Israel reopened its borders to foreign tourists on Sunday after a fall in COVID-19 infections but said it would take time for visitors to start arriving and to revive the tourism industry.
Under an easing of coronavirus restrictions, the government went ahead with a plan to start letting in small groups of tourists from countries using vaccines it has approved.
But registration for the Tourism Ministry’s plan opened only last week, so the number of visitors will initially be limited.
“It is unlikely that the first groups will arrive before the beginning of June,” a Tourism Ministry spokeswoman said.
Tourism in 2019 hit a record high of 4.55 million visitors, contributing NIS 23 billion ($7.1 billion) to Israel’s economy, mainly via small and mid-sized businesses.
Under a pilot program due to continue until June 15, Israel gave the green light to visits by 20 groups of between 5 and 30 tourists from countries including the United States, Britain and Germany.
Another 20 groups were chosen to be on standby if any of the first 20 tour operators did not meet Israel’s conditions.
Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said the ministry was working to allow more tourists to enter to “rehabilitate the tourism industry and bring hundreds of thousands of people back into the workforce.”
Israeli authorities believe that initially limiting tourism to small groups is the best way to monitor and contain the spread of COVID-19, especially new variants. The plan is to boost the number of groups in June and allow individual tourists to start visiting in July.
Visitors will need to show negative PCR tests before flying and to undergo further tests on arrival.
Israel has fully vaccinated about 55% of its population and COVID-19 cases have dropped sharply.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry issued a serious travel warning for the Seychelles, Argentina and Russia due to outbreaks of the coronavirus in those countries.
Unless there is a significant improvement in the situation, the three countries will be added to a list of so-called “red countries” considered to have the highest danger of virus infection.
Travel to red countries from Israel is only possible with the permission of a special government committee. Return from such locations requires two weeks of quarantine even for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The warning came following a situation assessment last Thursday, the ministry said.
It also warned against travel to African countries and Central and South America, as well to Greece, Egypt, Germany, Serbia, Poland, Croatia and Romania.