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Israel to reopen borders to some vaccinated tourist groups in two weeks

Incoming tourists from select countries must be fully vaccinated with a recent negative COVID test; must also undergo antibody testing upon arrival in order to skip quarantine

Travelers wear protective face masks inside Ben Gurion International Airport on August 5, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)
Travelers wear protective face masks inside Ben Gurion International Airport on August 5, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

The Tourism Ministry announced on Sunday that it would relaunch a pilot program granting entry to tourist groups from select countries, as the daily coronavirus caseload dipped slightly ahead of the Jewish High Holidays.

A statement from the ministry said the program — which will apply to groups of 5 to 30 tourists — is slated to restart on September 19.

But visitors from countries labeled “red” by Israel, based on the rate of viral transmission, will still be barred.

The program, launched in May, was halted on August 11, “due to new regulations and restrictions from the Health Ministry in line with the rising morbidity rates at the time,” a Tourism Ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

The first part of the pilot program saw more than 2,000 tourists enter the country. The ministry said that “not one coronavirus case was identified among the groups.”

Incoming tourists in the renewed program must be fully vaccinated with a recent negative COVID-19 test and must also undergo antibody testing upon arrival in order to skip an otherwise mandatory quarantine period, the ministry said.

Travelers are seen wearing face masks at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 5, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/ FLASH90)

September 19 is the day before the beginning of Sukkot, the weeklong Feast of Tabernacles, which normally draws many Jewish tourists to Israel. The High Holiday season begins at sundown on Monday, with the start of Jewish New Year.

While COVID-19 cases in Israel slowed to a trickle in early June, the emergency of the Delta variant sent infections back up to an average of around 10,000 new cases daily over the last week.

But less than 5,000 new cases were recorded on Saturday and serious cases have ticked down, raising hope that the latest surge was beginning to decline.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has credited the rollout of the third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a so-called booster shot, with helping stem the latest wave.

Israel’s plans to allow the entry of individual tourists beginning July 1 were deferred, due to the current infection surge.

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