May 21, 2020 / 4:44 PM / 3 days ago

Seychelles considers admitting Israelis in initial tourism restart

* Bilateral deal would exempt travellers from quarantine

* Struggling tourism industry seeks relief from closures

By George Thande and Dan Williams

VICTORIA/JERUSALEM, May 21 (Reuters) - Seychelles may admit Israelis as part of an initial reopening of its tourism industry, hit hard by the archipelago’s coronavirus precautions, officials said on Thursday.

The government sealed off the Seychelles early during the global pandemic, capping local outbreaks but starving resorts, cruise ship ports and nature reserves of customers.

The Indian Ocean archipelago had 11 confirmed coronavirus cases among a population of 100,000 and all have recovered. Talks are now under way with Israel on allowing its citizens to resume visits, Seychelles tourism board chief executive Sherin Francis said.

“Israel is one of the countries where the number of new infections has dramatically dropped,” she told Reuters. “The possibility of visits is being considered as we look forward to reducing restrictions without compromising public safety.”

Confirming the negotiations, Israeli Ambassador to Seychelles Oded Joseph predicted a deal could be in place “within a week or two”.

The emerging arrangement fits a wider pattern of countries working bilaterally, or in small groupings, to restore travel among themselves - even as some coronavirus restrictions linger.

Under the anticipated deal, Israelis visiting the Seychelles would be exempted from mandatory quarantine there and on returning to Israel.

Joseph said one proposal was to send the Israeli tourists to select resorts on outlying islands, to provide Seychellois with extra protection from possible imported infections.

Also being discussed were emergency arrangements in the event of a coronavirus outbreak among the visitors or locals.

Israel - population 9 million - has reported 16,665 cases and 279 deaths.

Francis said Seychelles hotels and airlines have shown interest in the proposal though no dates have been set for the visits.

A woman who answered the phone at the Tel Aviv office of Air Seychelles said the carrier could start selling flight and resort packages for the islands as early as next week, however. (Writing by Dan Williams Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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