Israeli Foreign Ministry: No Date Set for Int’l Travel as 4M Vaccinated
Citizens eager for stamps on their “green passports” will have to wait for a decrease in case numbers in the country and abroad, says Foreign Ministry
Israelis for whom the privilege of international travel was a prime motivator to getting vaccinated against the novel coronavirus may be in for a disappointment. While the Foreign Ministry has discussed resuming travel with some countries, a launch date for the resumption of flights has yet to be set. “It all depends on the number of cases,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Media Line.
Israel’s vaccine rollout has received worldwide coverage, as the small Middle Eastern country managed to jab its citizens with the vaccine at record speed. Around 3.9 million Israelis have received their first shot, pushing the vaccinated proportion of the population past 40%.
In this national effort, the “green pass,” a government-issued certificate easing coronavirus restrictions for the vaccinated and the recovered, was a central incentive motivating people to vaccinate. For a period of six months – limited because of uncertainty about the vaccine’s efficacy over time – those carrying the certificate would be able to participate in various local activities, such as visiting museums, attending sporting events, and going to shows and concerts. Additionally, those who have been vaccinated would be issued a separate “green passport” allowing them to travel abroad.
Yael Ram, an Israeli travel and lifestyle blogger, told The Media Line, “The main reason I did it [received the vaccine] was to be able to travel when the skies reopen.” She has been waiting anxiously to travel and plans “a long trip over the summer.” Although declarations on the matter had been unclear, Ram says, “I understood that a green passport would be necessary to travel internationally with ease.”
However, at present, while the “green pass” for domestic activities is on the fast track to governmental approval, it appears Israelis will have to be patient in their wait for the “green passport,” with no date currently set for its introduction.
“Everyone is talking about Passover,” Yaffa Waksman, vice president of Ophir Tours, a large Israeli travel agency, told The Media Line. “Let’s get things ready for Passover.” Yet there is more uncertain hope than concrete information. “There are more declarations than any bottom-line concrete things like dates and a roadmap.”
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Despite this, Waksman says her company is ready for the expected reopening of Israel’s skies. “We are preparing as if this is set to happen.” Her agency has put together vacation packages, contacted hotels and more, in preparation for the upcoming Jewish holiday, which sees hundreds of thousands of Israelis vacation abroad under normal circumstances. While Waksman stresses the present cloud of uncertainty, she is certain that Israel’s skies will reopen for tourism, if not for Passover, then for the coming spring or summer. “It will eventually happen; they’ll find the way to do this and it’s being advanced as quickly as possible because it is in everyone’s interest to reopen and live.”
The Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Media Line that reopening Israel’s skies “all depends on the number of COVID-19 cases,” and therefore, a date cannot be given. The agreements being discussed, he explained, revolve around a group of partner countries recognizing Israeli “Vaccinated” and “Recovered” certificates. “We are currently in discussion with Greece and Cyprus, as well as other countries, surrounding their recognition of the Israeli ‘Vaccinated Certificate,’ but nothing is finalized,” he said. Those carrying the certificates will be exempt from a coronavirus check before their flight and from quarantine when they arrive at their destination, “but it isn’t yet clear whether they will be exempt from quarantine upon their return” to Israel.
In addition to Cyprus and Greece, other countries under consideration include Georgia and Seychelles, which have already declared that they will accept the Israeli certificates. Also, “we are in conversation with Britain and Estonia, but that’s at very early stages,” the spokesman said. Yet in the current situation, even flights to these countries are off the table. “It is presently irrelevant because the number of COVID-19 cases is high both here and in those countries,” he clarified.
Another possible deterrent to Israelis eager to board a plane is Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen’s demand that all international entry agreements be mutual. In a statement to The Media Line, Farkash-Hacohen said, “As minister of tourism, I have made it clear: Any agreement allowing Israelis to travel overseas must be a two-way street, allowing tourists to visit Israel at the same time.” Farkash-Hacohen is attempting to protect Israel’s tourism industry and make sure that, with locals given the opportunity to vacation abroad, foreign nationals would be able to breathe a measure of life into Israel’s ailing tourism industry. However, with most countries lagging behind Israel’s rapid vaccination, the practicality of this demand remains to be seen. The Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed to The Media Line that some arrangements currently under discussion are not mutual entry agreements.
Despite the present vagueness, Waksman said that people were responding to the packages advertised for Passover and ordering vacations abroad. “Yes, prices are attractive right now and people want to take advantage of this. Also, people are optimistic and say, ‘Let’s place the order and it’ll happen,’ and it can happen,” she says. The government “can decide tomorrow, ‘Here, this is the solution, you can get going.’” While hope, in spite of the uncertainty, appears to be pushing forward both the tourism industry and tourists, Waksman was confident that “if things don’t work out and flights don’t take off, people will get their money back.”