is subject to approval by the government and the Knesset, travelers will be allowed to opt instead to present a negative antigen test — administered by a testing agency, and not at home — taken in the 24-hour period before boarding.

“This decision was made in coordination with the transportation and tourism ministries,” the Health Ministry said in a statement, “in a joint effort to allow the renewal of incoming tourism as well as to ease the situation for Israelis traveling abroad — while continuing to protect public health.”

Every individual who enters Israel will still be required to undergo a PCR test upon landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israel ostensibly reopened to foreign tourists on November 1, after the country was largely shut to non-Israelis for 18 months. But with strict limitations still in place, the country has not seen a flood of tourists. Under the current guidelines, non-Israelis can only enter Israel if they have received a third booster dose of one of the COVID vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization, or if they received their second dose more recently than six months before the end date of their travel in Israel.

Israel has successfully exited its fourth COVID wave, with both new cases and serious cases dropping steadily over the past month. But with morbidity reaching a peak across much of Europe, some health officials are concerned about new variants and outbreaks entering Israel from abroad.

Travelers arrive at Ben Gurion Airport as Israel opens it borders and allow tourists to enter the country after months of keeping its borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, November 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/ FLASH90)

As of Tuesday evening, there were 5,173 active COVID cases in Israel, with 179 of them hospitalized, 137 in serious condition and 91 on ventilators. A month ago, there were more than 375 Israelis with COVID in serious condition. Just 522 new COVID cases were reported on Monday, compared with peaks of more than 10,000 a day in early September.

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash said Sunday that restrictions might be reinstated for those arriving from certain European countries.

“We may return to classifying some countries as red, and then it will be prohibited to travel to them,” said Ash. But he said that there is “no intention” to bar the entry of tourists overall or reimpose sweeping restrictions on travel abroad, noting that currently, the number of infected travelers among arrivals was low.

A World Health Organization official declared earlier this month that Europe is again at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Romania, Bulgaria, and the Balkan states recorded some of the highest per-capita death rates in the world in the first week of November, according to the WHO. Countries including Austria and the Netherlands have instituted new lockdown measures, as other countries mull bringing back certain restrictions.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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