Israel will allow Russian tourists vaccinated with Sputnik V, the Russian-made COVID vaccine, to enter the country for the next two months.
The decision comes ahead of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s scheduled Friday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia. The Sputnik V vaccine is not recognized by Israel, the World Health Organization, or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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Russians who received the Sputnik V vaccine will be able to enter Israel on the strength of a blood test showing sufficient antibodies to the virus, rather than a PCR swab test. People with an insufficient antibody count might be allowed to choose between immediate return to Russia or isolation in an Israeli hotel.
Israeli officials told Haaretz that the move is the result of recent pressure from Russian officials. One official said the arrangement will be limited to two months in order to permit Russia to obtain WHO recognition for its vaccine, after which Israel would recognize Sputnik V fully.
In September, Haaretz reported that Jerusalem and Moscow were working on a plan to allow people who received Sputnik V to enter Israel in a bid to renew bilateral tourism.
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After Israel Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov met with Russia’s tourism and foreign affairs ministers, they formulated the plan to use blood tests rather than PCR tests. If the experiment is successful, it could be introduced to tourists from other countries who have received the Russian or Chinese COVID-19 vaccines.
Over 70 countries have authorized Russia's Sputnik V vaccine and is now being tested by the WHO and the European Medicines Agency.
After a meeting with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva earlier this month, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the organization's authorization was in its final stages and that only a small amount of paperwork remains to be completed. "Russia's position on promotion and registration of the Sputnik V vaccine was heard, we have removed all the questions for today," Murashko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.