After the Health Ministry this week recommended easing COVID-19 regulations on travelers, Israelis have raced to book vacations abroad after two years of restrictions at the airport.
The most significant change that is expected to be approved by the government is an end to quarantine for unvaccinated children who travel abroad.
Currently, the restrictions require unvaccinated children returning to Israel to quarantine for five days. If the recommendations are approved, they will be subject to the same restrictions as vaccinated children and adults and will instead be tested at Ben Gurion Airport upon landing and remain in quarantine for no more than 24 hours.
Travel agencies said Thursday they saw a massive increase in interest after the announcement, and were struggling to keep up with the demand.
El Al drafted cabin crew to help staff the phonelines as Israelis rushed to book vacations abroad.
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“We’ve gone from 5,000 calls per day to 10,000,” said Oren Cohen Butansky, VP of customer service at El Al.
The Departure Hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on January 4, 2022 (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
“It’s a chance to increase [work] hours as well as helping the customer service center,” Dalia, a cabin crew member at the airline told Channel 12 news.
Meanwhile, The Marker financial newspaper reported that the increase in demand for foreign vacations had led to a rise in prices.
The site said that the cost of flights and hotel rooms had leapt since the start of the year, and that while prices were not yet at the levels seen in 2019, they were still expected to increase further.
“Unequivocally, February looks much better than January. Every day the data goes up, and these are still winter figures which means we have not yet reached the peak period,” Ziv Rosen, CEO of the Gulliver Group told The Marker.
“The top places for bookings in the next month are New York, London, Georgia, Turkey and Spain. Dubai also had reservations, but they slowed down a bit due to security issues,” Rosen said, referring to the disagreements between the Shin Bet and authorities in the United Arab Emirates over arrangements at the airport.
As well as the potential scrapping of quarantine for unvaccinated children, the Health Ministry on Wednesday also recommended canceling the requirement for returning travelers to present a COVID test at the airport before boarding a flight to Israel, though the test at Ben Gurion after landing will remain a requirement for all.
A medical technician tests a traveler for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion Airport, June 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israel currently requires returning travelers to test twice — before boarding a plane to Israel and again upon landing.
Inbound travel was also set to see a boost after the ministry said unvaccinated non-Israeli children under age 12 should be allowed to enter if they are accompanied by vaccinated parents, and be required to isolate until they receive a negative test result. Unvaccinated non-Israelis over the age of 12 should still not be allowed to enter the country, the ministry said.
The ban on unvaccinated children has been a factor stagnating inbound tourism in Israel, with many families unable to vacation in the country with young children.
All the Health Ministry recommendations are still subject to government approval.