Some 300 people in the tourism industry demonstrated at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday against COVID-19 measures which they say are strangling their sector as no state-funded compensation is offered to cover the losses .
Last month, Israel closed the entrance to foreign nationals in an attempt to slow the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The rule has remained in place as a list of so-called “red” countries in which Israelis are banned has grown, which also has an impact on the travel industry.
Tour operators and guides, bus operators, hotel workers and staff at local attractions joined in the protest at the entrance to the country’s international hub.
They demanded compensation from the government for their lost business.
There were clashes with police when some protesters sat on the access road to the airport, blocking the cars of travelers arriving to take flights overseas.
Some protesters held up signs reading “Change Jobs,” a message to Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who told a cabinet meeting on Sunday that tourism workers are expected to find new jobs because the rules introduced by the government would be so damaging to their industry.
Other protesters held signs indicating that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s wife, Galit, was on vacation in the Maldives, a trip that has drawn criticism in light of the crackdown on international travel and the prime minister urging Israelis to do not go abroad.
One of the protest organizers, a tour guide identified only as Yoav, told the Walla news site that “Liberman doesn’t understand tourism.”
He noted that many are unable to survive on domestic tourism as it is only active on weekends.
Yoav said he encountered financial difficulties as a result of the situation and called for compensation to be offered to the industry.
“I have a job, I want to work there and I can work there, but the government has decided to close it,” he said. “Naftali Bennett, you’ve decided to shut it down, so pay it off.” “
At his weekly Yisrael Beytanu party factions meeting in the Knesset on Monday, Liberman admitted his remark was unwarranted.
“My words may not be so appropriate, but the data is correct,” he said, noting that in the year leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, 4.5 million tourists visited the country against only 376,000 this year.
“Even if you are not Minister of Finance, you can understand that there will not be four and a half million tourists next year,” Liberman said.
He said he hopes the government will put in place an aid package for the tourism industry this week that will include tens of millions of shekels for retraining programs.
“Retraining is the right way to go,” said Liberman.
Amid the rise of the Omicron COVID-19 variant at the end of last month, the government has taken far-reaching measures to close its borders to non-citizens for two weeks. On Thursday evening, Bennett ordered that the directive be extended for another 10 days.
Explaining the decision on Sunday, Bennett said: “We want to delay [Omicron’s] entry into the country through the restrictions at Ben-Gurion airport, and at the same time take advantage of these precious days to increase everyone’s immunity. We are not protected enough at the moment.
“Two weeks ago we decided to tighten the restrictions on entry into the country, and there were those who said we were going too far, but now we see that we are not going too far at all,” he said as he opened the weekly. cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “The Omicron [variant] is indeed disturbing. Europe is entering the holiday season with severe restrictions and blockages in some countries. “
Meanwhile, the list of banned countries has been updated to include the UK and Denmark, the Department of Health said on Sunday evening.
Health Ministry Nitzan Horowitz said more countries will be classified as “red” in the coming days, but stressed that the government is not currently planning to ban international travel altogether.
He also urged the Israelis to refrain from all non-essential travel.
“Anyone who is planning to travel abroad at this time should know that upon his return he will likely be placed in full quarantine as the country will be declared a red country,” Nachman Ash, director general of the ministry, said during a press conference. Report.
Under new quarantine rules approved by a Knesset committee on Sunday, Israelis from “red” countries must self-isolate at a state-run facility for at least 10 days. However, they can be released home to complete their quarantine if they are negative for Omicron.
According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health, 223 coronavirus infections were confirmed on Saturday, with 0.63% of return tests positive. The number of severe cases recently climbed back above 100, days after falling below that threshold for the first time in four months.
The death toll remained at 8,210, with no deaths since last Monday.
A total of 6,400,940 Israelis received a first vaccine against the coronavirus, 5,789,014 of whom also received a second vaccine and 4,120,329 of them received a third.