Israel said to join tourism compact for countries bringing virus under control

Initiative proposed by Austria would see 7 nations adopt joint coronavirus protocols and open up to tourism and trade with each other; Vienna airport offering 3-hour virus tests

Israelis enjoy the blooming of flowers in the Dead Sea, February 20, 2020. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)
Israelis enjoy the blooming of flowers in the Dead Sea, February 20, 2020. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

Israel is among seven nations that have made progress in combating the coronavirus, which are joining together to promote tourism and trade between them as they look to rebuild economies battered by the virus, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The initiative, proposed by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, would provide a way for the countries, many of which are heavily dependent on tourism, to begin opening borders without the fear of letting in virus carriers.

Israel currently bars the entry of all foreigners and Israelis returning from overseas must quarantine for two weeks.

The proposal comes after the leaders of the seven nations took part in a videoconference on April 24 in which they discussed various strategies to deal with the virus and to gradually open the countries’ economies after weeks of tight restrictions.

Taking part were Kurz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes part in a video call with world leaders on the coronavirus on April 24, 2020 (Haim Zach /GPO)

“The world leaders discussed ways to advance international cooperation in the struggle against the coronavirus, exchanged ideas and ways in which their countries are dealing with the spread of the virus, raised common dilemmas in reopening the economy and policy regarding the reopening of educational institutions, and discussed ways of protecting at-risk populations in the shadow of the coronavirus,” a statement released after the meeting said.

The report said before opening their borders the countries would establish common protocols including masks, safe distances and testing.

The opening of borders to these countries could come within the next few weeks, the report said.

The report comes the same day that Austria announced that from Monday Vienna airport would be offering onsite COVID-19 testing, in which travelers could get their results in three hours. Those testing negative could avoid a two-week quarantine.

People sit at the top of the Areopagus hill, in front of the Acropolis hill in Athens, during lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, on Friday, May 1, 2020. Greek authorities say the use of face masks will be compulsory on public transport and shops from May 4, when the country starts to ease its lockdown restrictions. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

The tests, also available to those leaving Austria, could be used to to demonstrate their virus-free status at their destination, the airport said in a statement. The test would cost 190 euros ($209.)

The proposal builds on a suggestion made by Netanyahu in early April, after he initiated a videoconference with seven European leaders.

At the time, the Israeli premier suggested creating “safe air hubs” in Europe to mitigate the damage caused by disrupted chains due to constrictions on air travel.

“We can designate airports for us, for all of us. And we say, this is a clean airport. We apply consistent efforts to keep it clean. We scrub it, we disinfect it, all the time — around the clock. And we also test the people who work there all the time,” Netanyahu suggested.

Jerusalem and Vienna have been reported to closely coordinate their respective responses to the coronavirus crisis, with Israel modeling its strategies to ease restrictions on Austria, which was one of Europe’s first countries to reopen its economy.

In Israel, just 23 new cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed in the previous 24 hours according to Health Ministry figures released Sunday evening, the lowest daily rise in the last six weeks, continuing a trend indicating the outbreak in Israel is largely under control.

The number of patients on ventilators also continues to drop and was at 76. The sharp decrease has allowed Israel to begin opening up and considering ending a raft of restrictions.

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