PLUS Tour News!!
In the US, in school, I remember being in fire drills. Depending on where (and when) you grew up, you might have had tornado drills or even a nuclear bomb drill! Nowadays, unfortunately, kids have to also have "active shooter" drills (😥)…and now, in Israel, we had the first-ever (in the world!) "pandemic" drill on Thursday—though this one wasn't in schools; it was conducted in a special emergency operations center in Jerusalem.
Israel is in great shape regarding COVID-19. Most of the population is vaccinated, and the government has cleared the way for children ages 5-11 to be immunized. We appear to be exiting the fourth wave (Delta) of the virus, but Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wants the nation to remain alert and ready. Let me add that I am aware and super sympathetic to all the concerns that people have about the vaccine. Here in Israel, with over 80% of those eligible choosing to take the vaccine, it has been effective. Infections have plummeted in the past 45 days.
"The State of Israel is in an excellent situation, we defeated the fourth wave, and we are on the verge of exiting the Delta variant," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. "But, at the same time, we are always looking to the future and preparing for the continuation of the campaign."
The drill coordinated high-level officials and agencies, simulating an outbreak of an "Omega" strain of COVID-19. They were tasked with making decisions about quarantines, schools, restriction of movement, airline travel, etc.
Bennett cautioned that just because the virus is once again on the decline, government and health officials "are not packing up our equipment and not shutting down our management bodies and our virus-fighting forces. Rather the opposite — we're continuing to be prepared and to challenge ourselves."
Coronavirus has almost disappeared twice before for Israel, so the government is optimistic but cautious. There were only 475 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, down from 10,000 plus a day on September 3rd. At that time, there were 90,000 active cases—now, there are only 6,450.
Also, as another weapon in the battle against COVID, Pfizer has developed a COVID antiviral pill. Israel is looking into purchasing it, as it has shown to be highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and death.
"If the drug is approved for use, it will be another significant tool in managing the pandemic, together with vaccines for everyone and accessible tests for everyone, all the time," Bennett told his cabinet on Sunday.
As of November 1st, Israel opened the way for tourists to once again visit the Holy Land, with certain precautions. Elana and I have longed to have you come and visit Israel once again—but we didn't want it to be where you were having to travel in a "bubble," not being able to really experience the people, the culture, or the food!
But I have good news!
This week, we went up to Jerusalem to see for ourselves how other tours were actually going. And from what I have seen, it seems that there is much freedom for tour groups. I have already met with our tour partner, Benny Sivan (Benny and I made a short video on Facebook), and we are putting together a package for a 10-day tour in late March-early April. I hope to have more details for you next week.
Tourists do have to be vaccinated at this point. That could change in the future.
However, if you're able to come to Israel in the next six months or so, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The tour groups who are here right now (we talked to some) know what it's like to go to an amusement park and ride every ride with no lines. With tourism slowly opening back up, I think it will be like that for the next six months. Even a crowded Israel tour is amazing, but to take advantage of going all over the country without so many tourists is a rare and exciting opportunity!