Reaping Fruits of Vaccination, Israelis Resume International Travel
Travelers line up to check in at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 21, 2021. (Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua via Getty

Reaping Fruits of Vaccination, Israelis Resume International Travel

People take to the skies after Supreme Court strikes down restrictions on flights and returning citizens

Israelis are starting to vacation abroad as the country reaps the benefits of its world-leading vaccination drive. A recent Supreme Court ruling canceled governmental restrictions on flights, allowing travel to resume for those with local citizenship.

While the numbers are nothing close to the peak in flights normally seen during the Passover season, Yaffa Waksman, vice president of Ophir Tours, a large Israeli travel agency, says, “We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I’m flying back to the States finally, finally. I was supposed to fly last year at Pesach time,” Laura Messinger told The Media Line.

Messinger lives in Israel with her immediate family, but the rest of her relations all reside in the US, including her elderly parents. “It’s been very trying because I know that I haven’t seen them,” she says.

Messinger’s parents live in an assisted living compound, and throughout this trying time were cut off from seeing not only their family in Israel but also their relatives in the US. Their daughter has been on the alert for a year, waiting for a chance to fly, and she booked her flight as soon as the restrictions were lifted.

Flights in and out of Israel have been subject to various limitations throughout the last year. The Supreme Court on March 17, however, canceled the restrictions imposed by the government, which included, for example, a recently raised maximum of 3,000 Israelis entering per day. Another regulation that was removed limited the countries to which Israelis could travel.

“From the moment that the Supreme Court published its decision, those limitations were over and they opened the airport, so the airport is open to everyone,” Waksman told The Media Line.

Of course, some limitations are still in place, and Waksman points out that families with kids under 16 – not yet vaccinated except for a very few exceptions – would have to quarantine their children upon return, a decisive deterrent for many.

Waksman highlighted that those vaccinated would not be required to quarantine after their trips abroad.

Mark Feldman directs the Jerusalem office of Diesenhaus, a large Israeli travel company. He detailed the current regulations, telling The Media Line: “Everyone must have a negative COVID-19 test from within 72 hours of their time of departure. In addition, they must fill out an Israeli health declaration within 24 hours of their departing flight.

“Return to Israel requires similar procedures: a PCR test and another health declaration. Each country one flies to has different requirements and those too must be obeyed,” Feldman says.

More than 4.65 million Israelis have received the necessary two vaccine doses (mostly Pfizer and some Moderna), 50% of the population. With the mass vaccination has come a sharp decrease in the number of COVID-19 infections and serious cases, and a steady return of life in the country to normal.

Passover is one of Israel’s high seasons when it comes to traveling abroad. In 2019, the last year before the pandemic, an estimated 1.5 million Israelis left the country for an international getaway. That’s one in six Israelis spending one of Israel’s main holidays abroad.

“The numbers aren’t what they were in the past,” Waksman says, but “there is a lot of interest and the phone doesn’t stop ringing.”

Feldman estimates that 50,000 will travel abroad “over the next two weeks.” The US, which remains open, “still attracts the largest numbers,” he says, and some 8,000 will travel there for Passover.

In addition, “Greece (the mainland and several islands) along with Cyprus will be open [to Israelis who were vaccinated against or recovered from COVID-19] from April 1,” he says.

Other countries accepting Israelis include the Seychelles, Croatia and various South American states. Israel’s new regional friend, the United Arab Emirates, is also open to Israeli citizens, Feldman adds.

However, “all the rest of Europe and the United Kingdom remains off-limits to Israeli passport holders, as does Canada,” and Feldman says that with large parts of the Continent experiencing a third wave of the pandemic, it is “hard to see any movement before late summer.”

Waksman pointed out that some destinations – Athens, for example – are currently under lockdown, and so are irrelevant even if they accept Israelis. However, she expects that as April and May come around, “and more countries are vaccinated,” more destinations will open to tourists.

In the meantime, there is strong interest in cruises, which do not require the unvaccinated to quarantine, making them a good option for families, Waksman says.

Both tourism professionals agree there is a definite change for the better in the industry that has suffered the most from the pandemic. “We’re seeing a strong uptick in travel plans for both the near future as well as the spring and summer,” Feldman says.

Waksman, in turn, says the scale of operations, of course, still is not what it used to be. However, “there is interest and sales.”

“People are craving a getaway,” she says. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, without a doubt.”

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