Israel to reopen Eilat, Dead Sea, declare them 'green tourist islands'

Entry into the green tourist areas, which house around 30% of the country's hotel rooms, will be conditional on the presentation of an up-to-date negative coronavirus test.

The sun rises over the Dead Sea, Israel (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The sun rises over the Dead Sea, Israel
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Tourism Ministry's initiative to define the city of Eilat and the Dead Sea area as "green tourism islands" was approved on Sunday at a cabinet meeting. 
According to the outline, the coronavirus cabinet will be allowed to declare the city of Eilat and the hotel complex surrounding the Dead Sea as 'special tourist areas'. 
Entry into the green tourist areas, which house around 30% of the country's hotel rooms, will be conditional on the presentation of an up-to-date negative coronavirus test. The outline will allow the opening of hotels there while adhering to Health Ministry distancing guidelines. 
At a later stage, more gradually, the law that will be enacted will allow the opening of more businesses in the areas, which will serve the hotel guests. 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained the decision during the cabinet meeting, saying that "a considerable volume of our tourism is concentrated there. We have made special arrangements for them because they are remote, they are separated. This is a very important announcement for the residents of these areas, and also for the citizens of Israel, who want to go to defined and safe places."
The rationale underlying the law rests on two main considerations: 
Health – The uniqueness of the Dead Sea allows for the existence of a 'sterile area' to which vacationers who are negative for COVID-19 can gather, thus minimizing the risk of the virus spreading. The Dead Sea Hotels complex does not have a local population, who may come into contact with hotel guests. The geographical characteristics of the city of Eilat and its relative isolation from nearby towns also give it the status of a 'tourist island' that allows people to monitor the entry into the city. 
Economic need – Eilat and the Dead Sea hotels area make an almost exclusive living from tourism and the hotel business. The implementation of the decision is expected to reduce unemployment in Eilat and the Dead Sea, and is part of a plan to rehabilitate the tourism industry, which was severely damaged during the coronavirus crisis.
 
Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi said in a statement after the announcement that "I hope that by the end of this week, the bill, which was built on the foundations of the Magen Eilat program formulated by the Eilat Municipality, will be approved on second and third reading in the Knesset. And we can prepare to open the city of Eilat in tourist areas including hotels, attractions, restaurants and commerce for the good of the people of Eilat, its economy and the leisure of the citizens of Israel who wish to come and vacation in it."
While he was thankful for the bill, Halevi emphasized that this is only the beginning of what is needed to renovate the city, saying "It is important to note and emphasize that the core of the law aims for tourists to enter the city gates through two approved entrances (Route 90 and Ramon Airport), and that only invited guests and those presenting a medical passport, including a negative coronavirus test performed up to 48 hours before arrival, are allowed into the city."