Israel’s border crossing to Egypt reopens for first time since COVID-19 outbreak

Taba gateway to Sinai will allow only 300 vaccinated or recovered Israelis a day to pass in each direction, until April 12; those passing through require virus test both ways

View of the empty Taba border crossing between Israeli and Egypt, as it seen from the southern Israeli city of Eilat, January 28, 2021. (Flash90)
View of the empty Taba border crossing between Israeli and Egypt, as it seen from the southern Israeli city of Eilat, January 28, 2021. (Flash90)

Israel on Tuesday reopened the Taba border crossing with Egypt after a year-long closure amid the coronavirus pandemic, allowing limited numbers to cross to the Sinai Peninsula during the Passover holiday.

The move was the latest step toward a return to normalcy for Israel, which has fully vaccinated more than half of its roughly 9.3 million residents against coronavirus, the world’s fastest per capita pace.

From Tuesday through April 12, 300 Israelis will be allowed through Taba in each direction every day. To cross, individuals must be inoculated or have recovered from COVID-19. A negative COVID-19 test is also required in both directions.

Foreign diplomats and people on humanitarian missions will also be eligible for approval to pass.

The situation will be reassessed ahead of April 12, at which point the daily cap may go up.

Egypt’s Sinai peninsula is a popular vacation spot for Israelis, especially during the Passover break which began over the weekend, but the pandemic has forced Taba’s closure since March 2020. In previous years, tens of thousands of Israeli tourists have used the gateway over the week-long Passover holiday, which this year began on Saturday night.

Israel’s National Security Council has long issued warnings against travel to Sinai, citing the potential for terror attacks in the restive region. However, Israeli tourists have increasingly ignored such alerts.

On Monday the NSC issued a fresh travel advisory, warning that Iran may try to attack Israelis overseas, amid increased international travel. Egypt was included in the alert.

Israel’s successful vaccination rollout has been making gains against the virus.

The number of serious coronavirus cases, which stood at 800 at the end of last month, has fallen to 423, according to the health ministry.

Earlier this month entry restrictions were eased at Ben Gurion Airport, after the High Court of Justice ruled a government-imposed cap of 3,000 returning citizens per day disproportionately violated civil rights due to its sweeping and extended nature, as well as its proximity to the March 23 elections.

Israel’s land and air gateways had been largely closed since January 25, leaving thousands unable to return, in an effort to prevent the potential arrival of coronavirus variants.

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