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UAE, Bahrain, some EU states said set to allow travel for vaccinated Israelis

A number of countries are expected open their doors to vaccinated Israelis in the coming months and allow quarantine-free travel, according to a Monday report.

Israel has gradually reopened in recent months amid its world-leading vaccination campaign and decreasing morbidity, but health officials have warned that international travel could introduce dangerous new virus variants.

Among the countries expected to recognize Israel’s so-called “green passports” are the Arab states that Israel established diplomatic relations with last year — Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

Russia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Thailand and some other EU states are also expected to allow in vaccinated Israelis, Channel 12 reported.

The report did not provide a timeframe for when international travel could resume.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously discussed adopting green passports to allow mutual travel between countries with other national leaders including Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban.

Greece and Cyrpus already have vaccination passports specifically for travel to and from Israel, although Israel remains largely closed to non-citizens.

Israel has established a domestic “green pass” system that allows people who have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus to participate in various activities, including indoor dining, shows and sports events.

The EU, which lags far behind Israel in its vaccination rate, is preparing a similar measure.

Israel’s public health chief said Monday that the virus was clearly on the decline in Israel, but variants that may be more resistant to vaccines remained a top concern.

“The issue that scares us the most is the entry of variants,” Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said.

“The British strain rules here with 90 percent [of the “cases”], but the vaccine is effective against it. We also have the South African strain, which constitutes 1% [of cases], and against which the vaccine is less effective. We’re afraid that additional strains that are unaffected by the vaccine will enter.”

Alroy-Preis said that Ben Gurion Airport is the greatest concern.

The government on Sunday decided to allow Israelis to arrive from any destination with the aim of enabling citizens to reach the country in time for next week’s elections.

Previously, Israelis could only take incoming flights from a shortlist of destinations in the US, Europe, and the Far East.

However, the government kept in place a limit of no more than 3,000 arrivals each day, a restriction aimed at preventing new mutations of the virus from coming in with travelers.

Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25.

The Health Ministry on Monday proposed opening some tourist attractions starting Friday, including kayaking and water sports, horse riding, motor vehicle tours and rope courses. The proposal immediately drew a rebuke from tourism operators, who demanded that all sites be allowed to open this weekend.

Virus measures across the board have steadily declined in recent months in a drop credited to Israel’s vaccination campaign.

Alroy-Preis told reporters Monday in a briefing that “the virus is diminishing. We are on a decline since [the] Purim [holiday], with more than five million vaccinated in Israel with the first dose.”

Alroy-Preis added that “in the next stage [of lifting restrictions], which will begin Sunday, the number of people [allowed to gather] should increase, because we’ll be able to see that the plan is safe.” She did not provide more details.

She also noted that businesses and other venues will have access to rapid virus tests starting Sunday, which will enable them to admit more unvaccinated people.

Amid the encouraging statistics, Israel surpassed 6,000 virus deaths since the start of the pandemic on Sunday, marking a somber reminder of the outbreak’s heavy toll.

Health Ministry data published Monday evening showed that 1,377 new “cases” were confirmed the previous day. The rate of positive tests stood at 2.4%, continuing the trend of low positivity.

Since the start of the pandemic, 820,913 Israelis have been confirmed to have the coronavirus. They include 26,771 active “cases”, of whom 602 are in serious condition — the lowest figure recorded since December 26. They also include 262 patients regarded as critical.

The total number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropped below 1,000 to 958.

The death toll rose to 6,030 following 21 deaths Sunday, with another 9 reported by Monday evening.

According to ministry data, 5,198,229 Israelis — over 55% of the total population — have received the first vaccine dose, of whom 4,282,265 have also received the second.

Source: TOI