Tourists visiting Israel will be required to leave the country in the coming days, as part of new travel restrictions to block the spread of the coronavirus, according to Health Ministry guidelines announced late Monday.
Israel announced that beginning at 8 p.m. Monday, all citizens returning from overseas would have to quarantine at home for 14 days.
Non-nationals will be allowed into the country until Thursday at that time, after which they must prove they have somewhere in the country to self-quarantine to be granted entry.
In its guidelines on the new restrictions, the Health Ministry said tourists now in the country would “be given time to leave Israel in an orderly manner in the coming days.” It did not specify a date they must leave by.
The ministry also issued instructions for the tourists to follow while they remain in Israel. These included contacting the Magen David Adom ambulance service if they have symptoms of the virus, maintaining good hygiene, and documenting their stay in the country.
Tourists were also instructed to avoid crowds and informed they would not be allowed back into Israel if they visit any neighboring country.
It was unclear from the Health Ministry guidelines whether tourists able to self-quarantine in Israel would also be required to leave the country.
The new restrictions are among the most dramatic to be introduced by any nation in the intensifying battle against the coronavirus. On February 26, Israel had become the first country in the world to advise its citizens against all non-essential overseas travel.
The latest move will essentially shut down tourism, and send shockwaves through Israel’s already battered travel sector.
“This is a tough decision, but essential in order to protect public health — and the public health comes before all,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
There have so far been 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Israel, most of them contracted by travelers returning from abroad. Authorities have for weeks ordered measures to clamp down on foreign entries and force home-quarantines that have been seen by some as draconian and diplomatically harmful, but officials have defended them as helping keep the virus at bay. Some 22,000 Israelis are already in quarantine, the Health Ministry said Monday morning.
The virus has infected more than 110,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,800 people.