Ministers on Thursday opened Israel’s borders, starting November 1, to tourists who are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from the disease, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
However, only tourists from countries that aren’t defined as “red” due to high infection rates will be allowed in. Additionally, reports said tourists won’t be allowed in from countries that are seeing an outbreak of the new AY4.2 variant, which has been causing concern.
The vast majority of tourists have effectively been banned from entering Israel since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March of last year. The reopening of borders has been delayed numerous times throughout the year, as COVID infections waxed and waned.
The PMO said the plan, which must still be approved by the high-level coronavirus cabinet, may be updated “in accordance with the development and identification of new variants.”
Health officials said Thursday that five cases of AY4.2 had been retroactively diagnosed since the first known case in Israel was confirmed on Tuesday in a sample taken from a young boy who returned to the country from Moldova.
The new variant of the Delta strain was identified recently in a number of Eastern European nations and the United Kingdom. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the first cases had been found in the United States.
Under the new regulations, only tourists who have been vaccinated during the 180 days before they boarded the plane will be allowed to enter Israel. In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, seven days must elapse between the traveler’s second or third shot and entry to Israel. In the case of Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson (one dose, not two), Sinovac and Sinopharm, 14 days must elapse.
Under current regulations, tourists began arriving in organized groups in May, though in a very limited capacity. Additionally, first-degree relatives of Israeli citizens or residents were able to apply for permits to travel to the country.
Under both the current and the new regulations, all travelers to Israel must take a PCR test within 72 hours of their departure and must take a second test when they land at Ben Gurion Airport. Vaccinated travelers must remain in quarantine either for 24 hours or until they receive a negative test result. Those who aren’t vaccinated must remain in quarantine for 14 days, which can be shortened to seven days with two negative tests, on days 1 and 7.
In their Thursday meeting, ministers decided not to recognize Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly requesting a few more days to weigh the issue. It is possible he’ll announce such recognition during his meeting Friday in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Reports this week said that Israeli officials were expected to recognize tourists vaccinated with the controversial Sputnik V shot. Launched in August 2020 and proudly named after the world’s first satellite to symbolize Russia’s scientific prowess, the Sputnik V vaccine has been approved in some 70 countries. However, the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency have not yet approved it for use and some have questioned the lack of transparency of Russia’s vaccine trials.
Recognition of the vaccine would mark a policy shift for Israel, which until now has only recognized immunization with shots approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
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.
On Wednesday, just one person who entered the country tested positive for coronavirus, after 20 did on Tuesday, 22 on Monday, and 27 on Sunday, representing less than 0.1% of all those who entered Israel each day.
As of Thursday, there were 331 serious COVID-19 cases in Israel, down from close to 750 a month ago.
Just 1.05 percent of those tested on Wednesday came back positive, a rate that stands at its lowest point since the start of July.
There were 1,021 new diagnoses of the coronavirus on Wednesday, taking the total caseload since the start of the pandemic to 1,320,563.
Three deaths on Wednesday took the toll to 8,030.