Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90
Security guard checks the temperature of customers at the entrance to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, May 04, 2020.

Israel is joining a new initiative led by Austria that brings together small countries that have basically defeated the coronavirus epidemic. These countries aim to open their borders in order to save the tourism industry and revive their economies.

The first meeting of the Alliance of Immunized Countries was held online last week and brought together Denmark, Greece, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Israel. And the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz is promoting an idea that includes the opening of borders between safe states in the near future.

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It will begin with allowing tourism and tourism trade to come back from its suspended animation, Kurtz told Austrian media, following a meeting with several world leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Our countries have responded quickly to the pandemic, and we are now in better shape.”

The states in question are in agreement that, in the context of opening their borders, they would take effective measures against the spread of the coronavirus, such as the obligation to wear masks, as well as the establishment of a quick and simple testing protocol.

Israel has been in the forefront of these efforts, as the MDA in collaboration with the IDF have come up with a mobile testing unit that is easy to assemble, can be relocated quickly on a truck bed, and is perfectly safe for the testing staff.

MDA mobile unit for coronavirus samples / Gil Cohen, MDA

It has also been reported that common hygiene measures would be agreed on between the states, such as the requirement to wear masks during flights, and even the possibility of rapid blood tests to detect the virus onboard flights.

The bloc is already working on a roadmap to open its international borders to its member states, according to the WSJ, affirming that certain countries could receive tourists from member countries in the coming weeks.

The deal contradicts the very idea of the European Union’s 1985 Schengen Agreement, which led to the creation of Europe’s Schengen Area, in which internal border checks have largely been abolished. Should Austria establish a selective reopening of its borders, preferring Israel over, say, Italy, where the pandemic is still killing tens of thousands, it would upset the remaining members of the 27-country EU. Which is why they are currently opposed to the Israeli-European initiative.

Germany, which has so far been relatively successful in containing the coronavirus epidemic, has announced that it does not wish to participate in the Kurtz forum, should it be invited.

Chancellor Kurtz has been interviewed on German media in recent weeks, and said he planns to open the Austrian border to German tourism, but on Sunday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced that “it is too early to discuss the issue.” Germany has announced that it would maintain its closed borders through mid-June.

Austria’s economy has taken a harsh beating from the early closing of ski season, and is now hoping to capitalize on summer tourism in the Austrian Alps. Next on the Chancellor’s sights are Australia and Singapore.

The exclusive club’s leaders have agreed to continue meeting online every two weeks. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen congratulated the Austrian initiative, and said she accepts that “the EU is a very important framework, but I think this global alliance is very attractive because it brings together countries from around the world around the discussion table.”

And it keeps out countries where the pandemic is still very much alive and kicking.

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