Israel reopens borders to small groups of foreign tourists


FILE PHOTO: Health worker takes swab sample from ultra-Orthodox Jewish man for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test, after returning from overseas, at Ben International Airport Gurion in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel on April 13, 2021. REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun reuters_tickers

This content was published on May 23, 2021 – 12:19 PM

By Steven Scheer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel reopened its borders to foreign tourists on Sunday after a drop in COVID-19 infections, but said it would take time for visitors to start arriving and revive the tourism industry.

As part of an easing of coronavirus restrictions, the government has implemented a plan to start welcoming small groups of tourists from countries using vaccines it has approved.

Foreign airlines are also resuming flights they suspended when Palestinian militants launched rocket attacks against Israel this month. A ceasefire has now ended the fighting, helping the government meet Sunday’s target date to launch the plan.

But registration for the Tourism Ministry’s plan only opened last week, so visitor numbers will initially be limited.

“The first groups are unlikely to arrive before the beginning of June,” a spokesperson for the tourism ministry said.

Tourism in 2019 reached an all-time high of 4.55 million visitors, contributing 23 billion shekels ($ 7.1 billion) to the Israeli economy, mostly through small and medium-sized businesses.

In a pilot program scheduled to run until June 15, Israel has given the green light for visits by 20 groups of 5 to 30 tourists from countries including the United States, Britain and Germany. .

Another 20 groups were chosen to be on standby if any of the top 20 tour operators did not qualify for Israel.

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said the ministry was working to allow more tourists to enter to “rehabilitate the tourism industry and bring hundreds of thousands back into the workforce.”

Israeli authorities believe that initially limiting tourism to small groups is the best way to monitor and contain the spread of COVID-19, especially the new variants. The plan is to increase the number of groups in June and allow individual tourists to start visiting in July.

Visitors will be required to present negative PCR tests before flying and undergo further testing upon arrival.

Israel has fully vaccinated around 55% of its population, and COVID-19 cases have dropped sharply.

El Al Israel Airlines chairman David Brodet said separately on Sunday that he would resign. The government this month approved a $ 210 million bailout for El Al, conditional on sharp spending cuts and the injection of more cash from airline owners.

(1 USD = 3.2538 shekels)

(Reporting by Steven Scheer, editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)

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