Phu Quoc, Israel reopening for vaccinated US tourists

A growing number of countries are limiting entry or outright banning tourists from the United States amid the latest COVID-19 surge, but there are some destinations that are moving forward with reopening plans. 

The island of Phu Quoc, located in the Gulf of Thailand about 6 miles off the coast of Cambodia, could reopen to fully vaccinated international visitors next month, according to a statement from the Vietnamese government.

A six-month pilot program was announced by the Vietnamese government in July. During the first phase, the island would welcome 2,000 to 3,000 visitors per month for three months via charter flights from select locations. The second phase would ramp up monthly visitation to 5,000 to 10,000 visitors per month for another three months, with passengers flying in via commercial flights. 

Only visitors who have been fully vaccinated or can show proof of recovery from COVID-19 will be allowed to fly in, and travelers will need to test negative for the virus before entering. 

Vietnam’s borders have been closed to foreign travelers since March 2020, and authorities hope the program can attract up to 3 million tourists by the end of the year.  

The government announced Friday that Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh had agreed to move forward with the pilot program. 

American tourists to mainland Vietnam must obtain an entry visa to enter, but Phu Quoc offers a 30-day visa waiver to attract more tourists. The island, located off the Mekong Delta, is accessible via a short flight from Ho Chi Minh City and offers beaches and luxury resorts.

Huynh Quang Hung, chairman of People’s Committee of Phu Quoc Island, reported that there are no people on the island infected with COVID-19 and said 35% of the adult population has been vaccinated with the first COVID-19 vaccine dose.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated Vietnam as a country with a high risk of COVID-19 and warns travelers to make sure they are fully vaccinated before traveling to the destination. 

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Israel opening to group travel

Israel also plans to reopen to foreign visitors, even as it battles one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus infections.

The country’s Tourism Ministry on Sunday said it will begin allowing organized tour groups into the country beginning Sept. 19. Currently, U.S. citizens who are not Israeli citizens or residents must apply for a permit to enter the country.

Under the new protocols, tourists will have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, present a negative PCR test before their flight and undergo both PCR and serological testing upon arrival. Visitors would have to quarantine in their hotels until the test results come back, a process expected to take no more than 24 hours.

Tourists from a handful of “red” countries with high infection rates – including Turkey and Brazil – will not be permitted to visit. The United States is classified by Isreal as an “orange,” or “at risk,” country. 

Israel launched a similar program in May after vaccinating most of its population early this year. But the program was suspended in August as the delta variant spread.

Vaccinated tourists wearing masks for COVID-19 protection arrive to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on May 23, 2021.

In recent weeks, the country has begun administering booster shots to anyone who was vaccinated more than five months ago. The campaign has shown signs of controlling the delta outbreak, allowing the government to begin allowing tourists to return. 

The CDC has labeled Israel as a region with a very high risk of COVID-19 and says all travelers should avoid Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, regardless of vaccination status.  

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz

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