Coronavirus cabinet set to discuss plan to let tourists in


The coronavirus cabinet plans to meet on Tuesday to discuss possible measures to contain the new outbreak and the outline for allowing vaccinated tourists to visit Israel.

Israel’s borders have been closed to foreign nationals for more than a year, with limited exceptions. Vaccinated tourists from countries with low morbidity were supposed to be allowed in starting on July 1, but the date was postponed to August 1 amid the increase of cases.

Those who are inoculated with a vaccine recognized by the US FDA or the EU EMA will be able to enter with just a negative PCR test, while individuals jabbed with other vaccines will undergo a rapid serological test upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, with results in 15 minutes, to confirm the presence of antibodies in their blood, Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid) said Monday in a statement.

The goal is to open up on August 1, but the decision will depend on Israel’s level of morbidity, he said.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) on Monday visited the new coronavirus testing complex at the airport, which is set to start functioning shortly.

The facility was built in a tent outside the airport by the Defense Ministry in cooperation with the Health and Transportation ministries.

All inbound passengers entering Israel are required to undergo a PCR test before leaving the airport. In the past, this has created overcrowding, and in one instance, people were sent home without getting tested.

“We have doubled the number of testing stations, and there are no more long lines and crowding,” Horowitz said. “This tent set up by the Defense Ministry and Minister Gantz will provide an answer to the expected flight load in the coming months.”

Some problematic loopholes connected to the airport have been closed, Horowitz said. Fines have been introduced for those who fly to countries under a travel ban without permission, and all inbound passengers are required to self-isolate until they receive the results of their test, which are supposed to arrive within a day, he said.

“Monitoring entrances and exits from Israel is critical,” Horowitz said. “This is what will allow us to maintain a normal life within Israel. That is why we place great emphasis on Ben-Gurion Airport.”

A significant number of tests performed at Ben-Gurion Airport that bore a negative result were counted twice over the past few weeks, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, a former coronavirus commissioner, said at a press briefing later in the day. The mistake resulted in an inflated number of tests, which caused the rate of tests returning a positive result to be lower than what it should have been.

For example, on Sunday only 41,000 tests were processed, compared with 59,000 that the ministry announced on Monday morning. The positive rate was therefore 1.15% instead of 0.8%.

The possibility of requiring anyone who arrives from abroad to take another PCR test four days after landing was still under consideration, Ash said.

“We are studying it in conjunction with the possibility of shortening the period of quarantine,” he said.

Commenting on measures the authorities are considering introducing, Ash said if it could not be enforced, it would be better not to introduce it.

“If we cannot enforce the measures we are considering, maybe we will not approve them because it does not make sense to have a regulation that is not enforceable,” he said, referring to a proposal to require participants in large events to undergo a rapid test, or antigen test, as part of an abridged version of the “green pass” program that the cabinet is considering whether to bring back.

Until a few weeks ago, the green pass was granted to fully vaccinated and recovered individuals or children too young to get jabbed who had undergone a PCR test in the previous 72 hours, giving them access to specific venues and activities.

On Sunday, Israel registered 423 new cases, marking a decrease compared with the weekdays last week, but with a lower number of tests processed, as often happens on Sundays, which are still influenced by the weekend.

While the number of daily cases is much higher than about a month ago, when only 10-20 new virus carriers were identified every day, the increase in serious morbidity has been low.

As of Monday, some 47 patients were in serious conditions. In April, there were more than 200 such patients, with a similar number of active cases, about 4,000.

Another two people succumbed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the death toll in July to seven. The figure is almost as high as in June, when eight people died. But the situation still remains very different from the peak of the pandemic in the winter, when dozens of people died every day.

A likely explanation for the limited increase in serious…

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