Israel Approves Coronavirus-free Tourism Zones – but Implementation Will Have to Wait

Fast testing required to enable the creation of 'green islands' in the resorts of Eilat and the Dead Sea, ravaged by the effects of the coronavirus restrictions, is not yet available

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A woman relaxes at Sandy Beach in Eilat, November 9, 2020.
A woman relaxes at Sandy Beach in Eilat, November 9, 2020.Credit: Sergei25 /
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Israeli parliament passed a law on Wednesday that would allow hotels to reopen in the southern resort town of Eilat and near the Dead Sea – but authorities say it is currently impossible to implement, due to a lack of appropriate testing capability. 

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The law allows the creation of two isolated tourism zones, which together account for some 56 percent of Israel’s internal tourism, and attempts to turn them into a coronavirus-free bubble – anyone entering the region undergoes a virus test 72-hours prior to their arrival. Given that each region is accessible by a single road, this is a feasible task. 

However, earlier on Wednesday the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee found that the fast COVID testing system necessary is not ready for full operation, which could jeopardize the implementation of the law. 

Eilat and the Dead Sea region, which rely almost entirely on tourism, have been hit very hard by the pandemic. Eilat Mayor Yitzhak Halevy warned in October that, with unemployement hitting close to 75 percent during the first lockdown, and hundreds of businesses closing, the city could experience a major exodus. 

"Businesses here have no room to breathe, and I’m more worried than I have ever been," he told Haaretz, slamming politicians for "panicking" and fearing to take responsibility for any action.

The bill had already been delayed earlier this week. On Monday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein withdrew the original legislation, after Knesset members rejected proposed amendments intended to prevent other areas from being recognized as "islands."

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