Israel Pilots ‘Tourist Island’ In Eilat With COVID Tests, Checkpoints


With news that Eilat was opening up to domestic tourism, and with school still via Zoom, we decided to pack up and try the “work from anywhere” (WFA) trend with a four-day road trip heading south.

Since March and the first lockdown in Israel, we have pretty much stayed put within Tel Aviv’s city limits. Here and there, when regulations allowed, we popped out for a hike in nature or to visit family.

This staying-close-to-home is very unusual for us.

Before COVID-19, we were on the move whenever possible. We love to travel and traipse around the country whether it be camping or hiking, urban sightseeing or museum hopping, food-tasting DIY tours, or extreme sporting activities.

The travel itch is always present.

So, on November 18, when Eilat and the Dead Sea area opened to tourists as part of the government’s “tourist islands” designation, we started planning our first holiday-during-COVID-19.

The kids had long requested a visit to the country’s southernmost city – and now, with the youngest old enough to scuba dive – we decided a trip to the Red Sea was the place to go.

Israel’s ‘tourist islands’

“We must not underestimate the importance of mental health. We need to be able to take a break in safety,” President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement a day after the ‘tourist islands law’ designation went into effect.

The tourist island law gives a green light to hotels and resorts of Eilat and certain parts of the Dead Sea region to open according to strict coronavirus regulations.

“I call on all Israelis who can afford it – take a holiday in Israel. Support our domestic tourism industry by going to Eilat and the Dead Sea! All within the restrictions and the requirements, of course. Cooperate with the public health authorities by getting checked before you come, keep your distance and wear a mask – even on holiday. And, of course, enjoy your break,” said the president.

Eilat’s economy relies on the tourist industry. The city was hit hard during the country’s first lockdown in the spring and unemployment stood at some 70 percent. In the summer, Eilat opened to local tourism for a few months but again shut down with the rest of the country during the second lockdown in September and October.

City officials are now extra keen on keeping the city open – and mask-wearing and occupancy policies are enforced everywhere

To enter Eilat’s city limits, you need to show a negative COVID-19 test carried out no longer than 72 hours prior to entry. We ended up doing two tests in Tel Aviv – the results of the first test (negative) came back sooner than we expected.

There are also quick-result testing sites near Eilat. Kibbutz Yotvata has a 24-hour testing site. Another is meant to open at the Ramon airbase.

Over the first weekend of the city opening up to domestic tourists, officials turned away some 250 cars with people not having a valid COVID-19 test. Officials at the coronavirus checkpoints at the entrances to the city also found – and fined – three people with falsified documents, according to the Eilat Municipality spokesperson.

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