Photo Credit: Flash 90
Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion International Airport.

Israeli travel restrictions on countries with “red” status may soon be relaxed, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday evening in a primetime address broadcast live from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

At present, there are 15 countries with travel bans still in place – including the United States, the UK, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Hungary, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

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Bennett told reporters that he “closed the skies five weeks ago when everything was fine” as a preventive measure, and “in the coming week, it is likely that we will reopen the skies.”

Why now?

Since there are now tens of thousands of cases of the coronavirus in Israel, the prime minister said, another 50 or so infections from travelers arriving from abroad are “meaningless.”

Earlier in the day, Yesh Atid Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said during the weekly cabinet meeting that it was “time to put an end to the isolation of vaccinated Israelis returning from abroad. It no longer has medical value.”

As of 9:45 am Sunday morning, the Health Ministry reported 4,197 new cases of the coronavirus diagnosed in the past 24 hours, out of 92,503 Israelis tested for the virus.

The Health Ministry reported Saturday night that 5,474 new cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed Friday, resulting in a positivity rate of 4.57 percent. There are currently 110 Israelis listed in serious condition; a figure again on the rise, including 37 patients being maintained on respirators.

At the same time, the tourism minister said, “we should allow the return of vaccinated foreigners to Israel because, despite the aid package, the tourism industry and the economy will not be able to continue to carry this burden.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai also later wrote in a tweet that the prime minister and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz had both told him “There will be a substantial easing of policies for entrance into Israel this week.”

Also on Sunday, Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Gilad Kariv (Labor) said the “no-fly” list will not be approved on Tuesday if criteria for humanitarian exceptions are not relaxed by the Population and Immigration Authority, which together with the Health Ministry determines who is granted a special permit by the so-called Exceptions Committee to enter Israel from abroad, and/or travel from Israel to a “red country.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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