Tourism officials warn new restrictions on air travel will cripple industry

Seeking to curb the Delta variant Israel adds 18 countries, including the US, to its COVID-19 travel warning list. Tourism industry official: This is collective punishment over the government’s failure to enforce other restrictions.

Tourism industry officials warned Tuesday that the government’s decision to add a host of popular travel destinations to the list of COVID-19 watch would cripple the sector, which has barely begun recovering from being virtually paralyzed during the height of the global pandemic, which saw most countries close their skies and ban all nonessential air travel.

In its effort to stop the spread of the Delta variant, Israel’s so-called coronavirus cabinet added 18 countries to its travel warning list.

The move means that all those returning from these countries, including vaccinated individuals, will be required to quarantine for a minimum of seven days, pending two negative COVID-19 tests.

The newly added countries are Ukraine, Italy, Iceland, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), the United States, Botswana, Bulgaria, Germany, Netherlands, Tanzania, Greece, Malawi, Egypt, Czech Republic, France, Cuba, Rwanda, and Tunisia.

The Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approved the list on the recommendation by the Health Ministry.

The measure was originally supposed to go into effect on Friday but was postponed until Wednesday, August 11.

The 18 new travel destinations join a host of previously flagged countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Myanmar, Namibia, Fiji, Colombia, and Cambodia.

The Health Ministry has approved removing Uganda, Seychelles, Zambia, Liberia, Panama, Paraguay, Costa Rica, and Kenya from the list of high-risk travel destinations as of Friday.

Currently, the list of countries to which Israelis are barred from traveling altogether over their morbidity rates includes Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Cyprus, Georgia, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan.

Traveling to these countries requires the permission of the government’s Exceptions Committee. Traveling to these destinations sans said approval carries a fine of 5,000 shekels ($1,500).

Senior tourism industry officials leveled harsh criticism at the government over the decision, telling Israel Hayom that it was akin to “collective punishment” over the government’s failure to enforce other restrictions placed on public life.

“We weren’t even told this [additional air travel restrictions] was up for discussion. Everything happened within two to three hours and they [the ministers] just made this decision under everyone’s noses,” one official said.

Calling the decision “delusional,” he further warns it would trigger mass layoffs.

“The problem isn’t with people flying, the problem is that the Health Ministry doesn’t know how to deal with people who violate quarantine and outline an orderly policy, so they punish everyone. Why were there no representatives of the [tourism] industry in this meeting? Something is happening here in contrast to what is happening in most other Western countries.”

Eshet Tours CEO Ephraim Kramer also panned the decision saying it spells “the de-facto shuttering of Ben-Gurion International Airport.”

He, too, criticized the fact that the Health Ministry had not made the criteria by which countries are flagged as high-risk COVID destinations public, saying, “Where’s the transparency vis-à-vis the industry and the public? What was the basis to bar travel to Germany and Bulgaria, where morbidity is lower than in Israel?

“The government is undermining its own interests by infringing on Israeli’s freedom of movement as well as the freedom of occupation of travel agents.”

Nir Mazor, vice president of Aviation Links, said that “expanding the list of countries that require quarantine even for vaccinated individuals deals another blow to the Israeli aviation and tourism industries.

“It is precisely against the backdrop of the important discussion about [health] awareness and the importance of motivating young people to get vaccinated, they [the government] chose to eliminate one of the main benefits stated at the beginning of the vaccination campaign – being exempt from quarantine.

“This decision is in stark contrast to the global trend of tourism opening again,” he explained. “The Western world, the United States, Britain, and Europe are currently maintaining air travel routines that are very close to pre-corona numbers, with an emphasis on free movement for vaccinated individuals, while the ‘world’s most-vaccinated country’ does the opposite.

“At the very least, the state must create an assistance mechanism for the companies and the thousands of workers who are again left behind without any lifeline,” he said.


Filed Under: AirlinesEconomyTravelcovid-19

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