Will foreigners be allowed to enter Israel by Passover? - Explainer

Countries using different vaccination protocols and documentation methods make it hard to open borders.

Travelers at Ben-Gurion Airport in March - to bring tourists back to Israel is not an act of lunacy. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Travelers at Ben-Gurion Airport in March - to bring tourists back to Israel is not an act of lunacy.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Israel is unlikely to open its airports to foreign travelers by Passover, including those who have been vaccinated, certainly in any extensive capacity, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Ben-Gurion Airport has been closed to most Israeli travelers for more than a month, and the closure is expected to last at least until March 6. Health Ministry officials fear the entry of vaccine-resistant variants before the country completes its vaccination campaign.
Over the weekend, the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center, along with IDF Intelligence, warned the government to take immediate action to keep a new variant discovered in New York City out of the country. The variant appears to share some of the characteristics of a similar mutation discovered in South Africa and could potentially weaken the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine.
As of Sunday, more than eight million vaccine doses had been administered in Israel, with more than three million people receiving both doses.
But even as Israelis get the jab, it is expected that for months, if not years, countries will want to safeguard their borders from the novel coronavirus and its mutations. As such, it likely will be incumbent on travelers to either prove they have been vaccinated or to be tested and self-isolate, as many countries have done throughout the pandemic.
The challenge is that countries are using a variety of vaccination certificates, some of which are more secure than others.
In the United States, for example, paper vaccination certificates are being administered with the Centers for Disease Control logo. Experts say they are not particularly secure and could delay the ability to forge a bilateral travel agreement between Israel and the US around a green passport or certificate.
The Health Ministry is holding discussions with two or three countries per day about recognition of each other’s vaccinations.
In the first stage, it is more likely that “travel corridors” will be established, whereby only certain routes will be available based on the immunology of the disease and bilateral agreements between countries, such as the agreement that Israel recently struck with Greece and according to which both countries recognize each other’s vaccination certificates.
However, bilateral recognition will ultimately be unsuitable as the airport authorities likely will not be able to manage more than a handful of different certifications.
Therefore, it is expected that over time, despite hesitation by the World Health Organization (WHO), a set of international standards will be formulated that will enable groups of countries to recognize each other’s vaccination certificates.
In January, the WHO said it was opposed, at least “for the time being,” to the introduction of vaccine passports or certificates as a condition for allowing international travelers entry into other countries.
“The use of immunity certificates for international travel in the context of COVID-19 is not currently supported by scientific evidence and is therefore not recommended by WHO,” it said.
“Beyond the scientific uncertainties around immunity passports, there are ethical, legal and human rights aspects related to privacy of personal data and medical confidentiality; the potential for falsification or engagement in risky behavior based on a false sense of security; stigma; and discrimination,” the WHO said at the time.
Some countries already reaching out to Israel say they are prepared to recognize Israel’s certificate, which means Israelis could freely enter other countries even before foreign travel resumes here.
Once foreign countries are recognized by Israel, it is expected that these travelers will be able to enter Israel and receive a green passport and all its benefits through the same system in which Israelis receive their passports.
Currently, Israelis who come from abroad and have been vaccinated undergo a serological test to prove the veracity of their vaccination. If they test positive for antibodies, they are able to stay out of isolation.
The Health Ministry is currently working on a system to enable individuals who were vaccinated in Israel but who are not members of one of the country’s health funds to be able to download their vaccination certificates through the green-passport application and website application.
In any situation, tourism to Israel is not expected to resume in the near future.
Similarly, global travel is not likely to resume in the way people remember from before COVID-19 in the coming months. When it does, there will likely be a soft, slow reopening that will gradually be expanded.