Israel starts reopening as nearly half of population receive jabs

Shops are open to all but leisure centres limited to those inoculated or immune showing a ‘Green Pass’ app.

Israel has administered at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab to more than 45 percent of its nine million people [Corinna Kern/Reuters]

People in Israel are one step closer to returning to normalcy as the country’s economy began reopening after almost half the population received coronavirus vaccine shots.

Swathes of the country opened for business on Sunday with shops available to all and access to gyms and theatres limited to those who had been inoculated and others who are immune after recovering from COVID-19.

Access is granted by a “Green Pass” app, designed by the health ministry, which is linked to personal medical files.

Social-distancing measures, however, are still in force, with dancing prohibited at banquet halls and synagogues, mosques and churches required to halve their usual number of worshippers.

The partial reopening of the economy was enabled by an ambitious vaccination drive after Israel became the biggest real-world coronavirus study. The government has signed an agreement with drug-maker Pfizer, promising to share vast troves of medical data in exchange for the continued flow of its vaccine.

A woman receives a jab against the coronavirus as part of a Tel Aviv municipality initiative offering a free drink at a bar to residents getting the shot [Corinna Kern/Reuters]

Israel has administered at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab to more than 45 percent of its population of nine million, the health ministry said. The two-shot regimen has reduced COVID-19 infections by 95.8 percent, ministry data showed.

The vaccine was also 98-percent effective in preventing fever or breathing problems and 98.9-percent effective in preventing hospitalisations and death, it said.

Patchy enforcement

A promising study published on Saturday on healthcare workers in Israel found that one shot of the two-dose vaccine was 85-percent effective, adding to the debate over the feasibility of spacing doses out further.

Coming exactly one year after Israel’s first documented coronavirus case, Sunday’s easing of curbs is part of a government plan to open the economy more widely next month – when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up for reelection.

The country has logged more than 740,000 cases and 5,500 deaths from the illness, prompting criticism of the Netanyahu government’s sometimes patchy enforcement of three national lockdowns. It has pledged there will not be a fourth.

Elementary students and pupils in the last two years of high school attended classes on Sunday in Israeli towns found to have contagion rates under control. Middle-schoolers are due back by next month after almost a year of remote learning.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies