Health officials agreed on Tuesday to relax pre-flight COVID testing requirements for those traveling to Israel from abroad.
Currently, anyone entering the State of Israel must present a negative PCR test administered within 72 hours of departure or they will not be allowed to board a flight. Under the new proposal, which is subject to government and Knesset approval, travelers will be allowed to choose to present a negative antigen test – administered by a testing agency, not at home – carried out in 24 hours before boarding.
“This decision was made in coordination with the Ministries of Transportation and Tourism,” the Health Ministry said in a statement, “in a joint effort to enable the renewal of inbound tourism as well as to ease the situation for Israelis traveling abroad – while continuing to protect public health. »
Anyone entering Israel will still be required to undergo a PCR test upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport.
Israel ostensibly reopened to foreign tourists on November 1, after the country was largely closed to non-Israelis for 18 months. But with strict limitations still in place, the country has not seen an influx of tourists. Under current guidelines, non-Israelis can only enter Israel if they have received a third booster dose of one of the COVID vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization, or if they have received their second dose more recently than six months before the end date of their trip to Israel.
Israel has successfully emerged from its fourth wave of COVID, with new cases and severe cases steadily declining over the past month. But with morbidity peaking in much of Europe, some health officials are concerned about new variants and outbreaks entering Israel from abroad.
As of Tuesday evening, there were 5,173 active cases of COVID in Israel, including 179 hospitalized, 137 in serious condition and 91 on ventilators. A month ago, there were more than 375 Israelis with COVID in serious condition. Only 522 new COVID cases were reported on Monday, down from peaks of more than 10,000 a day in early September.
Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash said on Sunday that restrictions could be reinstated for people arriving from certain European countries.
“We could go back to classifying certain countries as red, and then it will be forbidden to travel there,” Ash said. But he said there was “no intention” to ban entry of tourists as a whole or to reimpose sweeping restrictions on overseas travel, noting that currently the number of travelers infected among arrivals was low.
A World Health Organization official said earlier this month that Europe was once again at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkan states recorded some of the highest per capita death rates in the world during the first week of November, according to the WHO. Countries like Austria and the Netherlands have instituted new containment measures, while other countries are considering reinstating some restrictions.
Times of Israel and AP staff contributed to this report.