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UAE-Israel visa exemption deal postponed over coronavirus worries

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The United Arab Emirates has postponed the implementation of a visa-exemption agreement with Israel after Israel required anyone entering from the Gulf state to be quarantined as a COVID-19 precaution, Israeli officials said on Monday.

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Visa waivers were a centerpiece of a Sept 15 deal formalizing Israeli-UAE relations. According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, they were meant to have gone into effect by February 13, having been ratified by Abu Dhabi last Wednesday.

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But the Israeli ministry said in a statement that its UAE counterpart had “suspended” the waiver agreement until July 1 “given efforts to arrest the spread of the coronavirus”.

Citizens of the two countries can obtain visas through their airlines, as tens of thousands have done since the normalization pact.

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Monday’s announcement followed a decision by Israel’s Health Ministry to require that anyone coming from the UAE be taken to a military-run “coronavirus motel” for a quarantine lasting between 10 and 12 days.

Israel had previously exempted the UAE from its watchlist of so-called “red” countries. The UAE, with a population of 9 million, has seen a surge in cases this month, with new infections surpassing 3,000 per day for the first time.

Israel, whose population is of a similar size, has also been struggling with the pandemic even as it implements the world’s fastest-paced vaccination program. Israel’s Health Ministry has logged more than 5,000 new cases per day this week.