Israel approves plan to let in vaccinated tourists starting November 1

The plan still needs to be ratified by the government, but it would allow tourists vaccinated within the last six months to enter Israel.

 TRAVELERS WALK through Ben-Gurion Airport earlier this year.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
TRAVELERS WALK through Ben-Gurion Airport earlier this year.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the Health and Tourism ministries approved a plan on Thursday to allow vaccinated and recovered tourists into the country beginning November 1, despite a revelation that at least a handful of cases of the new AY4.2 coronavirus variant have entered Israel over the past few days.

According to the plan, which still must be approved by the government, tourists who have been vaccinated with the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccines within the last six months will be able to enter the country.

Only vaccines that have been recognized by the World Health Organization were approved, which leaves out Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

Individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine are eligible to enter if at least seven and no more than 180 days have passed since receiving the second dose.

For those who received the other vaccines, at least 14 and no more than 180 days must have passed since receiving the second dose.

Jerusalem resident Klara Brieff is seen getting the third COVID-19 vaccine at a Meuhedet clinic, on August 1, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Jerusalem resident Klara Brieff is seen getting the third COVID-19 vaccine at a Meuhedet clinic, on August 1, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Anyone who received a booster shot of these vaccines within the last six months is eligible to enter.

Recovered individuals who can prove they tested positive at least 11 and no more than 180 days prior to entering Israel are also eligible to enter. If more than six months have passed and these individuals receive a booster, they can also enter the country.

All travelers will be required to take a PCR test within 72 hours of boarding the plane and upon arrival. They will also be required to stay in isolation until the results of the test come back negative or 24 hours have passed.

However, these tourists will not be required to take a serological test to show that they have been vaccinated. Until now, any individual who was vaccinated abroad and managed to enter the country had to have the blood test.

To gain entry, travelers will have to fill out a Health Ministry declaration form 48 hours before their flight. Part of the form will include entering one’s flight information, the location where the individual will isolate for up to 24 hours and their vaccination or recovery certificate. Recovered people will also need to submit a copy of their PCR positive test result. Files will need to be under one megabyte.

The form can be found at: corona.health.gov.il/en/flights/.

Travelers should receive a response within minutes, especially if they are part of the European Union’s digital COVID certificate program. A response may be slightly delayed for people who do  not have certificates that can be digitally validated in Israel.

The validation email needs to be shown at the airport.

Anyone who qualifies to enter the country will also receive a Green Pass and be able to enter restaurants, cafes and other places of leisure where this pass is required during the duration of their stay.

When this new program rolls out, the permit system for entering Israel will be obsolete.

First-degree relatives of people living in Israel will likely be able to enter the country, even if they do not qualify, for humanitarian reasons, such as funerals and weddings, the Health Ministry said.

In most countries, booster shots are not widely available for people under the age of 65 who are not at high risk of catching coronavirus or developing serious disease.

Yad L’Olim, an organization that has been working to help get relatives of new immigrants into Israel over the past several months, said it would lobby for first-degree relatives who cannot get a booster shot to be able to enter Israel with strict quarantine rules.

Children under the age of 12, who are currently not eligible to be vaccinated, will not be able to enter Israel unless they have recovered from the virus within the last six months.

The US Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing data provided by Pfizer on a vaccination protocol for five- to 11-year-olds. The regulatory organization is supposed to make a decision about giving young children the vaccine by the beginning of next month.

Earlier this week, the White House issued its own outline for how youth vaccination would work in the US.

The outline for group tourism also will be expanded on November 1. This includes groups that receive approval to enter Israel from the Tourism Ministry. All travelers must be vaccinated by a vaccine that is approved by the World Health Organization.

A tourist group will function in Israel like a “capsule,” meaning its members can only be in contact with other people in their group. They will not have free time outside of the group, and their movement will be restricted in areas where there is an increased risk of infection.

According to the plan, up to 2,000 travelers approved by the Tourism Ministry can enter the country every day. None of the group members could have been in a “red” country with high infection rates within 14 days of coming to Israel.

Up until now, Israel has not officially recognized any foreign-issued documentation for entry and has been requiring the limited number of travelers who are allowed into the country to undergo a serological test to prove the presence of antibodies in their blood.

However, last month, Israel reached a deal to join the European Union’s digital COVID certificate program, ensuring mutual recognition of Green Passes with around 40 other countries.

In general, Israel’s borders have been closed to foreign nationals for a year and a half, since the beginning of the pandemic, with very limited exceptions. Since May, vaccinated or recovered first-degree relatives of Israelis have been allowed in, provided that they obtain approval from the Interior Ministry’s Population Authority or from the Foreign Ministry.

The procedure to apply and receive such approvals has been burdensome and unreliable, and many people have been forced to cancel or reschedule their trips due to the delay by the Israeli authorities in responding to their applications.

The Prime Minister’s Office said it would be monitoring the AY4.2 variant and could update the plan if necessary.

An additional five cases of the variant had been discovered in Israel, the Health Ministry said Thursday. On Tuesday, the first AY4.2 carrier was identified in an 11-year-old boy returning from Moldova.

Following the discovery, the ministry’s testing laboratory examined additional potential cases that were previously classified as the Delta variant. It discovered that the five individuals were infected with AY4.2, which is considered a subvariant of Delta and appears to be some 10%-15% more contagious.

Two coronavirus outbreaks were identified in two elementary schools in Jerusalem and in the Samaria settlement Sha’arei Tikva on Thursday, The Jerusalem Post confirmed, and more than 50% of new cases in the previous 24 hours were recorded among children under the age of 12, Health Ministry data showed.

Some 42 students and staff have been found positive at the Zalman Aren schools in Jerusalem and 39 in Sha’arei Tikva.

Both schools operate under the new Green Class outline, according to which only identified virus carriers have to quarantine. Those who are exposed can continue to attend learning in person, provided that they get a negative PCR test after they came in contact with someone infected and undergo a rapid test every day for seven days, followed by a second PCR test at the end of the period.

Following the outbreak, the school in Jerusalem has been closed.

The Green Class outline was strongly supported by Bennett and the Education Ministry to reduce the number of children and parents forced to isolate. It started to be implemented in areas with low morbidity (“green,” according to the Traffic Light Program) on October 10, a week before the pilot launched by the Health Ministry in a limited number of schools to monitor its potential effects was scheduled to end.

Starting next Sunday, the framework also will be applied in preschools and in cities classified as “yellow.”

While morbidity in Israel has been constantly dropping for weeks, as of Thursday, almost 9,000 out of 15,000 active cases in the country were schoolchildren.

Some 1,025 new virus carriers were identified on Wednesday, including more than 50 who were 11 years old or younger – the cohort not eligible yet for a vaccine.

A few weeks ago, there were often more than 5,000 new cases a day. Over the past 10 days, there have been fewer than 2,000 daily cases, and they are steadily decreasing.

The number of patients in serious condition also continued to drop. At last count on Thursday, there were 330; a month ago, there were more than twice as many.