JERUSALEM – Israel has reopened many schools, malls and gyms that were closed for several weeks. Some venues, however, are open only to those with a “green passport,” a document showing they have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine. The opening comes amid reports that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine works better than expected.
Malls reopened after almost two months, and there were lines outside some of the stores. Parking lots were jammed, and many children went back in school for the first time in months.
But some venues, like gyms, cultural events and hotels, are open only to those with a green passport, a document showing that they have either received both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, or have recovered from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel is not imposing an obligation to get vaccinated.
Edelstein said that contrary to what he called “fake news,” Israel is not imposing sanctions on anyone who does not get vaccinated.
At the same time, some in Israel said that limiting venues like gyms and hotels to those who have been vaccinated was in effect a sanction on those who hadn’t received the shots.
So far, about one-third of Israel’s population of 9.2 million has received both doses, and nearly half have received the first shot. A further 3 million Israelis are not eligible to receive the vaccine, either because they are under 16 or because they have recovered from the infection. The director of Israel’s Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Ronni Gamzu, says the results of the Pfizer vaccine are even better than in clinical trials.
They show that the vaccine is very effective and very, very minor side effects almost, you know what, almost none, we have seen cases here and there, and we have seen the effectiveness is what was stated in the studies of Pfizer and Moderna, around 95 percent, and if you look at people admitted to the hospital it is even more than that. The protection is solid, said Gamzu.
Israel’s Health Ministry said that after two doses, Israelis saw their risk of illness from the coronavirus drop 98.5 percent, and their risk of hospitalization drop almost 99 percent. The statement was based on data from a poll of 1.7 million Israelis who had received both shots by the end of January.
Among those being vaccinated are Arab citizens of Israel, and Palestinians in east Jerusalem, which is under Israeli control; but, the 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have yet to be inoculated.
The Palestinian minister of health said on Friday that Israel has agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinian laborers who work regularly in Israel. Some human rights groups say that because Israel controls entry and exit into the West Bank and Gaza, it is responsible for providing vaccinations for the residents there.