Skies open for Israelis to travel quarantine-free to and from some countries

Greece, Croatia and Bulgaria to allow Israelis in without compulsory isolation, but some restrictions; citizens allowed back in from 17 other countries without quarantine

The departure hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on August 16, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
The departure hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on August 16, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

After months of closed skies, Israelis traveling from a number of countries designated as “green” will be allowed to enter Israel from Sunday without needing to quarantine, while Israeli tourists will be able to pack their suitcases and head to three countries without isolating first.

Israelis and foreign residents will be allowed to arrive quarantine-free from the United Kingdom, Slovenia, New Zealand, Georgia, Denmark, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Rwanda, Italy, Finland, Latvia, Hong Kong, Germany, Hungary, Cyprus, Lithuania, Greece, Croatia and Bulgaria.

The Health Ministry did not publicize how it made the decision of which countries to classify as green.

Additionally, Greece, Croatia and Bulgaria will allow Israelis to enter their territories without automatic isolation, but with some other restrictions.

People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus wait to board a ferry in the port of Piraeus, near Athens, on August 7, 2020. (AP/ Thanassis Stavrakis)

Israelis will need to present a negative coronavirus test from within the previous 72 hours upon arrival in Bulgaria and within 48 hours for Croatia. Neither country will require a test upon landing, nor any isolation.

Greece has stricter rules, with just 600 Israeli tourists allowed to visit per week, and only to four locations: Athens, Crete, Thessaloniki, and Corfu.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that Israeli tourists will be required to take a coronavirus test between arriving in Greece and their transfer to one of the four destinations. They will reportedly stay in quarantine until they receive the test results — a process that could theoretically take up to 48 hours. It was not clarified who would pay for the initial quarantine or how the 600 slots would be allocated.

The agreement was made between Israel and Greece after a meeting between Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, in Jerusalem last week.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias meets with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem, August 13, 2020. (Twitter)

Since the start of the pandemic, Greece, which has a larger population than Israel, has seen 6,858 infections and 226 deaths. Israel, by sharp contrast, has recorded over 92,000 cases and 674 deaths.

The first flight from Israel to Bulgaria was set to depart Sunday morning, and the first flight to Greece on Monday. The first flights will be operated by foreign carriers, but Israir will begin flying those routes from Tuesday, Channel 12 news reported.

Israelis will be required to complete a health declaration upon leaving and entering the country.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that the list of countries that will not require quarantine will generally be reassessed on a fortnightly basis; however, infection data will also be examined at the end of the first week.

Air travel has been at a trickle for months, with Israel more or less closed to foreign nationals since March, and nearly all countries barring Israelis from visiting.

The departure hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport on August 16, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Earlier this month, Israel decided to allow thousands of foreign students into the country, despite coronavirus travel restrictions.

According to a Health Ministry statement, 2,000 university students and 12,000 yeshiva students will be permitted to enter Israel for their respective programs. Another 5,000 participants in Masa programs, 500 high school exchange students on the Naale program, and 1,500 people at private institutions will also be allowed into the country.

A ministry statement said 17,000 students were being let in, though it was unclear how the figures were meant to match up.

Passengers seen at the Ben Gurion Airport on August 13, 2020. (Flash90)

MK Merav Michaeli, a member of the coalition Labor party who votes with the opposition, petitioned the Interior Ministry, demanding explanations for the “serious discrimination,” as family members of Israeli citizens have been denied entry into the country for months, as a result of the pandemic.

There are thousands of Israelis who have foreign partners and have not seen their loved ones for many months, with no solution on the horizon for them as of now.

Israel has one of the highest morbidity rates in the world per capita and many countries, including the European Union, currently ban visitors from there.

Only countries that have more lax entry requirements, such as Brazil, the US, Mexico, Kenya, and others allow in Israelis, though in some cases, they must still present negative COVID-19 tests or quarantine upon entry.

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