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Israel okays entry of tour groups without third vaccine dose, under restrictions

Unlike individuals, groups of up to 40 won’t require a vaccine in past 6 months, but participants may not mix with others and those without booster must take regular COVID tests

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)
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)

Israel on Thursday approved a government plan to allow tourist groups to enter the country even if its members received their last vaccine dose more than six months ago.

That is not the case with individual tourists, who are currently only allowed to enter Israel if they have received a third booster dose or if their second vaccine doses was less than six months ago.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee set several conditions for such groups to be allowed to tour Israel.

Under the plan, groups must consist of between five and 40 people and must receive approval from the Tourism Ministry ahead of time.

All participants must be vaccinated with a WHO-approved shot, must only come from countries with relatively low infection rates and travel as a “pod” — not mixing with those outside of their designated group — with restrictions on visiting places with a high risk of infection.

During their first week in Israel, those who haven’t received a vaccine dose in the past six months will be required at all times to have a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours, or an antigen test from the previous 24 hours.

The head of the group will be required to report those tests to the Tourism Ministry and to record the group’s movements for use in a potential epidemiological investigation if a member is infected.

Until last week, the vast majority of noncitizens had effectively been banned from entering Israel since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. On November 1, rules changed to allow in noncitizens who were vaccinated during the 180 days before they boarded their plane to Israel. Fourteen days must elapse between the traveler’s second or third shot and entry to Israel (for Johnson & Johnson, only one dose is required).

Reopening the borders was seen as a vital step toward restoring Israel’s tourism industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic and accompanying restrictions.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said this week that Israel would “take all precautions necessary in order to maintain public health and identify new variants quickly” but “at the same time, we will maintain Israel’s economy, education, culture and tourism.”

American tourists wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus tour at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on February 27, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said, “The road to returning tourists is still long, so we must act quickly and correctly in order to increase the number of tourists who come to Israel.”

Starting in the middle of November, Israel will also allow entry to visitors inoculated with Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, in a policy shift for the country, which until now has only recognized immunizations approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. They must take a serology test, which detects antibodies.

While the reopening has been welcomed by tourism officials, it received a mixed reaction from health officials, with some concerned it will expose Israel to new variants.

Israel appears to be at the tail end of its fourth coronavirus wave, as new infections and serious cases have ticked down over the past few weeks.

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