Plans to reopen Israeli skies this summer have ‘gone down the drain’

Air travel to Israel continues at a trickle as the country blocks tourists and the EU bars Israelis due to the high infection rate.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The only way to restart Israel’s paralyzed tourism industry is to lift the ban on foreigners visiting Israel and test every incoming passenger for coronavirus infection, a travel industry expert said Wednesday.

“The only way this country can fully open its skies is if they test everybody upon their arrival,” said Mark Feldman, CEO of the Jerusalem-based travel agency Ziontours.

“Tourists cannot enter this country and Israelis cannot enter the EU, but Israelis can enter the U.S. and have been. There is no quarantine for them,” Feldman told World Israel News.

Feldman said Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s main gateway to the world, has been operating at about only 10 percent of its normal capacity with barely two dozen incoming flights daily when there would normally be “hundreds and hundreds” in the summer season.

He pointed to Greece, which opened its summer tourism season Wednesday and is allowing foreigners in on the condition they may get tested for coronavirus upon landing, with procedures in place to isolate tourists until the tests show they are negative, or quarantine them if positive.

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Israel’s vital incoming tourism has been shut down since the start of the pandemic in Israel, throwing hundreds of thousands of Israelis out of work and contributing to the economic crisis.

This week the European Union announced it will reopen air travel with 14 countries but not allow Israelis or Americans in because of the high coronavirus infections rates in both countries.

Foreign Ministry officials said Tuesday that Europe’s requirement of 16 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people would keep Israelis from traveling there until the country could significantly bring down the infection rate, Ynet reported.

Plans to re-open Israeli skies this summer have “gone down the drain” due to a renewed soaring number of coronavirus infections, sources said.

Feldman reiterated that except for Yom Kippur, Ben Gurion Airport is “never closed.”

“United has been flying every single night from Newark from the beginning of the pandemic,” Feldman said. “United’s main reason for flying here was for cargo. They were the only ones doing cargo and it is quite a lucrative business for them.”

He noted that Delta, Air Canada and Lufthansa have all resumed flying to Israel.

Because tourists still cannot enter the country and Israelis cannot enter the EU, the main traffic is currently Israelis returning from the U.S. to Israel for the summer.

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“Until there is a COVID-19 vaccination, the only way [to resume flying] is to be tested and that should be done all over the world,” Feldman said.