Israel is planning to reopen the resort city of Eilat and hotels in the Dead Sea by making them COVID-free “green islands” with entry possible only with a negative COVID-19 test. The country’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry has been devastated by the coronavirus with tens of thousands of jobs lost.
According to reports in Israeli media the government has passed the “Eilat Shield” plan whereby entry to the Red Sea resort will be possible only via the nearby Ramon International Airport or via the main road leading into the city where passengers will either have to show a negative COVID-19 test from 48 hours or less prior to their arrival, or take rapid test at stations along the route to Eilat.
The tests will be provided free to guests who show a booking for a hotel in the city. Guests who test negative will receive a barcode that they can show at a manned checkpoint a few kilometers outside of Eilat. Guests that test negative will receive a full refund for their vacation.
According to the reports, Israel will reopen the Ramon Airport to international flights to Eilat for the winter season, which in a regular year attracts tens of thousands of European sun-seekers. Foreign tourists will also be required to present a negative coronavirus test and will have to undergo rapid testing on arrival.
All hotel staff in the city will be subject to weekly testing.
Dead Sea COVID-free green zone
A similar program will be adopted for the remote Dead Sea region, where hotels are located in two isolated clusters along the shores of the salt-water lake, the lowest location on earth at some 430 meters (1,412 feet) below sea-level.
Together the two regions account for some 30% of Israeli tourism.
“The geographical characteristics of the city of Eilat and its relative isolation from nearby towns give it the status of a ‘tourist island’ that allows people to monitor the entry into the city,” Israel’s Tourism Ministry said according to the Times of Israel, adding that the “uniqueness of the Dead Sea allows for the existence of a ‘sterile area’ where vacationers who are negative for COVID-19 can gather, thus minimizing the risk of the virus spreading,”
The outline adopted by Israel is reminiscent of the health and safety protocols adopted by European cruise lines.
The protocols worked successfully since the summer when cruises in Europe began to resume, however there have been several reports of outbreaks on cruise lines over the past two weeks, prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a travel advisory recommending that “travellers defer all cruise travel worldwide.”