Eilat, Dead Sea open to visitors

Edelstein: ‘Today is a holiday’ * Four rapid-testing centers opened up en route to Eilat, Dead Sea

Ice Mall Eilat (photo credit: TIIA MONTO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Ice Mall Eilat
Eilat and certain resort areas of the Dead Sea started welcoming visitors on Tuesday with the launch of the “green islands” program.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein toured the area: “Today is a holiday, and not just for Eilat,” he said Tuesday. “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.”
As he spoke, cries could be heard from protesters near his podium located on the Eilat beach. They said their businesses should open up, too, but they had not yet been given permission.
Eilat had reached a staggering 80% unemployment rate amid the coronavirus crisis, as the city relies heavily on tourism. The new outline, which passed in the Knesset one day prior, allows for the operation of hotels, some tourist attractions, restaurants and key businesses.
Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, speaking at the reopening event, said that the Tourism Ministry had reached an agreement with the cities’ different hotels stating that if tourists book a room and then test positive for coronavirus, they may cancel without having to pay a cancellation fee.
In addition, regulations approved in principle by the Health Ministry stipulate that restaurants can seat up to 50 people outside. In addition, attractions in open complexes will be able to operate. The Health Ministry also agreed to ease restrictions on retail and are allowing up to 20 people to shop at a time. Only four people can be in a store in the rest of the country.
The key to the program is that anyone wishing to enter Eilat will be required to present at the entrance to the city a negative coronavirus test that was taken within the last 72 hours.
Edelstein warned during his tour that visitors and residents alike must be cautious and tested for coronavirus to ensure that the infection rate does not rise in the city and the new outline can 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.”
The requirement to have a negative test applies to anyone who is not a permanent resident, even those who plan to stay in Eilat for a long time or anyone who wants to visit including those who do not intend to stay there for a long time or those who are coming to visit family members.
On Tuesday, the Israeli branch of the rapid-testing company Quidel worked to establish rapid testing centers near the entrances to Eilat and the Dead Sea.
According to the company, about 150,000 rapid Sofia tests are planned, which will be performed in accordance with FDA approval and the Health Ministry and provide results within 15 minutes.
The inspection stations will be run in collaboration with the Home Front Command’s Alon headquarters, the Eilat Municipality and the Tamar Regional Council.
The company said that four stations would be opened with between two and five portable Sofia devices to screen travelers. The Defense Ministry said it hoped the first station would be open by Thursday.
Health Ministry professionals have expressed concern over the tests, questioning their reliability. Health funds were instructed to administer a PCR swab test alongside a Sofia test for those requesting to be screened. At this time, this will not be a requirement for entering “green islands.”
“I am sure that there will be some kinks in the beginning, but I am sure this will turn out well,” Edelstein said Tuesday. “Only opening the hotels will not help Eilat: it needs tourism, too. In the future, if we see the outline working, we are planning to allow additional places to open – but it depends on the residents of the town and on the vacationers. Everyone must act cautiously.”
“We had two options,” said Meir Yitzhak Halevi, Eilat’s mayor. “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.”