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Israel’s Speedy Vaccine Makes It The First Mask Free Country in the New Normal

Israel announced the lifting of the mandate to wear mask outdoors with effect from 18th April 2021. This came after an extensive process including lockdowns, restrictions and vaccination programme. Israel currently reports less than 100 cases daily and the Health Ministry made an official statement recommending people to wear masks indoors and in outdoor places too especially with huge gatherings. But the lack of compulsion is a source of comfort for the citizens. The schools were opened and students have returned to normal routines.

This exemplary achievement is a streak of hope for many countries struggling with the COVID 19 virus currently. According to the Times of Israel, the country faced a massive third wave of the virus but things improved after the fastest per capita vaccination drive. Israel has a population of over 9.3 million and more than 80% of the adult population have been vaccinated by Pfizer- BioNTech doses. In January, there were many reports of Israel paying a premium amount for the vaccines imported.  However, the cost seems unimportant in this scenario. Israel also had a unique deal with Pfizer to share the data of efficacy of the vaccine in reaching “herd immunity” in exchange for a quick supply of the doses. That did work in Jerusalem’s favour.

A Holistic Strategy to Check the Spread

According to the former Health Ministry Chief Gabi Barbash, after the initial blunders like not pursuing testing actively, opening schools without any proper capsule arrangements and allowing large gatherings; Israel saw a huge second and third wave. There was much criticism of how life in the country had quickly resumed to the ‘normal’ ways. That resulted in a sudden rise in numbers and critical cases. The measures towards strict lockdowns and vaccine programmes were taken much later. 

Israel has an electronic medical record system in the country that keeps a track of all insured citizens. Health workers were told to send out messages through those records to convince them to take the vaccine shots. There was some resistance among the people. There were methods in which the health workers and authorities started reaching out to people to take the vaccine by using incentives too among other things. In February, several companies resorted to benefits and bonus to employees who got vaccinated. People were encouraged to come forward so that maximum number of people could be inoculated. The goal was to attain a herd immunity which would result in a breaking of chain of the spread of the virus. 

However, Israel displayed a well planned strategy which covered all bases from vaccinations to lockdowns to restrictions on travel. The country began its rigorous vaccination process and the aim was to reach the vulnerable as swiftly as possible. According to many experts, Israel seems to have attained a “herd immunity” towards the virus. The estimated number for Covid is when at least 65-70% of the people develop immunity or protection. BBC reported that due to the high number of vaccinations, the country might have really achieved the her immunity but it is still too soon to pass a final verdict. However, the number of cases in Israel have shown a decline even after opening up unlike Chile. A 94% drop was reported in the number of symptomatic cases among the people who had received the Pfizer vaccine.

Results of Quick Thinking

Israel provided statistics for approval of the Pfizer vaccine. The United Kingdom has still suggesting taking time before believing the report but the cases have evidently declined. On 4 May 2021, Israel identified two cases of the Brazilian strain and one of the Chilean strain in travellers flying into the country from abroad. The country introduced new restrictions on international travel and imposed them on all travellers irrespective of their vaccine status. Any travel to or from Brazil, Ukraine, India, Mexico, Turkey, South Africa and Ethiopia is banned. Travel is permitted to these countries in case people reside permanently in the destinations as all these have high infection rates. Despite opening up for outdoor activities, and lifting the mandate to wear the mask, Jerusalem is being cautious in future steps. There are “green passes” being used in the country which are certificates of vaccination/recovery from COVID 19 or a negative test for those younger than 16. They allow easy access to hotels, pools, cafes, stadiums, hotels, cultural events, etc. The schools have opened for all age groups and masks are not required mostly. 

Reuters reported that the Bank of Israel estimated a possibility of a quick rebound once the vaccine drive was completed. The forecast suggested that if the inoculation continued at the expected speed, the economy will grow by 6.3% in 2021 and by 5.8% in 2022. There were many resorts used in the past like instead of lowering interest rates, the banks bought bonds from the government and corporates and provided cheap loans to small businesses. 

The country has thought through an extensive policy covering different spheres to help its citizens survive the pandemic. Israel plans to start giving the jabs to 12-15 year olds too after the approval from the American Food and Drug Administration. Israel has turned out to be a testing site for those criticising the Pfizer vaccine due to the efficacy displayed. Jerusalem’s strive for quick recovery from the initial oversight in the pandemic is worth laudable. The exceptional journey and if the herd immunity has really been received will be a model for many other countries to learn from.