Health Ministry recommends easing more COVID airport restrictions

If approved, new measures will ease requirements for international travel, cancel Green Pass rules for events; Bennett reportedly favors removing most rules

Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/ Flash90)
Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/ Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Wednesday recommended easing COVID-19 restrictions as the fifth wave of infections fueled by the Omicron variant continues to recede.

The ministry recommended ending the quarantine requirement for Israeli travelers returning from abroad and the Green Pass vaccine proof required at events.

The ministry’s other recommendations include canceling the requirement for returning travelers to present a COVID test at the airport before boarding a flight to Israel (though the test at Ben Gurion after landing will remain) and ending quarantine for unvaccinated children who travel abroad.

Unvaccinated non-Israeli children under age 12 should be allowed to enter if they are accompanied by vaccinated parents, and be required to isolate until they receive a negative test result, the ministry said. Unvaccinated non-Israelis over the age of 12 should not be allowed to enter the country.

Health Minister Nitzan Horovitz took part in the Wednesday evening discussions.

The recommendations are still subject to government approval. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is scheduled to hold a meeting Thursday to rule on the recommendations, and reportedly favors lifting most restrictions.

Israel is currently one of the only countries in the world that requires returning travelers to test twice — before boarding a plane to Israel and upon landing.

Currently, the restrictions require unvaccinated children returning to Israel to quarantine for five days. If the recommendations are approved, they will be subject to the same restrictions as vaccinated children and will need to be tested at Ben Gurion Airport upon landing and remain in quarantine for no more than 24 hours.

Passengers newly arrived from Kyiv walk with their luggage at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on February 13, 2022. (Jack Guez / AFP)

The new measures are also expected to include ending the use of the Green Pass vaccine proof at all culture and public events and gatherings.

Currently, the Green Pass certificate grants access to certain public venues and events only for those who are vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19, or recently tested negative for the virus. Some Green Pass rules were already eased earlier this month.

The requirement of wearing protective masks in closed spaces and existing rules for the education system are expected to remain in place.

Earlier Wednesday, Hebrew-language media reported that Bennett was considering gradually canceling all COVID-related restrictions by March 1, in light of the continued waning of the fifth wave.

Data released by the Health Ministry Wednesday morning showed the COVID-19 infection wave driven by the Omicron variant was continuing to recede, with the number of patients in serious condition tumbling to 927, a drop of 50 from the day before.

The number of daily infections also kept trending downward, with 20,340 new cases diagnosed on Tuesday. At the height of the outbreak in January, there were a record 85,185 infections in a day.

Of the 108,571 virus tests carried out on Tuesday, 18.73% were positive, the lowest rate in over a month.

There were 169,436 active patients and five new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 9,651.

Bennett has reportedly adopted an opinion that the public should be given as much freedom as possible while at the same time authorities prepare for the possibility of another wave.

Bennett’s reported attitude appeared to counter that of national coronavirus czar Salman Zarka, who said Sunday that despite the steady drop in morbidity it was too early to declare the current outbreak over and that no decisions were ready to be made on further rolling back COVID restrictions.

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