Israel on Monday began welcoming individual tourists for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities hope that opening the country’s gates to solo travelers will breathe new life into the struggling tourism industry. Before the pandemic, the Christmas season saw hundreds of thousands of people visit Bethlehem, believed to be birthplace of Jesus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israel had planned to reopen to tourists last spring but delayed the move amid a spike in cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant. Israel has since rolled out a booster campaign in which nearly half the population has received a third vaccine dose, driving cases back down.
Travelers must show proof of vaccination, a booster shot, or recovery from coronavirus within the last six months. Authorities recognize most vaccines, but those vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik must undergo a serological test upon arrival. Travelers must also present a negative coronavirus test before boarding their flights and take another one upon arrival.
Throughout the pandemic, Israel has allowed some foreigners to visit, including people with close relatives in the country and people coming for work or study. It began allowing organized tour groups in September.
Photo – An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks an deserted train station in Jerusalem, Israel. EPA-EFE/ABIR SULTAN