The Jerusalem Post
Tourists from low-risk countries won’t need serological test, says official
Vaccinated tourists coming from low-COVIDrisk will be able to enter Israel without the requirement of undergoing a serological test, according to the current outline the Health Ministry is working on, a health official said Tuesday.
So-called white countries meet the Health Ministry’s criteria in terms of their coronavirus situation and are considered to be very low risk.
According to the official, the professionals at the ministry are continuing to work on the outline to allow vaccinated foreign nationals from selected nations to enter the country starting July 1. However, this will need to be discussed with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz along with the rest of coronavirus regulations. Some changes in policies might still occur.
Last Thursday, former tourism minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said inoculated individuals would be able to enter the country next month after former interior minister Arye Deri signed a document to that effect. While there was no indication that the plan would change, it was still too early to tell, a Tourism Ministry representative said Tuesday.
During the transition ceremony at the Tourism Ministry, Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said bringing back foreign tourists would be his No. 1 priority and that he and Horowitz had been discussing the topic.
“I see creating a correct and effective outline to bring back foreign tourists to Israel as my first mission in this position, obviously without endangering [the health of] Israeli citizens,” Razvozov said.
“I have already spoken to incoming Health Minister Horowitz, and we will set up a meeting with the professional staff,” he said, adding that the pilot program that has already allowed a limited number of tourists to enter Israel has proven that this can be done safely.
At the moment, all those who are vaccinated abroad and enter Israel are required to prove the presence of antibodies in their blood with a serological test and to quarantine until they receive its results, which makes traveling to the country especially burdensome.
The goal of the outline the Health Ministry has been working on is to simplify things and eliminate the need for the serological test, the health official said.
According to the outline that is currently under discussion, only people from countries that meet the criteria set by the ministry and only those who have been vaccinated – not those who have had COVID-19 and recovered – will be allowed in. Regarding the types of vaccines accepted, all those developed in the Western world would be considered valid.
The ministry’s staff is also working on the technological aspect of the matter, including online forms to complete; currently, anyone who enters Israel is required to fill out an entry statement.
The ministry’s professional staff is working on the outline, and new decisions on policy might still be made since all aspects of the coronavirus regulations are in the process of being presented to Horowitz, the official said.
Israel’s new government has set a target of increasing the number of workers in the hi-tech sector to 15% of the total workforce. That would be about 50% more than currently work in hi-tech.
Israel’s hi-tech sector employs about 334,000 people, according to the 2020 HighTech Human Capital Report from the Israel Innovation Authority and Start-Up Nation Central. Israeli companies had 13,000 estimated open tech positions as of December 2020.
However, filling those positions is not easy, with 60% of Israeli hi-tech firms surveyed for the report saying that they have difficulty recruiting employees for R&D positions. Hi-tech executives regularly complain that there are not enough qualified programmers and engineers available in Israel.
So what will it take for Israel to meet its ambitious goals?
Demi Ben-Ari, co-founder & CTO of security risk management company Panorays, says it won’t be a quick process. “If you want to define a goal like increasing hi-tech employees, you really need to focus on changing the pipeline from the beginning, as early as kindergarten,” Ben-Ari said. “If you set a timeframe of 5-10 years, you won’t see results. To increase the workforce by even 15% requires a radical change in how people are educated.”
While programmers now embrace what is called the “shift-left” methodology to test products earlier in the
software development life cycle, Ben-Ari said that what is needed for a greater preponderance of hi-tech skills is a “shift-back” approach. “We need to start teaching kids the concepts of programming from age ten. When I was a kid, if I wanted to learn to code, I’d have to go out and buy a book. Now, everything is easily accessible, and there are online courses that are free.”
Ben-Ari is the organizer of several large online communities for developers with more than 6,500 members, and he says that increasing people’s exposure to such communities helps them learn more about the world of hi-tech. “There is a need to create a way of thinking and an infrastructure to bring the whole hi-tech agenda to a point,” he said, adding that a centralized national authority that would coordinate the various educational initiatives, professional training
programs and developer communities, and relevant government offices would help push such an agenda forward.
Ben-Ari noted that the hi-tech sector’s needs go beyond technical skills, and that much of his company’s sales team is comprised of new immigrants from English-speaking countries who live in Anglo communities like Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem. “Speaking English on a native level makes it much easier to break into a hi-tech company,” he said.
Alon Vitan, director of personnel at OwnBackup, a cloud data protection platform for Salesforce, has several ideas of his own for the government to encourage interest in hi-tech. “First, I would start encouraging people to learn more about hi-tech while they are in high school,” he said. “There are a lot of organizations now that are helping women break into programming, and the army is a great training ground for some, but it would be better to start a few years earlier and expose them while they are still in school.”
Second, Vitan said, the government should make efforts to move the country’s tech companies away from the center of the country, where most are concentrated, toward cities and periphery towns that are not developed in this regard. “Even in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, students graduating the Technion must move to Tel Aviv, since there is very little hi-tech there,” he said. “If you offer companies grants and subsidies for moving to places like Kiryat Gat or Yokneam, you can draw workers from the center, which is very congested, and develop new tech ecosystems.”
Third, Vitan said, students learning technical skills can find it difficult to find jobs because most companies want workers with experience. If the government would create a program incentivizing startups to hire junior help by subsidizing salaries, it could be a win-win for everyone.
“When I studied for my master’s degree, I interned at a company for free,” Vitan said. “Most people can’t do that. But if the state subsidizes interns, or maybe splits their salaries 50/50 with the companies, then companies can save on labor while workers are given the opportunity to learn on the job, and the hi-tech sector would be able to grow more rapidly. It might be expensive, but it would help Israel achieve its objectives faster.”