Israel said on Monday it will lift most travel restrictions and admit foreigners with presumed COVID-19 immunity, effectively reversing a ban imposed in late November in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
The Health Ministry travelers from countries deemed medium-risk will be allowed to enter Israel from January 9 if they have received coronavirus vaccines or have recovered from COVID-19.
The ministry said travelers from 199 countries Israel has designated "orange" would have to prove in advance they are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 and would be subject to PCR testing before and after arrival.
The ministry said countries that were previously banned for travel for Israelis will be removed from the list, including Australia, Italy and Ireland.
The Health Ministry has also recommended that South Africa, Nigeria, Spain, Portugal, France and Canada, currently among 16 countries listed as "red" or high COVID-19 risk, be changed to "orange".
The UAE, U.S., Ethiopia, UK, Tanzania, Mexico, Switzerland and Turkey will remain off limits to Israelis. Visitors from those countries require advance special permission from an Israeli committee to enter the country.
As of midnight on Monday, Israelis returning from other countries, will submit to a PCR test and quarantine for only 24 hours or until a negative result is received.
Those who are unvaccinated, or refuse to submit to a test, will be required to quarantine for two weeks or until they receive their test with a negative result.
Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov praised the decision.
"This is the right move," he said. "I thank the ministers who understood the concerns of the tourism industry and agreed with me that the damage done to it, was greater than any benefit that might be had. Vaccines are the best response to the pandemic and the vaccinated population has the right to a normal life," he said.
Israel banned most travel to and from red-listed countries - initially all in southern Africa - on Nov. 25 after the Omicron variant was first detected.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a televised address on Sunday that Israel would this week begin loosening curbs on international travel even as Omicron-fueled cases spiral.
Bennett's announcement followed a recommendation from health experts who claimed travels curbs are unnecessary since less than 5% of newly confirmed cases in Israel emanated from travel abroad.