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Expert: Tourism to Israel Safe With Proper Safeguards

With Israel slowly opening up its borders to foreign tourists, some in the Jewish state are concerned that a Seychelles-like scenario will develop in the Middle East.

Despite having one of the highest COVID -19 vaccination rates in the world at over 60%, the archipelagic nation off the east coast of Africa has seen a surge in new coronavirus cases as the country, renowned for its tourism industry, started welcoming foreign visitors.

As a result, medical professionals are concerned about renewed coronavirus spread as more people fly around the world, including to Israel.

“I’m getting my children vaccinated,” a Jerusalem-based doctor told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “I just think that it’s the smart thing to do as people start going to different countries again. Who knows what will happen to Israel’s COVID numbers as people start traveling and more tourists arrive?”

However, not all physicians share that level of concern.

“It’s [permitting tourists from abroad to enter Israel] doable, but it needs to be done gradually and properly, mainly with countries with high vaccination rates and low cases of COVID-19,” Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told The Media Line.

“We need the proper integration and surveillance at the points of entry, mainly the [Ben-Gurion] international airport, but also at the land crossings from Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Jordan,” he continued.

Israel should continue to have people tested for the novel coronavirus before they enter the country, and quarantine all who are not vaccinated, he said.

Davidovitch added that tourism and other travel for business and conferences cannot be prevented indefinitely, for economic reasons.

Still, about 33% of new coronavirus cases in Seychelles stemmed from people who were inoculated.

In the region, spread of the novel virus among those who have been vaccinated has prompted Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to offer a third, booster, shot to recipients of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, over concerns about its efficacy.

When asked about COVID-19 strains, such as the highly contagious Delta (aka the Indian) variant, and possible new ones down the road that might be immune to the vaccines, Davidovitch said that they are not enough of a threat to public health to warrant stopping the movement of people between countries that have the pandemic relatively well under control.

“I don’t think variants should prevent moving forward with tourists and international travel, except for countries with high rates of incidents like India,” he said.

On Saturday, for the first time, no new locally contracted coronavirus cases were identified in Israel, the Health Ministry said. Four carriers were identified but all four recently arrived from overseas.

And this coming Tuesday, wearing masks will only be required inside schools, with the only other restrictions remaining in place concerning people arriving from abroad.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 3 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday:

CountryConfirmed CasesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Afghanistan87,7163,41260,28024,024
Algeria132,0343,54491,89436,596
Bahrain254,9201,171236,30117,448
Cyprus72,99636770,7011,928
Djibouti11,56715411,39518
Egypt270,29215,471198,63256,189
Iran2,990,71481,5192,590,682318,513
Iraq1,242,54016,6481,159,97365,919
Israel839,5856,418832,981186
Jordan741,6999,561723,6378,501
Kuwait321,6481,806304,91614,926
Lebanon541,9407,780525,0659,095
Libya188,3863,155174,22311,008
Mauritania19,92347018,946507
Morocco522,3899,190509,9583,241
Oman230,2192,467207,79519,957
Pakistan937,43421,529871,66944,236
Palestinian Territories310,5443,520302,3574,667
Qatar219,281574216,3012,406
Saudi Arabia461,2427,503443,8109,929
Somalia14,7797746,9957,010
Sudan36,2032,71929,8413,643
Syria24,7231,80121,6531,269
Tunisia360,28513,229316,00431,052
Turkey5,306,69048,4285,179,83378,429
United Arab Emirates589,4231,710568,82818,885
Yemen6,8321,3373,6751,820
Total16,736,004266,25715,678,345791,402

 

Steven Ganot contributed to this report.