- Israel’s strict new travel rules prohibit citizens from travelling to South Africa and require returning residents to quarantine for two weeks.
- This is despite Israel being one of the leaders in the global vaccination race, and recording its lowest level of positive Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.
- The new restrictions have also postponed Israel’s tourism programme, which was due to welcome vaccinated visitors into the country towards the end of May.
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Israel has tightened its international travel regulations, which now prevent citizens from visiting South Africa and require returning residents to quarantine for up to two-weeks.
The new restrictions came into effect on Monday, just days before country’s flag carrier El Al Airlines was scheduled to resume flights to South Africa.
Israel is one of the leaders in the race to reach heard immunity with more than 60% of the country’s population already having received at least one dose of two-dose Covid-19 vaccines. On Sunday, the Israeli Health Ministry reported the lowest positivity rate – just 0.1% of the 9,236 tests conducted the day prior – since the start of the pandemic.
Israel only has 1,259 active Covid-19 cases. Less than 100 of these are defined as serious.
But despite these positive signs, Israel has adopted a cautious approach to reopening its borders to international travellers.
In April, Israel’s Minister of Health and Minister of Tourism agreed to a pilot programme which would allow vaccinated foreign visitors into the country towards the end of May. This proposed restart has since been postponed to align with Israel’s latest entry and exit regulations.
Under the new rules, Israeli citizens and residents are prohibited from travelling to Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, and Turkey. Exceptions to this ban extend to athletes, official emissaries of national institutions and humanitarian or essential needs. Foreign nationals who are currently in Israel and are looking to exit to their permanent place of residence are also exempt from the ban.
All departure requests will need to be approved by the government’s newly formed Exceptions Committee.
“The ban on departure to these countries will not apply to anyone who is taking a connecting flight through these countries, provided that they stay less than 12 hours in the country and do not leave the airport,” noted the Israeli Ministry of Health.
Stricter entry restrictions also form part of Israel’s updated travel restrictions. Only citizens and returning residents will be allowed entry into Israel. Even those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will still be subjected to ten-days in quarantine on condition of producing two negative PCR tests.
Travellers who only complete one PCR test – a minimum requirement for all people entering Israel – will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
“It should be noted that vaccinated and recovered people who have been in one of the above-mentioned countries for less than 12 hours as part of a flight connection - and did not leave the airport - will not be required to self-isolate,” explained the travel update.
Israel’s flag carrier El Al Airlines was due to resume flights to and from South Africa on 6 May, following word of the country’s intention to reopen to vaccinated tourists. The postponement of this tourism plan has also delayed El Al’s return to South Africa, which was expected to operate one weekly flight between Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International.
Israel confirmed that the list of prohibited countries will be reviewed once every two weeks.
“The Ministry of Health seeks… a strategy for strict international travel and a relaxation of restrictions domestically,” explained Health Minister MK Yuli Edelstein.
“In other words, maintaining the level of morbidity as low as possible within Israel, while preventing the entry of disease variants from outside.”