The center of Jerusalem sounded like a festive bustle yesterday, despite the fact that Sunday is precisely the beginning of the working week in the Middle East. It seemed to return to the daily hustle of a year ago on the same date, when Israel recorded the first confirmed case of Covid-19.
With another 750,000 infections since then and more than 5,500 deaths (in a country with 9.2 million inhabitants), the new normal is now approaching the old daily life after the reopening of all businesses and the resumption of classes in much of the education system.
But the start of the penultimate stage of the de-escalation of the third general confinement is marked in the Jewish State by new privileges, once common, that only those who have been vaccinated twice can enjoy.
“Without the QR code you cannot enter,” the director of the Lazuz gym (move, in Hebrew) seriously warned former clients who were returning to the training room after seven months of closure. “If the Ministry of Health catches me a fine of 1,000 shequels [about 250 euros] per head.”
Ohad Yehuda, 32, has been living on unemployment benefit ever since, as have 18 employees at the center. Gyms and swimming pools have reopened their doors, but only for those who have the so-called “green pass”, a brand new digital certificate that can be downloaded to their mobile phone one week after receiving the second dose of the Pzifer and BioNTech vaccine , the only one inoculated so far in Israel.
More than a third of the 9.2 million Israelis have already received both injections , and about half have been inoculated with the first. The code also applies to those who, according to their official medical history, have overcome the coronavirus infection. The digital certificate of vaccination will also be used to access the hotels from now on, for now only for overnight stays, without bar or restaurant service.
“We are waiting in the next few hours for the hotel’s first customer since April last year, when we had to close,” celebrates the Jeru Caps hotel reception manager, Mahmud al Jurt, 22, with the satisfaction of having regained his position as job.
“We are confident of reaching full occupation by the end of March, coinciding with Passover [high season in the Holy City]. The application data is recorded on our computer so that they can be consulted by the authorities; We do not want to expose ourselves to a sanction, ”confesses the young Palestinian from Jerusalem.
With the “green pass” you can also attend sporting events, such as football and basketball games, or cultural events, such as plays and musical concerts. The use of masks and the maintenance of the safety distance, however, remain in force indefinitely.
After the foreseeable reopening of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport in two weeks - when the third and final phase of the de-escalation is scheduled to begin - the vaccination certificate may also be one of the requirements to board a flight abroad from the terminal - the main gateway to the country - closed since January 25. He is defended by the public health specialist Ronni Gamzu, former coordinator of the national program for the pandemic.
What is clear is that the digital certificate will act as an incentive for young Israelis to get vaccinated, who have been more reluctant to get immunized than older ones. “Our business forecast is 30% of the average income prior to the pandemic, despite the fact that the personnel and operating expenses are practically the same,” acknowledges Yehuda in the gym he runs in Jerusalem. “If young people, who are our main clients, are not vaccinated to obtain the QR code, we will have to close.”
The return to normality, to the routine lost a year ago, is lived in Israel as a pilot experience for other countries. The agility and safety of the vaccine application, theoretically guaranteed by the Ministry of Health, collides with the doubts it raises about the effective protection of private health data, while opening a debate on the alleged discrimination of the unvaccinated in health systems where immunization is not mandatory.
It remains to be clarified if to be able to access bars and restaurants from March 7, the end of the de-escalation in Israel, it will also be necessary to go with the vaccination code in the mouth. Or more precisely, on mobile.
“Have you been vaccinated yet? Get the green pass and live again, ”tweeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , who trusts the success of the mass inoculation campaign to be re-elected in the March 23 legislative elections.
The former head of the pandemic Gamzu, who is also director of the Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv, believes that Israel can “assume the risk of reopening the economy in view of the high vaccination rate”, adding: “With the rate of infections downhill, we can handle the situation. ”
His successor in the position of national coordinator, the also doctor Nachman Ash, nevertheless warns of the danger that looms over the health of the Israelis: “I am worried that a feeling of euphoria will be unleashed in the coming days, with the shopping malls crowded . We must not forget that we have only fully vaccinated a third of the population, “he told state radio.
“I have not trained seriously for more than six months,” admits Professor Hanna smiling (she prefers not to give her last name), 26, before presenting the vaccination QR code at the central Lazuz gym in Jerusalem.
“At home I do what I can to be in shape, but in solitude it is not the same,” he explains as he goes to reopen his personal locker after long months. “And most of all, I missed group yoga sessions, like before all this.”