Israel is preparing to split in half starting next week, with the government creating a new privileged level in society: the vaccinated.
Almost 50% of the population that has chosen to be vaccinated against Covid will receive a “Green Pass” one week after their second injection, as will those with presumed immunity after contracting the disease.
Starting Sunday, the pass will allow access to gyms, hotels, swimming pools, concerts and places of worship. Restaurants and bars will be included from the beginning of March.
Otherwise, including children under the age of 16 who are not eligible for coronavirus vaccines, many of the activities closed during the year-long crisis will remain prohibited, although some will be available if they provide a negative coronavirus test.
“This is what the first stage will look like in the return to their almost normal lives,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said this week. The pass will be launched in a mobile app that businesses must scan upon entering, and many Israelis are excited.
Itamar Weiberg, 18, had hoped that 2020 would be a year to escape the country and take a break, as he is due to enter military service later this year. He had planned to go on safari to Tanzania last summer.
Weiberg said he was eagerly awaiting the reopening. “I want my last few months of freedom before I join the military to be filled with the quintessential late-night bars and teenage adventures.”
Israel’s record-setting vaccination campaign has been watched by other governments who see it as a test case for what lies ahead. Initial data indicates that the strokes are extremely effective in reducing infections and hospitalizations in the country of 9 million.
The Green Pass policy is the next step, although it has yet to be tested.
How Israel will properly implement the plan remains to be seen. Three closures in the country have often seen flagrant rule violations, with many cafe managers and store owners frustrated opening despite bans. Those same businesses will be tasked with enforcing who comes in or stays out.
The Health Ministry is also concerned that the vaccination documentation is false and warned that anyone caught with a false certificate could be fined 5,000 shekels (around £ 1,000).
Meanwhile, with limited information on how vaccinated people could still transmit the disease, concerns remain about how the measure could lead to more contagion.
A hotel near the Sea of Galilee, the Hagoshrim Hotel & Nature, said it planned to open its pool and gym to the public on Sunday.
“Of course, the main problem will be the minors,” said the hotel’s manager, Armin Grunewald, 53. “They cannot be vaccinated. So, to come twice a week to the gym or to the pool, they will have to be examined twice a week. Sounds troublesome. “
While the Green Pass is an interim method to reopen the economy, it serves another purpose in a country where everyone over the age of 16 can get vaccinated for free – to persuade people who have been late so far to take a hit. Daily vaccination rates had declined this month, but began to pick up again this week when details of the new pass were released.
The owner of Café Kalo in West Jerusalem said he was confused about how the Green Pass would work, but supported it in principle.
“If you are not vaccinated, you are not respecting me, so why should I respect you?” said Yaacov Ben Elul, 60 years old and vaccinated. “You are putting me and other people in danger.”
Israel has made tentative plans for the Green Pass to eventually allow vaccinated people to go on vacation without self-isolation. It signed agreements with Greece and Cyprus for a test in the spring. However, how it will work is still being discussed. The vaccination certificate was renamed this week Green Pass, rather than “Green Passport,” which might have suggested it was already useful for international travel.
Vaccination privileges have been considered in several countries, but the idea has often sparked a backlash from privacy advocates and rights groups. Germany’s ethics council, an independent body that advises the German government, recommended that no special conditions be given to those inoculated, which it said could encourage a “nudge mentality” that could lead to unrest.
With an already very uneven international vaccination push, Green Passes, especially if related to travel, would see the citizens of richer and more powerful nations first to enjoy the benefits.
Israel is already facing pressure over its vaccination campaign. Millions of Palestinians living under their control in the occupied territories are now only receiving the first batches of limited doses.
In Israel, Avichai Green, 32, said he had not been vaccinated because, among other things, he did not trust his government to be transparent. He said the green pass was a “dangerous” pass and a “slippery slope.”
“Marking all those who were not vaccinated as transmitters of disease, or limiting the movement of those who were not vaccinated, is a blow to human rights,” he said.
“It’s something that didn’t exist here before,” he added. “It will create a separation between people.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism