Foreigners are trickling back into the Holy Land today after a six-week closure as the government eased the latest restrictions that prompted ministers to shut the border quite suddenly in November after the Omicron variant was discovered.
Now with Omicron raging in the country and Israel recording all-time high COVID infections, the government decided that keeping tourists out was a moot point and dropped its list of "red" countries.
Uri Steinberg, who runs Uri Steinberg Consulting and is on the Advisory Board of ALL ISRAEL NEWS, noted that the incoming tourists likely “will be safer than a lot of us here in Israel” since they are vaccinated or recovered and are subject to PCR tests both before and after they land in Israel.
“We’re (in Israel) running around without a valid PCR test,” he said, but tourists are “not posing any new threats, especially in the time where there's no new variant that people are looking into.”
Steinberg welcomed the ruling which he said, “makes sense from several angles.”
“There’s been a lot of conversations about whether the government needs to and will compensate businesses now in the travel industry. And once you're opening the skies, you're making this discussion invalid anymore anyway,” Steinberg noted.
In any case, this gives some breathing room and a ray of hope to tourists.
“The fear is that it will change again within a month or two. And again, there's only so much you can push people. But I do hope that this is the beginning of something more stable,” Steinberg said.
Keshet Journeys, which runs a virtual course for people who want to learn about Israel in depth, is welcoming its first group since the November closure on Wednesday – a group of Baptist pastors from the United States.
Since the announcement came last week, Keshet Director Moshe Gabay said he was working to book a last-minute itinerary and scheduled hotels and sites, many of which have been closed or operating on a reduced basis. One of the hotels said they would open, but Gabay’s group the only one they have at the moment.
“If it continues to be open, then within three weeks the hotels will be more busy,” Gabay predicted. “But for now, they are opening just for us.”
Gabay said tourists will be more protected than regular Israelis among whom the variant is raging. Israelis, on the other hand, are mingling with each other, traveling and now – the vaccinated/recovered – do not have to quarantine if they test negative on an antigen test.
The tourism industry has argued all along that visitors have not brought in the virus since the pilot program began in May.
Gabay appreciates that the tourism industry is opening up again now, despite the uncertainty being brought on by the Omicron wave.
“I’d rather have a government that is saying, ‘We are doing everything possible to open up every industry and not close it with a higher risk of infections,’” Gabay said referring to the previous government which shut the economy entirely three separate times. “It doesn’t make any difference any more so let’s let tourists come in and let some families meet again that live abroad – which is more important.”
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS