Did Israel Just Finally Open Up For Tourism?
Naftali Bennett, Israel's Prime Minister, just announced yesterday that Israel will be reopening for tourism on November 1. He published a plan - yet to be approved by the corona cabinet and missing numerous details - which states how Israel will be open to the world. News media both in Israel and abroad have lauded the plan, but as with everything, the devil is in the details. So let's examine what exactly is supposed to be happening...
The Rules Until Now: Up until now the only people allowed in Israel, apart from special cases, were family members with first-degree relatives in Israel. They had to go through a horrible bureaucratic process which often did not give them an answer before they needed to arrive at the airport. It had been announced that there would be a mandatory quarantine for one week upon arrival, though that was recently shortened to 24 hours upon receiving results of a PCR test done upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. A serological test was required as well, to prove that someone had been vaccinated. Students on year-long programs were also allowed in with a full quarantine, which had allowed the government to claim that "hundreds of thousands" of tourists had come to Israel in September, when in reality these were people arriving on study programs, foreign workers and others who definitely were not "tourists."
A pilot program was restarted on September 19, allowing a limited number of groups into Israel. Groups were defined as between 5-30 people and numerous limitations were placed upon them.
The New Plan: This is according to former member of Knesset Dov Lipman who has been working tirelessly to help immigrants here reunite with their families over the past months.
A. Criteria For Entering Israel: You must meet ONE of these conditions in order to enter Israel:
a. Vaccinated within six months of the trip with either a second vaccine or a booster (Pfizer – at least 7 days after the shot, other vaccination types – at least 14 days after the shot). OR
b. Recovered within six months of the trip with proof of a positive PCR result and more than 11 days have passed since the positive result. OR
c. Recovered anytime – even more than six months before the trip - with proof of positive PCR result AND vaccinated with at least one dose within six months of the trip.
(If six months has passed since your last vaccine or since your recovery during your stay in Israel, you can still come to Israel; however, your green pass will expire during your visit when you pass the six-month mark). [This will affect your ability to actually tour here though so basically it needs to be six months from the last day of your trip.]
If you were vaccinated or recovered more than six months ago, or were never vaccinated or recovered, please see the end of this document.
Note: You need to have been vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac or Sinopharm. Sputnik has not been approved here, which affects the 20% or so of Israeli tourists who come from Russia.
B. Process to enter Israel You will gain entry into Israel via the Health Ministry Declaration Form: 48-hours before your flight, you will complete this form:
For those who have traveled to Israel previously, you will know this as the “24-hour pre-flight form.” Once you file this form properly, within minutes you will receive an email from “Do Not Reply-MOH,” which is the record you need to show at the airport. Your green pass will be included. If your vaccination certificate is not digitally validated in Israel, it could take longer to receive this email.
Tips for completing this form correctly:
1. Must be completed within 48-hours of a flight; it will be the basis of your entry to Israel. 2. You will need specific flight information, i.e., the name of the airline, the flight number and the estimated time that it arrives in Israel. 3. You will need a specific isolation location, with a specific street address and house number that cannot be changed later on. 4. You will need to upload your vaccination records via PDF. If you have a vaccination record with a QR code, use it. 5. If you are submitting a recovery letter along with positive PCR results, or any other multi-page document, you must merge them into one file and compress them using www.ilovepdf.com. 6. Make sure all files are under 1MB, and use www.ilovepdf.com to compress files. 7. Everyone needs a negative PCR test from within 72 hours prior to takeoff. (An exemption from pre-departure PCR test will be granted to those recovered, if at least 11 days and no more than 3 months have passed from the day of diagnosis as a COVID-19 case. Note this exemption is for pre-departure PCR tests only; it is not an exemption from the PCR test on arrival in Israel.)
You must have your negative PCR test and a copy of the 48-hour Entry Declaration Form to board a plane to Israel. These are the only documents you need.
C. Protocol for Arrival in Israel:
1. Everyone, bar none, including Israeli citizens, need to take a PCR test upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. Please reserve your test in advance with TestnGo:
If you test positive at Ben Gurion Airport, you will be in 10-day quarantine. There are no exceptions and we have no way to shorten your quarantine if this happens.
2. On your TestnGo form, please use an Israeli cell number that you have access to. That is where you will receive results of your PCR test. Failure to provide an Israeli cellphone number can become problematic. [Assuming you are coming with me, that would be my number]
3. There is no longer a need for serological testing in Israel in order to receive a green pass or exit quarantine, and therefore no need to book a test.
D. Quarantine Rules in Israel:
24-hour quarantine: Most visitors arriving in Israel will be held to this level of quarantine, which means that you are released after you receive a negative PCR result from the airport or when 24 hours has passed – whichever comes first.
There will be a 10-day quarantine for those who test positive for COVID at Ben Gurion Airport
There will be a 7-day quarantine for anyone with a valid Israeli passport who is not vaccinated or recovered within six months. Release from quarantine comes with a negative PCR upon arrival in Israel and a negative PCR on day seven.
E. IF YOU ARE VACCINATED/RECOVERED MORE THAN SIX MONTHS AGO OR IF YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN VACCINATED OR RECOVERED: At the moment, exceptions will be made for weddings, births, and other humanitarian reasons.
So what about the 98% of would-be tourists who don't fall under these categories?
Let's start with children. If they are too young to get vaccinated and they have not had corona and recovered, then they can not come. This of course is a major impediment for families wanting to travel here, though when the FDA approves (likely soon) the vaccine for children aged 5-11 that will help. Obviously any non-vaccinated adults cannot come either. The big issue of course is that hardly anyone outside of Israel is doing booster shots at this moment and virtually all of the people who have been vaccinated already got their shots more than 6 months ago (and definitely more than 6 months before any future trip). Which brings us to something which has been under discussion but not yet made official...
As of now a pilot program has been in place for group travel, however it required one to have had had their most recent vaccine dose within the previous six months. The change here is that it seems they will let people in groups come who have not received the booster and whose date was more than six months ago. However there are several caveats to that:
There will be a limit per day as to how many people will be allowed in (1000? 2000?)
What constitutes a group is still a question though it appears it will likely be defined in the way the pilot program functioned - i.e. 5-30 people
Besides taking the PCR test upon arrival, these travelers will need to either take a daily antigen test or a PCR test every three days. How exactly they plan to implement that remains a question (as to what is the exact purpose of that beyond the initial three days). Essentially it mirrors the Israeli Green Pass rules which require someone without a third vaccine to have a negative PCR test or rapid test in order to enter numerous venues here in Israel.
Finally - and this is the craziest thing - they are saying that these tourists will not be allowed to walk around freely in the country - despite all the testing - i.e. they will need to remain a self-contained group. Of course that is a) impossible to implement b) a non-starter for tourism if they tried to implement it and c) moronic, since these same "bubble" people will have been in museums, restaurants, hotels, national parks, religious sites, etc. with everyone else in the country. But then they can't walk in the market or on Ben Yehuda street to go shopping? It's insanity.
To be clear, the rules have not yet been published yet and the tourism industry is pushing back against the proposed restrictions as much as we can. Considering that tens of thousands of Israelis every day, travel the world and come home from the same places that tourists hail from [and are much less compliant with quarantine rules than tourists are, not to mention have been 100% responsible for all the variants entering Israel], one would think that allowing [responsible] tourism would not be an issue. And it's really not since only 0.1% of people arriving in Israel have tested positive for Covid. And yet here we still are.
In Summary: There are a few positives with this plan; notably that it gets rid of the requirement of being a first-degree relative of an Israeli in order to come to Israel, as well as the serological test which had been required upon arrival to get out of quarantine. It also allows a path for people who have not had a booster shot or whose vaccines were more than six months ago to be able to come to Israel (albeit under heavy restrictions). Yet as far as a plan to actually "open up the country," it leaves a ton to be desired. There are too many unnecessary and unenforceable restrictions and too many people who want to come to Israel are either not going to be able to or not want to under these conditions.
For more on all of this click here:
But wait... is it even safe to come right now? What about Delta? The Delta wave is subsiding in Israel - the positivity rate of PCR tests done here is now just over 1% and there are are only a few hundred new cases a day (with the majority being children). The numbers keep going down each day. So was this the reason they are "opening up the country" on November 1?
Sadly, many of us in the tourism industry see a different reason: the ending of unemployment benefits later this month (which only people over 45 were getting anyway). This is a way to say that "we are open" without really being open, so that the government doesn't have to support the 230,000 people here whose livelihoods depend upon incoming tourists. People have been pushed to the brink because of illogical decisions taken by the government - decisions for which they don't want to take responsibility. In any case, even if the government decided tomorrow to open up for real, it doesn't mean people will be able to drop everything and come - trips are planned months in advance. It is going to take months for us to get back on track.
So how am I (Kobi) going to get through these next months if incoming tourism is still going to be limited and government support for the tourism sector has dried up?
To say the last 20 months have been rough is an understatement. I guided a grand total of 12 days. While government help was adequate to get through the end of June, I've essentially been unemployed since the beginning of September and due to the government policies, saw everyone who (re)booked with me for July-December - a full-slate - cancel their trips. I have nothing now until March. So the time has come for a pivot...
I am creating an online masterclass on Jerusalem. It's especially geared towards people who have been to Israel before (but will still be interesting to those who haven't). We are already at 60% of the initial subscriber target goal to get this project off the ground. I would be thrilled if you would join me in this new endeavor which will allow you to learn the secrets and stories of Jerusalem that you would never get a chance to hear on tour. For more information about it, please click here: https://shoutout.wix.com/so/32NmuMRqp?languageTag=en&cid=4a3361aa-0d97-4c75-833b-38798b29c472&fbclid=IwAR0bWVeNi-QnbWN_iWuGRWt-TD_lHRid0_yihM6Q-qaaNm95uf704CCE-wE#/main
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