An organized tour group arrived in Israel Thursay, in what the Tourism Ministry said was the first such instance in over a year. Their arrival came as part of a new program to gradually reopen the country’s borders to foreign visitors who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.
The group was made up of theology students from Missouri, according to the ministry, which said they were greeted with flowers before going through customs and undergoing mandatory COVID-19 tests.
“You are the first organized tourist group to visit Israel in over a year,” Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen told them, according to a ministry statement.
“Israel is an attractive destination, with unparalleled historic and religious sites sacred to three religions, vibrant cities, amazing food, and warm people. I am sure you will enjoy it all,” she added.
She said she hopes more groups will soon be on the way.
Farkash-Hacohen unveiled a four-part plan last month to revive tourism to Israel. Foreign nationals from only a limited list of countries are currently permitted to visit.
Israel has made dramatic gains in stamping out the coronavirus through its vaccination campaign, driving down the number of daily cases (based on a weekly average), from 8,600 at the peak of the health crisis to just 22 this week. At the height of the pandemic, there were 88,000 active cases in the country and 1,228 serious cases; as of Thursday evening, there were 415 active infections and 49 people in serious condition.
On Sunday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that from June 1, the ministry will lift the remaining coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, and will no longer limit entry to certain venues only to the vaccinated, following the near-vanquishing of COVID-19 in the country as a result of its successful vaccine drive. The requirement to wear masks indoors remains intact but is being reevaluated by health officials.
According to the ministry, over 5.1 million Israelis received both doses of the vaccine, and 92 percent of Israelis over 50 are fully vaccinated.
The morbidity rates in the country have remained low despite the reopening of most of the economy and of the school system.
Israel is gearing up to begin vaccinations of children ages 12-15, who currently are not qualified to get the shots.