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Israel to allow tour groups to enter without third vaccine dose

Tourist groups of up to 40 will not require booster shots but will have to act as a ‘pod’ and not mix with others

Travelers seen exiting Ben Gurion International Airport, as Israel opens its borders and allows tourists to enter the country, after months of being shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, November 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90
Travelers seen exiting Ben Gurion International Airport, as Israel opens its borders and allows tourists to enter the country, after months of being shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, November 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90

A week after Israel opened its borders to tourists who are vaccinated against or have recovered from COVID-19, the health and tourism ministries announced Monday that members of tour groups, unlike individuals, will be allowed to enter the country with just two vaccine doses.

According to the plan, which is expected to be approved by the Knesset Coronavirus Committee later Monday, tourist groups of up to 40 people will not require a booster shot needed by individual tourists, but will have to act as a “pod” during their time in Israel, not mixing with those outside of their designated group.

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, one dose is required).

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

Welcoming the decision to now allow tour groups into the country without a booster shot, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Monday that “also with regard to tourism, we need to learn to live alongside the coronavirus.”

He said 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 the Israeli 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 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.

A medical technician tests a passenger for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion Airport on June 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

As of Monday, there were 164 serious COVID-19 cases in Israel, down from close to 750 a month ago.

Just 0.63 percent of those tested on Sunday came back positive, one of the lowest rates since the start of July.

There were 498 new diagnoses of the coronavirus on Sunday, taking the total caseload since the start of the pandemic to 1,334,342.

There were one new deaths reported, bringing the toll to 8,123.

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