A pilot program to allow a limited number of tourists traveling in groups into Israel will be extended until the end of June, a spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry said Monday. A decision regarding the entrance of individual tourists – which was expected to be authorized starting from July 1 – will be taken later this month.Tour operators will be able to submit their requests for new groups on Tuesday.At the end of April, the Tourism Ministry unveiled a plan to reopen the country to foreign nationals after over a year. Starting from May 23, some selected tourist groups were supposed to be allowed in, followed by a general permission to travel to Israel in groups. Individual travelers were supposed to be admitted in the country from July 1.The escalation with Gaza slightly delayed the plan’s rollout, but the first group of visitors – Christian pilgrims from the United States – arrived on May 27.Only 20 groups received the approval, and another 20 were registered in a waiting list. All the slots were taken within a few minutes from when the application process was opened, leaving many tour operators frustrated.Also this time the process will work on a first-come-first-served basis, up to 1,000 travelers by the end of June. Each group will be able to include between 5 and 30 individuals (in the previous round no more than 20 people were allowed for each group).Under the current regulations, only fully vaccinated foreign individuals are allowed in Israel, provided that in the previous two weeks they did not spend time in one of the nine nations under travel ban, which include Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Argentina.

As it happens with Israeli citizens, travelers need to present a PCR test before boarding the plane and do another one upon arrival.In addition, tourists are required to undergo a serological test to prove the presence of antibodies.While cases in Israel continue to plummet – with less than 200 active patients left – health officials and experts have been very concerned about the possibility of infected people entering the country from abroad, and have so far maintained a very conservative approach regarding traveling restrictions.Whether the political stalemate of the past several weeks will delay the plan to open up the borders to vaccinated foreign nationals and how a new government will approach the issue remains to be seen.

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