The first foreign tourists for more than a year arrive in Israel
The first group of foreign tourists in more than a year landed in Israel on Thursday after the government began opening its borders following a sharp drop in COVID-19 infections.
Small groups of vaccinated foreign tourists – up to 30 people – were allowed in last Sunday and the Tourism Department expects 20 of those groups to come from countries including the United States, Britain and Germany, in a pilot program until June 15. .
The ministry then hopes to increase the number of groups and, in July, allow individual tourists.
Shortly after 4:00 p.m. (1:00 p.m. GMT), United Airlines Flight 90 from Newark, New Jersey, landed with 12 Christian pilgrims, men and women of varying ages, studying theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. They were greeted by Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hakohen, who said: “You are the first of which I am sure many tourists will return to the Holy Land.”
Led by Pastor Tom Zelt of the Prince of Peace Church, the group plans to visit Jerusalem, Nazareth, national parks and Christian sites, the tourism ministry said.
“Israel is … healthy and vaccinated. Everything is now safely open,” Farkash-Hakohen told the group.
The country had closed its borders to foreigners at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. A rapid rollout of the vaccine that has vaccinated most adults has brought the number of active COVID cases nationwide to just 428.
This paved the way for Israel to allow vaccinated foreigners to enter the country and revive its tourism sector, although officials remain cautious of potential new variants.
Tourists are required to present negative PCR tests before flying and take another test at Ben Gurion Airport after landing in Tel Aviv.
Groups will also need to take serological tests at their hotel to prove they have COVID-19 antibodies. They will need to be quarantined until results come back, usually within a few hours.
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.
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