It comes just as virus levels are dropping. Severe cases have fallen below 300 for the first time in 10 weeks, and the rate of positive test results is at its lowest in four months.
Vaccinated visitors from overseas will be greeted via Ben-Gurion Airport, often referred to as Israel’s COVID Achilles heel – as it was likely the gateway for the first cases of the virus and the first cases of new ones variants, and because of their lack of luster. the application of quarantine and other sanitary procedures for arrivals.
All arrivals must undergo testing before flying to Israel and upon arrival. And all incoming tourists will need to be quarantined until they receive a negative test result. But the regulations are far from perfect – some newcomers may get false negatives, others may be too early in the disease to be recorded as positive but become contagious later, and still others may not be correctly put. in quarantine.
Experts say that as long as the pandemic persists, tourism will carry a risk of the virus.
“We shouldn’t over-test the immunity we’ve built here,” Professor Gabi Barbash, former director general of the Ministry of Health, told The Times of Israel.
A medical technician tests a passenger for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion Airport on June 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni / Flash90)
He did not reject the idea of welcoming tourists, but said he was concerned the scale of the reopening – accepting visitors from all countries – was too large.
“I am not in a position to say [it’s] right or wrong, but I’m worried, ”he said. “The concern is that you are going to import patients who are apparently immune, but not actually immune. “
Barbash is particularly concerned about Russia, where daily deaths from COVID have just reached a new high, especially as he doubts the reliability of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Israel has decided to recognize the vaccine from the November 15, although it does not have the World Health Organization seal of approval, in an apparent diplomatic gesture towards Russia.
In all other countries, Israel will only accept people vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac, and Sinopharm.
Unlike Barbash, Professor Eyal Leshem, an infectious disease specialist at Sheba Medical Center, isn’t particularly worried.
“The airport is not a weak point today, and has not been a weak point since we achieved high immunization coverage,” he told The Times of Israel.
Leshem said the coronavirus is transmitted in shopping malls, schools, restaurants, concerts and elsewhere in Israel. Inbound flights are one of the many vectors for the virus, but unless the percentage of infected and undetected arrivals is high, it won’t significantly affect virus levels, he believes.
“Because we have community transmission anyway, foreign cases do not affect the epidemiological situation. If infected tourists in more than hundreds of cases enter Israel, that does not change the situation in Israel. “
“Most countries have been much more permissive than Israel. There is no need to keep hitting the travel industry. We can accept the risk on the assumption that there is still some community transmission in Israel, and arrivals from overseas will only add slightly to that. “
Leshem said that before the widespread vaccination, there was logic in preventing tourists from entering – as a single COVID-positive foreigner was likely to infect many more. But the risk is much lower now that inoculation has reduced transmission rates.
“The airport was an Achilles heel, for example in March 2020 when we weren’t ready for treatment and didn’t have vaccines, and flights arrived filled with people with COVID who weren’t quarantined, ”Leshem said. “But now we’re a year and a half later. “
Barbash argued that Israel’s immunity is still in a delicate state, and therefore a stricter airport policy may always be wise. And he said vigilance is especially important as the airport will be the likely arrival route for any new variant, which he is keen to keep away.
Leshem thinks that attempts to prevent the next variant are a losing battle. He said experience has shown that unless countries completely seal their borders to prevent even their citizens from leaving and returning, variations will happen.
“The assumption is that when there is a new variant, it will enter the country, unless you close the border completely,” Leshem said. “New variants will enter Israel like the previous variants, which makes the discussion about the large airport a bit futile. ”