While Atlantans continue to desperately compete for COVID vaccination appointments, Israelis are just as frantically jockeying for a seat at the newly opened restaurants in the country.
As Israel slowly comes out of its third long lockdown to reduce the pandemic’s effects on the country’s health and economy, it’s as if the gates have suddenly opened and the race for normality is on.
The Times of Israel reported that in the first week since the country officially started to open, some restaurants in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva say there’s a 10-day waiting list for reservations. Up until recently, restaurants had only been allowed to offer takeout and delivery services. Even now, the restaurants can only host up to 100 people indoors at up to 75 percent capacity, or up to 100 people outside – with tables about 6 feet apart.
But there’s a catch: The doors are only being opened to Israelis who have been vaccinated. They receive what is known as green passes or green passports, which indicate vaccination or recovery from the COVID virus.
Introduced by the Israel Ministry of Health, the green pass initiative was designed to open up the economy. Out of a population of about 9 million, Israel has vaccinated more than 5 million, of whom more than 4 million have received both doses of the Pfizer inoculation. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 800,000 Israelis have been confirmed to have had COVID. The death toll passed 6,000 on March 14, with 1,000 of those deaths coming in the previous four weeks.
Green passes allow those who have received both doses of the vaccine to access public areas such as houses of worship, cultural events, restaurants and bars, hotels, gyms, swimming pools and fitness and dance studios. Israelis can download into their smartphones an app known as Ramzor or the Green Pass from the Health Ministry website. Those without green passes can eat in outdoor areas of restaurants, but not indoors.
Israeli newspapers report that diplomats, students and other foreigners living in Israel who have received both vaccination doses, however, cannot yet access the green pass because they lack an Israeli ID number.
The government expects to continue easing coronavirus restrictions. Nightclubs are next on the list to be open to those carrying green passes. And there’s discussion of dropping the requirement to wear masks outside.
There’s a “feeling of optimism in Israel” as it comes out of the latest lockdown,” said Josh Schwarcz, secretary general and director of external relations at The Jewish Agency. Speaking at a webinar sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta March 14, Schwarcz added that “the Israeli economy is expected to grow 4 to 5 percent in the next year.”
While that’s good news for most Israelis, like in the United States, thousands of businesses have closed their doors in the past year due to the pandemic. Israeli Channel 12 recently reported that about 4,000 of the 14,000 restaurants that operated before the pandemic have closed for good.
Entrance and exit through the country’s only international airport, Ben-Gurion International Airport, is still being tightly controlled for non-Israelis. However, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on March 17 that it was unconstitutional to limit the number of Israelis arriving or leaving the country. Meanwhile, the government expanded the number of cities from which flights can arrive into Israel. Returning Israelis must still go into quarantine for up to two weeks. Initially, flights were only allowed from New York, London, Paris and Frankfurt.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told Israeli media that it was “a question of weeks” until children aged 12 to 16 could start getting the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, depending on FDA approval. He added that, by the end of the year, elementary school students will be eligible as well.
Adding to the country’s positive outlook, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash told the country’s media that, barring any unforeseen virus breakouts, Israelis should be able to celebrate Passover without restrictions at the end of the month.