Edelstein says 'today is a holiday' as Eilat reopens to tourists

The health minister, tourism minister and mayor of Eilat met along the famed beach to announce the reopening of the city to tourism.

 (photo credit: MICHELLE AMZALEG/GPO)
(photo credit: MICHELLE AMZALEG/GPO)
Eilat, the southernmost city of Israel and the ideal staycation for Israeli citizens amid the coronavirus pandemic, is slowly opening up again, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced during a reopening ceremony held on Tuesday afternoon.
"Today is a holiday, and not just for Eilat," Edelstein said. It is a holiday for each person in Israel. In the past few months, we, as the Health Ministry, were sadly forced to say what cannot happen. As this day proves, when we have an opportunity to say yes to something, we seize the opportunity."
Edelstein stressed that the new outline to reopen the city is based on thorough and careful procedures put forth by the Health Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, the Eilat Municipality, the Home Front Command and a number of other responsible authorities attempting to keep the city functioning while also protecting the health of both its residents and incoming tourists.
Eilat had reached a staggering 80% unemployment rate amid the coronavirus pandemic as the city relies heavily on tourism. Amid the pandemic, visitors were rare in the region. The new outline, which passed in the Knesset one day prior, allows for the operation of hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants and key businesses in the city, as well as in the Dead Sea, as part of the "tourist islands" program.
Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, speaking at the reopening event, said that the Tourism Ministry had reached an agreement with the different hotels of the city stating that if tourists who come to the city – who are required to take a coronavirus test before coming to vacation – end up testing positive after booking, they may cancel without having to pay a cancellation fee.
"Thinking outside of the box is what will let Eilat return to living," said Farkash-Hacohen. "I believe that this is a very creative and balanced decision. We have reached the day where the gates of the hotels will open once more."

EARLIER IN the day, whilst Edelstein had been travelling through the tourist town, he warned that visitors and residents alike must be cautious and test for coronavirus to ensure that the infection rate does not rise in the city so that the new outline may stay in place.
"I ask the public not to come here without a negative coronavirus test," he said. "Not only those traveling to a hotel, but anyone who wants to enter the city and has no exemption should come with a valid coronavirus check."
Edelstein stressed that the only reason the outline passed in the Knesset – following long arguments on the subject – is because "Eilat makes an effort to stay green," referring to the red-light system Israel uses to track coronavirus cases per city. A green city is one with a low infection rate which receives larger privileges for businesses to reopen than red cities, which have high infection rates.
"I am sure that there will be some grinding in the beginning, but I am sure this will turn out well," Edelstein noted. "Only opening the hotels will not help Eilat: it needs a tourism surrounding, too. In the future, if we see the outline working, we are planning additional openings, but that depends on the residents of the town and on the vacationers. Everyone must act cautiously."
As he spoke, cries could be heard from protesters near his podium located on the famed Eilat beach, crying out for other businesses, which have not yet been permitted to open in the city, to be given permission to reopen as well.
"It is important to try a new model in which we may live in the time of coronavirus," Farkash-Hacohen said. "The responsibility is ours to follow the rules, do coronavirus tests. I call on Israelis to come and vacation here in Eilat."
"We had two options," said Meir Yitzhak Halevi, Mayor of Eilat. "Be closed, stay home, harm our mental health and have no income, or build an outline that allows us to have reasonable and normal lives in this time. Everyone must do their part, and even if they have to do a coronavirus test here and there, they must do so. I ask everyone: Come! This is the time for us to go out, make a living."
"With all of this joy, we must remember that the path is a long one," Edelstein concluded. "For now, if we want to protect the health of the public and to keep Eilat green and let Israelis come vacation here, we must be careful, follow the rules, keep social distancing measures, and as such live in peace and comfort amid the coronavirus pandemic."
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.