COVID-19 & Travel Restrictions to Israel

Update (March 9, 2 pm EST): At 8 pm in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that anyone entering Israel from abroad (any country) will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival. The decision is not retroactive (meaning, if you arrived yesterday, you are in the clear). Foreign citizens will only be able to enter Israel if they can meet the requirement of a 14-day home quarantine, per the Health Ministry Director General. On YNet, I am seeing that this ‘requirement’ means you must have a permanent address in Israel. For tourists (non-citizens), the decision goes into effect in 72 hours (8 pm Thursday, local time in Israel); for Israelis, the decision goes into effect immediately.

Update (March 8, 3:10 pm EST): In short, no decision was announced at the press conference this afternoon. The Minister of Health and Prime Minister said that they will continue to look at the issue, in “coordination with VP Pence” and may announce a new policy in the next day or two. PM Netanyahu indicated that if they do move to require self-quarantine after travel abroad (including for tourists visiting Israel), the policy will apply across the board, to all countries. I.e. it won’t single out the United States. I have real concerns about the efficacy and enforceability of such a policy (and think it sounds like it will be far more motivated by politics than public health), but (a) no one is asking me and (b) I’m not a medical professional, so what do I know?!

Update (March 8, 11:45 am EST): The press conference referenced below has been pushed to 7 pm. Stay tuned!

Update (March 8, 9:30 am EST): I’ve been asked to update as the situation develops, so I wanted to jump on quickly this Sunday morning to do so. Prime Minister Netanyahu is scheduled to have a press conference at 6 pm tonight (noon EST in the US), at which is he is expected to announce expanded guidelines for containment of the Coronavirus.

The latest reports I have seen indicate that the US will be added to the list of ‘hotspot countries’, although unlike previous additions to that list, reports as of now indicated that American citizens will be required to quarantine in Israel for 14 days, rather than their admission being outright banned.

I’ve also seen that perhaps it will only apply to select locations (New York, Washington State, and California), and furthermore that only those originating in these locations will need to quarantine — but that connecting passengers will not.

Again, all of this is based on news reports, citing Ministry of Health officials. However, final decisions will only be made by the Prime Minister — and we are expecting to get an official announcement later today.

I have gotten so many questions from readers who know that I live in Israel, and want to know about the Coronavirus quarantines here. They are wondering how they will impact Americans traveling to Israel.

Let me be clear: I am not a doctor nor a public health expert, so I am not able to share any kind of actual medical insight. There are plenty of places for you to go for that kind of information about the disease and its transmission (starting with the WHO and the CDC).

That said: I can give you an “on the ground” accounting of what’s happening here and how it “feels”, which is what I’ll try to do in this post.

First, if you didn’t already know, the Israeli government is taking this virus extremely seriously, and working assiduously to slow the spread of it.

Coronavirus Travel Restrictions

Our travel regulations in Israel seem to be some of the strictest that I’ve seen or read about anywhere (much to the consternation of the several EU governments!).

Starting from the first ban of travelers coming from China on February 1st, Israel has, as of March 4th, banned entry to foreigners from China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, South Korea, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. (As well as any foreign national who has been to Iran in the 14 days prior to coming to Israel.)

Note: Connecting passengers through China, South Korea and Italy — even if you do not leave the airport — will also be barred from entering Israel. If you connect through the other above countries, you may still (as of March 4th) enter Israel, as long as you have not left the airport. (This seems like something that is may change, so definitely check before you fly.)

Additionally, all Israelis returning from any of these countries have been ordered to enter a 14-day home quarantine, whether or not they are showing any symptoms of illness. If G-d forbid, they should become ill while in quarantine, they call Magen David Adom (911), which comes to their home to test for Coronavirus, and transfer them to hospital quarantine, if necessary.

With the most recent expansion of the ban yesterday — on foreigners from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland —  Israel has added a caveat that non-citizens will be barred from entry unless they can prove their ability to self-quarantine in Israel.

It is unclear to me how one would “prove” this ability, and I have to assume that anyone without an address (a home, not a hotel) here would have an especially difficult time.

In addition, Israel has advised all citizens not to travel abroad unless absolutely necessary. It has banned foreign travel for government officials and cancelled several joint military exercises with foreign countries.

Israel has also imposed a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine on any Israeli returning from anywhere abroad if they have attended an international conference. (My husband is supposed to go to Istanbul for a conference in 10 days — I’m guessing that won’t be happening.)

Containing Community Spread

In addition to doing everything it can to prevent “importation” of the disease, Israel is also aggressively working to contain community spread.

Primary among these measures is self-quarantine orders for anyone who has come in contact (even if not directly nor for a prolonged time) with someone who has tested positive for Coronavirus.

For example, an Israeli returned from Italy before the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine was in place. He manages a toy store, and went back to work upon his return. He became sick 4 days later, went home and was tested for Coronavirus. He was positive.

At that point, the Ministry of Health ordered anyone in contact with the store manager to self-quarantine for 14 days; but it was too late for those who had already been exposed, including a teenager who worked at the store, and a store customer, who is a vice principal at an elementary school — both of whom have also subsequently tested positive for the virus.

Before the teenager knew he had been exposed, or was even showing any symptoms of illness, he continued leading his normal life — which included attending a Macabbi Tel Aviv soccer match. Once he became ill and tested positive, everyone who sat in his section at the game was ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.

I mention this one example to show how from “only” 15 people diagnosed with the virus in Israel (as of last night) it can lead to, as some reports have indicated, up to 100,000 people under self-quarantine orders.

In addition, Israel has issued guidelines prohibiting gatherings of more than 5,000 people. This is affecting sporting events — like the Jerusalem Marathon, which has been postponed until October — and community-wide events — like Purim Adloyada parades around the country, including the one in Modiin, which my daughter had planned to attend on Friday.

Also, as of yesterday, Israel has ordered all Israelis returning from any country to avoid gatherings for two weeks of more than 100 people (think: shul, large offices, etc.).

So what about the United States?

There were rumors on Twitter earlier this week that the United States was going to be included in the expanded “banned country” list announced yesterday; but when the announcement was made, the US was absent.

My gut — and it’s only that, my gut — is that Israel is remiss to block US visitors for obvious reasons (the massive impact on the tourism industry, especially in the run-up to Pesach, plus the special US-Israel relationship). That said, it may just be a matter of time until this happens — particularly with the current cases in the Jewish community in New York.

Do you have upcoming travel to Israel planned? How has Coronavirus impacted your planning?


  1. Great informative article! Thanks

  2. Miriam Andrews says

    We are scheduled to travel to Israel in ten days. We’ve been planning this trip for months with our synagogue. I’ve been waiting so long for this, as it’s our first visit there. We will be so sad if our trip is cancelled.

    • Mara Strom says

      Oh I’m sorry, Miriam 🙁

      • Miriam Andrews says

        It was canceled. We are so sad and disappointed. But we were running out of time, and we were afraid that we would be quarantined upon arrival. Maybe next year. 😢

  3. Nina Rogoff says

    Thank you, Mara. This was a very informative and helpful article.

  4. Ilana Schwarcz says

    Thanks, Mara. Super helpful for my family members who were planning a trip to Israel for Pesach…Maybe not.

  5. Thank you so, Mara, for your informative, well-through-through informative piece about the situation in Isreal!

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