Masa Israel has reported a 40 percent increase in the number of students arriving for its gap year programs as compared to last year, despite the country’s high infection rate of COVID-19.
According to a Monday report by the Wall Street Journal, Masa, a partially government-funded organization that oversees gap year programs, said that 5,000 participants, mostly from the United States, have already arrived on various programs and that another 2,000 are expected by the end of the year.
The sharp rise in students arriving in Israel comes as the total number of American students leaving the US on gap year programs has decreased, according to the report.
In mid-March the Israeli government banned nearly all non-Israelis from entering the country.
In August, coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu approved a plan to allow thousands of foreign students into the country, reversing his initial opposition to their arrival.
At the time, the Health Ministry released a statement saying 2,000 university students and 12,000 yeshiva students would be permitted to enter Israel for their programs.
The statement also outlined another 5,000 participants in Masa programs, 500 high school exchange students on the Naale program, and 1,500 people at private institutions who would be allowed entry into the country.
Many of the yeshiva students were expected to come from the United States, the country hardest hit by the pandemic, prompting widespread criticism at the time.
After a massive spike in coronavirus cases, Israel entered its second national lockdown on September 1, which has seen most shops and businesses shuttered and most Israelis confined within a one-kilometer (.6 miles) radius of their homes except for essential services like food and medicines.
Israel had a total of 233,554 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic Tuesday morning, with 65,025 active cases, 755 of them serious. One thousand five hundred and seven Israelis have died from coronavirus.