The United Arab Emirates on Monday informed the Foreign Ministry that it was pushing off the implementation of a visa waiver agreement with Israel until July 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The development came hours after Israel began requiring all of its citizens returning to the country from the UAE to quarantine for two weeks in government-run hotels due to high infection rates in the Gulf state.
The UAE noted that under the terms of the visa agreement with Israel, each side can suspend the arrangement for reasons of public health.
The UAE ratified the agreement last week and it was set to go into effect in mid-February. Israel’s cabinet approved its side of the deal, waiving visas for Emirati citizens, in late November. The UAE launched tourist visas for Israeli citizens last month as a stopgap measure until it ratified the exemption agreement.
Israeli travelers will continue to use the tourist visas in the meantime.
Health officials have long complained that lax treatment of UAE arrivals was contributing to new infections, but politicians reportedly feared angering Emirati officials by applying new restrictions so soon after the two countries normalized their ties.
On Sunday evening Israel’s cabinet moved to place further limitations on arrivals from abroad, deciding that all arrivals from the UAE and Brazil will be required to quarantine in government-run hotels. Arrivals from South Africa and Zambia are also currently forced to quarantine in hotels.
Other arrivals can opt to quarantine at home — but only if they are tested upon arrival and again nine days later.
Channel 12 reported that Ben Gurion Airport is seen by health officials as a major contributor to illness rates. But while some would like to see the airport shuttered entirely, legal complications make this a remote possibility.
Nevertheless, officials were said to be examining ways of keeping a tighter lid on new cases, including the possibility of demanding all arrivals present a negative test in the country of origin prior to flying to Israel.
Currently, all travelers are tested upon arrival, but this has allowed cases to slip through the cracks, with many testing positive for the virus only days after landing.
Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein told Army Radio on Monday that legal obstructions to requiring presentation of a negative virus test have been resolved paving the way to applying the measure. He also said he’ll propose a ban on outbound travel from Israel, except for diplomatic or humanitarian reasons.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have visited the UAE since the historic normalization agreement with Israel was signed in September.
The UAE was considered a “green zone” after the normalization agreement, allowing for quarantine-free travel between the countries, but that loophole was closed last month amid climbing infection rates in both countries.
All international travelers are now required to quarantine upon return to Israel.
The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have all announced US-brokered normalization agreements with Israel in recent months.