COVID-19: Israel cancels red countries, reopens its skies

Starting Friday, Israelis can travel anywhere without special permission * On Sunday, Israel will reopen to vaccinated foreigners

Travelers arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport last Sunday, the day before the government’s latest travel ban went into effect. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Travelers arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport last Sunday, the day before the government’s latest travel ban went into effect.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Starting from Friday, no country will be classified as red, Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash announced on Thursday, as Israel recorded more than 16,000 coronavirus cases the day before, marking a new record since the beginning of the pandemic.

The move will allow Israelis to travel again anywhere in the world without needing special governmental permission, or to quarantine for a week upon their return – provided that they are vaccinated.

Earlier in the week, the ministry announced that starting from Sunday, foreign nationals from non-red countries will also be able to enter Israel without the need for special permission for the first time since the end of November, provided that they are fully vaccinated under the Health Ministry’s criteria: inoculated twice within the previous six months, vaccinated with a booster, recovered with one shot, or recovered within six months, as demonstrated by an electronic recovery certificate.

On Thursday, the list of red countries still included the US, the UK, Switzerland, the UAE, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria and Turkey.

Ash said that the decision was made because keeping the borders closed would not help since morbidity is already high in Israel.

 Travellers seen at the Departure Hall in the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022.  (credit: ARIE LEIB ABRAMS/FLASH 90) Travellers seen at the Departure Hall in the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022. (credit: ARIE LEIB ABRAMS/FLASH 90)

The latest Health Ministry data showed that 7% of the cases registered in the past week and 4% of those on Wednesday came from people returning from abroad. About two weeks ago it was around 20%.

Inbound travelers will still have to present a COVID test in order to board the flight (either PCR taken less than 72 hours before departure or antigen less than 24 hours before departure) and take a PCR in Israel upon landing.

Those who are vaccinated will be able to leave quarantine as soon as they receive the results or after 24 hours; those who aren’t must stay quarantined for a week and take a second test on the seventh day.

The news was welcomed by many private citizens but also by public officials and activists who have been working on behalf of Israelis who work or have families abroad as well as by Jews abroad.

“On behalf of olim, their families, and people all around the world I thank the Israeli government for this important step,” said NGO Yad L’Olim founder Dov Lipman.

“We still have more work to do, including making sure that emergency travel is still possible for the unvaccinated, finding ways to allow those who have antibodies from recovery to enter, and to plan for a better plan if there are variants in the future.”

“The decision to remove all remaining countries from the red list is the right thing to do, since this designation cut off Diaspora Jews from Israel, as well as many others with deep ties to the country, at a time when local spread of the Omicron variant is so high that the rationale for the entry restrictions no longer exists,” said Diaspora Affairs Ministry Nachman Shai.

“I am glad this situation has finally been rectified, but I will continue to advance a set of policies which take greater consideration of the need to preserve a physical connection between Israel and her brethren around the world.”