Israel’s Cabinet on Sunday approved a plan to designate Eilat and the Dead Sea region as “green tourism islands,” entry to which will be conditional on the presentation of an up-to-date negative COVID-19 test.

Under the plan, hotels in these areas will be allowed to reopen, subject to Health Ministry guidelines, and other businesses should also be allowed to reopen to serve the hotel guests, the Israeli Tourism Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

According to Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, the outline is the result of a “very complex” dialogue with the Health Ministry and took “great effort” to bring before the government.

“The outline gives an immediate response to 30 percent of the tourism industry, in special geographical areas of Israel—Eilat and the Dead Sea,” she said, adding that securing government approval was only the “first stage.”

“There needs to be more legislation in the Knesset and the development of a complex mechanism that can be put into practice,” said Farkash-Hacohen, adding that her ministry was working with the Health and Public Security ministries, as well as with the heads of local authorities.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this process is not a replacement for the need to open and rehabilitate the entire tourism industry, and the immediate opening of rural tourism in Israel,” she added.

Israel’s tourism sector has been among the hardest and earliest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and is expected to be among the last to recover. In addition to blanket bans on the entry of foreigners into the country, Israel has also twice declared nationwide lockdowns due to surging COVID-19 morbidity, heavily restricting Israelis’ movement and choking off even local tourism.

The resort city of Eilat and the Dead Sea hotels area, which together constitute some 30 percent of all hotel rooms in Israel, depend almost entirely on tourism, and both are relatively isolated, making them ideal “tourist islands,” minimizing the risk of the spread of the virus.

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