El Al airplane
El Al airplanePhoto: Moshe Shai / Flash90

After months of tightly restricted entry into the country for non-citizens, Israel is preparing to allow some tourists into the country.

As infection rates decline amid growing optimism Israel has seen the worst of the fourth wave of the COVID pandemic, the Israeli government is preparing to gradually reopen the country to tourism.

The first stage of the staggered reopening will begin on September 19th, after Yom Kippur and just ahead of the Sukkot festival.

In the pilot program for the reopening of the tourism industry, only tour groups will be allowed to return, with individual tourists still barred from entering the country.

Groups of five to 30 tourists will be permitted in under the program, with all tourists seeking entry required to be vaccinated against COVID.

The pilot program was originally launched prior to the fourth wave of the pandemic, back in May.

While the ban on individual tourists remained in place, some 2,000 tourists visited from May through July as part of tour groups, most of them from the US and Europe. The program was halted in August, however, following a spike in infection rates.

Not all tour groups will be permitted entry under the new program, with tourists from countries with the highest level of COVID infection rates – listed as “red” countries according to the Health Ministry’s guidelines – still being barred from entering the country. As of Monday, that list includes Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, and Bulgaria.

Tourists entering the country will be considered fully vaccinated if they have at least two doses of the vaccine and received their last dose no more than six months prior to entry. However, after six months from the second dose, those seeking entry will need a third dose.

Visitors will also need to have a COVID test less than three days before departure, and submit to a second test upon arrival in Israel.