Tel Aviv is now the most expensive city in the world. Israel’s cultural and economic capital Tel Aviv is now more expensive than Paris, Singapore, Zurich, Hong Kong and New York, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit .

The city climbed the list partly due to the strength of the shekel against the U.S. dollar, as well as increases in prices for transport and groceries.

Neighbouring Syria’s capital, Damascus, is the world’s cheapest city in which to live. No Canadian cities were in the Top 10; New York and Los Angeles claimed the most expensive spots in North America.

Tel Aviv’s 70-year-old Janine Vosburgh said she now avoided luxuries like restaurants and cafés.

“We live in overdraft,” the told , but the former Manhattan resident said would not feel at home in any other Israeli city.

“Tel Aviv’s ideas and the freedom and the consideration for everybody regardless of age, gender, religious affiliation… it suits my way of thinking,” she said.

High cost of living has been a persistent issue in Tel Aviv, with the cost of housing and other basics like groceries increasing as wage growth has not kept up.

Asher Blass, former chief economist at the Bank of Israel said Tel Aviv’s ranking this year is primarily due to the strong local currency.

Last month, the shekel reached a 25-year high against the dollar.

The Israeli city climbed from fifth place last year to top the Worldwide Cost of Living 2021 report for the first time, pushing Paris down to joint second place with Singapore. Zurich and Hong Kong rounded out the Top 5.

The EIU said prices for goods and services studied across cities had risen 3.5 per cent year-on-year in local currency terms, compared with 1.9 per cent last year. The inflation rate was the fastest recorded for the past five years. Cost increases were biggest for transport as higher oil prices boosted the price of unleaded gas by 21 per cent.

Upasana Dutt, head of worldwide cost of living at EIU, said in a statement: “Although most economies across the world are now recovering as COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out, many major cities are still seeing spikes in cases, leading to social restrictions. These have disrupted the supply of goods, leading to shortages and higher prices.

“Over the coming year, we expect to see the cost of living rise further in many cities as wages increase in many sectors. However, we are also expecting central banks to raise interest rates, cautiously, to stem inflation. So the price increases should start to moderate from this year’s level.”

The Worldwide Cost of Living is a twice-yearly survey conducted by EIU that compares more than 400 individual prices across 200 products and services in 173 cities.

President Joe Biden set out to turn the tables on the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday with a 10-point winter offensive against the Omicron variant that further complicates flying from Canada to the United States on the eve of the holiday travel season.

As early as Monday, Canadians and all other foreign visitors who travel to the U.S. by air will need to get a COVID-19 test no later than 24 hours before their departure.

Biden is slashing the testing window — currently 72 hours for fully vaccinated travellers — as part of a suite of public health measures aimed at slowing and limiting the spread of a highly mutated variant about which there are more questions than answers.

“All inbound international travellers must test within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality,” Biden said as he outlined the plan at the National Institutes of Health headquarters in Bethesda, just north of D.C.

“This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of protection and scientists continue to study the Omicron variant.”

The plan also extends into March a rule requiring domestic and international passengers by air, rail and public transportation to wear a face mask, including inside airports, train stations and bus terminals.

The White House is also ramping up access and outreach to encourage eligible U.S. residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot, accelerating research into vaccinating kids under the age of five, expanding access to at-home tests and donating 200 million more vaccine doses around the world within the next 100 days.

It’s a plan that “pulls no punches,” and is as much about bringing a fractured country back together as it is about staving off yet another deadly wave of infection, Biden said.

“I know COVID-19 has been very divisive in this country; it’s become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary,” he said.

“This is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope. This is a moment when we can do what we haven’t been able to do enough of throughout this whole pandemic: get the nation to come together, unite the nation in a common purpose.”

Currently, fully vaccinated travellers do not need to show a test result to drive into the U.S. Neither Biden, White House press secretary Jen Psaki nor a background briefing the day before made any mention of whether that could change in the coming days or weeks.

Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker in Toronto, said he’s been run off his feet in recent weeks as clients seek clarity on the ever-changing constellation of travel rules — and he expects that to continue given the latest pivots.

Firestone said he’s already heard from clients who say they’re having trouble finding an affordable antigen test that has a turnaround time of less than 24 hours, forcing them to pay a premium for quicker testing options.

“They called Shoppers (Drug Mart) … and they say they can’t get it back to you quick enough that you’ll have it guaranteed for sure before you hop on an 8 a.m. flight,” Firestone said.

“So they’re being forced to go to private health clinics where the cost of a rapid test, to get it back in 15 minutes, is $350, if you can believe it.”

Psaki was asked Thursday about the potential challenges of getting tested within a 24-hour window and said the White House is taking the issue under consideration, but couldn’t say immediately whether there would be any exceptions.

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