Israel plans to reopen its pilot program for tourism on Sept. 19 – just before the holiday of Sukkot – after a month-long hiatus due to a mandatory seven-day minimum quarantine for all incoming travelers that came into effect mid-August.
But for many groups this good news came too late. Several groups booked for September and October canceled their trips when the quarantine mandate went into effect quite suddenly with no specified ending date.
“We unnecessarily canceled one of our groups due to these whiplash tourism decisions,” one tour operator told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “If somebody could have given us any idea of why they decided to close for a month and then reopen just in time for Sukkot – which no one expected as we were told they most likely be closed during the holidays – we would have gone forward with them.”
Keshet Journeys tour company said in a newsletter that the last decision was challenging and created "all kinds of consequences."
However, the company added, "Even though the current regulations are challenging, we do see light at the end of the tunnel."
In addition, the rules have been updated requiring visitors not just be fully vaccinated, but to have received their second dose within the last six months or to have recently been vaccinated with the third (booster) shot.
“Foreign tourists must have proof of a second Israel Ministry of Health-recognized vaccination within the last six months or receipt of a third vaccination in order to qualify for entry into Israel,” the Tourism Ministry said in a statement.
This might present a problem for travelers that completed their vaccines before March. Israel is currently the only country that offers a booster shot.
Israel’s borders had been closed to tourists from March 2020 through May 2021 when the pilot program began. In just over two months, some 10,000 tourists came to Israel under the program, according to Yossi Fatael of the Incoming Tourism Association. Individual tourists are still not allowed in.
The program was not necessarily suspended, rather some groups were not approved for entry and others simply canceled because of the mandatory quarantine for travelers from most countries, including the United States.
The quarantine requirement will be dropped now for tourists who, regardless, must undergo a stringent approval process to enter Israel. As previously required, all tourists must still present a negative PCR test, taken up to 72 hours before departure, take a second COVID test at Ben-Gurion Airport upon landing and then undergo a serological test.
The reopening of tourism, again, on Sept. 19 comes one day before the pilgrimage holiday of Sukkot. Last year, Israel was in a second national lockdown during the week-long feast and tourists were banned from the country.
Normally, thousands of Christians and Jews flood Israel for the holiday.
Though a reprieve from the tourism industry, the timing of the quarantine exemption is odd. Israel had been setting record-level daily COVID infections last week and has more than 600 people hospitalized in serious condition.
However, officials believe the numbers will begin to drop soon as the booster-shot campaign takes effect.
“The soft braking strategy, the main point of which is safeguarding livelihoods and the economy alongside all of the actions to rein in morbidity, including the booster inoculation, it seems that this strategy is on its way to success,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. “However, we cannot become complacent. Let us see where we stand: 2.5 million Israelis have already received the third dose of the vaccine, and this as the world has yet to decide what it is doing and is still deliberating.”
Israel began its booster-shot campaign for the COVID vaccine in July and has administered 2.5 million doses already to anyone from age 12 who is six months from their second shot.
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Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.