Israel intends to allow organised groups of vaccinated tourists to visit after Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, taking a step toward reopening to the rest of the world despite health officials recording thousands of new coronavirus infections every day.
Officials from the Tourism Ministry stated that the government decision was approved as a pilot programme and emphasised that it was only the first step.
“This programme is a step in the right direction,” said Pini Shani, a senior Tourism Ministry official. “It is the beginning of a process that we hope will lead to the revitalization of the tourism industry.”
The ministry then hoped, he said, that the government would allow individual travellers to enter starting in October.
Prior to the pandemic, tourism in Israel was thriving, with 4.55 million visitors in 2019 bringing in $7.18 billion in revenue, according to Tourism Ministry figures.
The pilot programme will go into effect on September 19, allowing groups of five to 30 people to enter on the condition that they comply with a slew of virus-related requirements, including providing a negative P.C.R. test taken 72 hours before landing and undergoing a second test as well as a serological examination upon arrival, according to the ministry.
According to the ministry, all travellers will be required to show proof of having been fully vaccinated within the previous six months or proof of having received a booster shot with a vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Union. The programme will not accept applicants from the “red” countries, which currently include Bulgaria, Brazil, Mexico, and Turkey.
This programme, which was announced on Sunday, will be Israel’s second attempt to reopen to tourists. An earlier effort began in May but was called off in August due to an increase in infections caused by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Mr. Shani emphasised that only three to four of the approximately 2,800 people who visited during the previous pilot programme contracted the virus.
The chief financial officer and co-founder of the tour company Alma-Israel, George Horesh, expressed concerns about the “bureaucratic complications” of requiring travellers to do several tests upon arrival — particularly serological tests, which require drawing blood — but added that he believed the authorities would find a way to make the process more efficient.
“Our business was essentially destroyed during the pandemic, but we believe things are finally improving and moving in the right direction,” he said.