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Israel Aiming To Resume Travel With Low-Infection Bloc In July

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Israel is drawing up plans to resume commercial flights to some nearby countries with low COVID-19 contagion rates starting July 1, a report said Tuesday.

Travel in and out of Israel has been all but shut down for over a month, but Israel and other countries that have managed to escape the pandemic relatively unscathed have been discussing the possibility of creating a special travel zone that would see trips resume without the need for strict quarantine measures.

According to the Channel 13 news report, Israel would start reopening travel with Greece and Cyprus on July 1, before resuming flights to several other European destinations.

A preliminary pilot program in June would see flights to unspecified nearby destinations resume, albeit while still requiring returning travelers to quarantine for 14 days, according to a proposal drawn up by airline executives and presented to the Health Ministry Tuesday.

The Health Ministry will monitor passengers, and ask them to undergo coronavirus testing when they return to Israel. If the travel is not seen to contribute to a new wave of infections, authorities would roll back the quarantine requirements and other restrictions.

The Airports Authority is thus hoping to start regular flights to and from Greece and Cyprus from July 1. If this proves safe, flights will be allowed soon after to and from Austria, Croatia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Hungary, Iceland, Switzerland, Germany and Poland, Channel 13 reported.

As of Tuesday, Greece had recorded less than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 and Cyprus had confirmed just over 900, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Israel in recent weeks has rolled back lockdown restrictions as the virus outbreak appears to be under control. Israel’s death toll from the novel coronavirus rose by two to 260 on Tuesday, but fewer than 30 new cases were confirmed for the second straight day, the Health Ministry said.

While some carriers, including Delta and Wizz Air, have said they plan on resuming some flights to Israel in May, others are planning on waiting until July, according to the TV reports.

The Central Bureau of Statistics last week issued figures on arrivals to Israel and departures from it in April, showing a staggering 99.6% drop compared to April 2019. The airport currently only sees a handful of flights a day, most of them operated by local carrier Israair.

A Channel 12 report said the Israel Airports Authority has drawn up new rules for travelers flying out of Ben Gurion Airport to go into effect when regular international travel resumes.

Under the planned new rules, departing travelers will be required to arrive at the airport four hours before their flights and will have to show their ticket and passport at the terminal entrance; the number of people who can shop at duty free stores will be limited; and automated systems will be put in place to measure people’s temperatures and ensure they are wearing a mask, among other measures.

The pandemic has put national carrier El Al, which has temporarily shut passenger flights, on its heels, with estimated losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon decided Sunday to offer El Al a lifeline via a $400 million state-backed loan guarantee on condition the airline agrees to a raft of reforms, Channel 12 news reported.

If the airline declines the offer and all its terms, it will likely be broken up and parts of it sold off.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an online meeting of world leaders that Israel would be “happy to enter into safe flight agreements” to allow international travel between countries that have had success in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, according to his office.

Netanyahu participated in a video conference hosted by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, which was aimed to discuss various strategies for dealing with the virus, including ways to gradually open the countries’ economies after weeks of tight restrictions.

Other leaders on the call were Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

According to a May 2 Wall Street Journal report, the seven countries, whose leaders also met via video call two weeks ago, are joining together to promote tourism and trade between them as they look to rebuild economies battered by the virus.

The initiative, proposed by Austria’s Kurz, will reportedly provide a way for the countries, many of which are heavily dependent on tourism, to begin opening borders with less risk of letting in virus carriers.

According to the PMO, the leaders agreed on Thursday that they will hold “dedicated meetings in the areas of tourism and aviation between the tourism ministers of the countries.”

The PMO said that Netanyahu “also stressed the need to renew flights to the United States.”

The government this week eased its requirement for all arrivals from overseas to quarantine for 14 days at state-overseen isolation hotels, and instead will allow returning Israelis and others whose lives are centered in Israel to self-quarantine if they can do so, the cabinet announced after midnight Sunday.

An entry ban on nationals from other countries whose homes are not in Israel remains in force.

By Toi Staff – The Times of Israel

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