For the first time in more than a year, foreign tourists arrived in Israel on Thursday after the country has vaccinated the majority of its citizens and drastically reduced the rates of COVID-19 in the country.

Israeli Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hakohen welcomed a group of 12 Christian pilgrims arriving from St. Louis.

“You are the first of what I am sure will be many tourists returning to the Holy Land,” reported Reuters. “Israel is … healthy and vaccinated. Everything is now safely open,” she told the tourists, according to the report.

Groups of vaccinated tourists of up to 30 are being allowed into Isreal. The Tourism Ministry said about 20 groups are expected to travel under the pilot program that lasts until June 15.

Israel closed its borders in March 2020 due to the global pandemic.

Tourists to Israel must test negative before flying and take a second test upon landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The groups will also have to take serological tests to show they have antibodies to the virus, the report noted.

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