After a really long COVID-19 induced “vacation”, I’m finally on the road again. This time I’m guiding a group of young people from Germany on their first Israel tour. Why I mention “first Israel tour”? Because Israel can be addictive.
Israel is gradually opening its borders to tourists. Entry to the country isn’t easy. First of all, you need to be part of an organized tour. You need to be fully vaccinated, and if your last vaccination has been more than 6 months before your scheduled return from Israel, you are required to take a “booster” or 3rd vaccination. You also need a travel insurance specifically covering COVID-19.
If that isn’t enough, you have to undergo a PCR test less than 72 hours before boarding. Upon arrival, you must take another PCR test as well as a serological test at the airport – at your expense. Only if you pass these tests are you allowed to leave quarantine.
You receive the results for the serological test within 15-30 minutes, the results from the PCR test take a few hours. Today I will see how it goes as I receive my group.
I’m really excited about this. I have been longing to guide ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Although I was less optimistic than most of my colleagues, I never foresaw that it would take such a long time to get back to work.
These days the number of groups arriving to Israel is small – perhaps a handfull a day, if at all. Very few travelers are willing to undergo the tedious compliance and approval process. In fact, my group received their Israel government approval only last Thursday.
Looking forward, however, there are signs of improvement. The number of COVID-19 infections is declining, the famous R factor is at 0.71 today. The government is talking about opening Israel for individual tourists too, and perhaps scraping the serological test. As we have to learn how to live with the pandemic, health statistics in Israel clearly show the efficiency of the vaccines. Today nearly 80% of those hospitalized and in a severe condition have not been vaccinated at all, although they make only 15% of the population eligible for vaccination.
One thing is certain – the group of young people arriving today will experience a very different Israel from the pre-COVID times. Practically all touristic highlights are nearly empty. In particularly the churches who, back in 2019, welcomed millions of pilgrims.