Israel will host the Miss Universe beauty pageant in the Red Sea resort of Eilat on December 12 despite imposing travel restrictions to try to stave off the Omicron coronavirus variant, Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said on Sunday.
On Saturday Israel announced that it was banning foreigners from entering the country, but Razvozov on Sunday told reporters that participants in the Miss Universe pageant would be granted waivers while possibly undergoing PCR testing every 48 hours and other precautionary measures.
"This is an event that will be broadcast in 174 countries, a very important event, an event that Eilat, too, is very much in need of," he said before Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting.
"We will know how to manage this event. So, by using the waivers committee, we will have events like this, to which the country already committed itself and cannot cancel."
In televised remarks at the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel needs "to clamp down" on its borders to keep the country "open internally."
Israel will be able to host the competition for the first time next month, as coronavirus cases in the country have remained relatively low with only one Omicron variant detected at least.
The announcement of Israel's hosting of the competition has been met with some controversy. Earlier this month, South Africa had pressured its representative to boycott the upcoming pageant due to its location being in Israel.
South African government officials said they would not support the decision by Lalela Mswane, who won the beauty contest in the African country, to participate, citing Israel's “atrocities against Palestinians.”
The current Miss Universe, Andrea Meza of Mexico, said during her visit to Jerusalem earlier this month that it was "one of the highlights of her time as Miss Universe."
As it was her first time in Israel, she also visited the Western Wall and placed a note in the site, and also traveled to Tel Aviv.
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman and Hannah Brown contributed to this report.