Photo: Flash90, Michael Dimenstein (GPO)

Christians first tourists to post-COVID Israel

Israel gave a warm welcome to the first vaccinated tourists from abroad since the COVID-19 outbreak, as part of the country’s decision to gradually reopen borders.

The first to arrive was a group of American theology students from the Prince of Peace Church in Missouri, in the first stage of a pilot program launched by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Health.

The Christian travelers were greeted at a festive ceremony at the Ben Gurion International Airport by Ministry of Tourism representatives on Thursday, who presented them with flowers and escorted them through the routine immigration procedures, as well as recently added PCR tests mandated by Israeli law for all incoming passengers.

“You are the first organized tourist group to visit Israel in over a year,” Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen said, while assuring the group that “Israel is healthy and vaccinated. Restaurants, hotels, concerts, markets and sporting venues: everything is open.”

“Israel is an attractive destination – with unparalleled historic and religious sites sacred to three religions, vibrant cities, amazing food and warm people,” added Minister Farkash-Hacohen.

As a world leader in vaccinations, over 85% of Israel’s adult population inoculated. Due to the successful containment of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly all health-related restrictions will be lifted at the start of June. While the public is still required to wear masks in closed spaces, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that this last restriction could be lifted after consultations by professionals in the coming days.

The limited pilot program for vaccinated tour groups is being carefully coordinated as part of efforts to gauge the best way to reopen Israel to vaccinated foreign visitors while maintaining the country’s exemplary campaign against any resurgence of the disease.

Additional groups are slated to come to the Holy Land in the next few weeks.

Expressing her best wishes to the Prince of Peace Church members, Minister Farkash-Hacohen expressed her hope “you all enjoy your trip – and that you encourage others to come visit Israel after when you return home.”