Permission for individual tourists to enter Israel has been delayed yet again with no new date set, and now even Israelis may be barred from flying out of their own country as the government weighs limiting all non-essential travel to keep out the much vaunted Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Tour groups were allowed back in under a pilot program that began in late May. The number of groups is limited and all tourists must have proof of vaccination, plus take a PCR test both before and after arriving in Israel as well as a serological test.
Individual tourists were expected to follow July 1. Israel was optimistic, having experienced a massive decline in the number of COVID-19 cases to single digits. However, the caseload began ticking up gradually over the past few weeks causing Israel to reinstate some of its mandates and add new ones, while the date of entry for vaccinated tourists was pushed to Aug. 1.
However, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said today that authorities planned to discuss restrictions on all travel in and out of Israel.
“We are postponing the date for the entry of tourists; it is not going to happen on Aug. 1,” he said. “Unfortunately, the current situation does not permit us to allow tourists to enter.”
The Coronavirus Cabinet meeting convened Sunday night. Israel is going to consider adding countries to the “red” list thereby banning citizens from traveling there. Some countries such as Russia and South Africa are currently on the list. Greece, Spain and the United Kingdom may all be added as well.
Channel 12 reported the Cabinet will also consider shuttering the airport entirely to “non-essential” traveling and to require quarantine for anyone returning regardless of the country they were in and their vaccination status.
Aside from the ongoing blow to the tourism industry, some health officials want to return to the green passport system– essentially Israel’s way of limiting entry to venues around the country – including hotels, restaurants and gyms – to vaccinated, recovered or negative test holders.
Officials already approved a toned-down version – dubbed the “happy pass”– which goes into effect on Wednesday and applies only to gatherings of more than 100 people, such as weddings, but not theaters or sporting events. Attendees will have to show their green passport or bring a negative COVID test in order to gain entry to such events.
The government has also suddenly required summer camps to use the green passport system, but it was unclear whether this applies to children of all ages. If so, children who are still ineligible for the vaccine or those who have not vaccinated will need to take COVID tests every 72 hours.
Israel’s main strategy right now is aggressive enforcement of quarantine violators and people who do not wear masks indoors. Coronavirus carriers who breach quarantine will be criminally charged.
“Our goal is to determine logical directives, alongside aggressive and efficient enforcement against violators,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. “Whoever violates the directives is endangering his health and the other citizens of Israel. We will not allow this. The Delta mutation is leaping forward around the world. Implementing the directives on the ground is a critical component in managing the pandemic in order to beat the mutation.”
Bennett also announced the employment of an SMS tracking system whereby police can send a phone message to people in isolation and based on their response, their location will be revealed. Police will also step-up enforcement at weddings and events that require the happy pass.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said the Health Ministry is working on expanding the number of testing stations around the country and even making rapid and at-home tests available.
On Friday, 1,120 people out of 76,000 tested positive for COVID, the highest number since March. The number of patients in serious condition, which had been on a downward trend even to 19 as recently as last month, is now up to 63.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.