By Shira Hanau
With millions of Israelis already vaccinated and infection rates in the country steadily dropping, Israel began to reopen Sunday, ending its third lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic. The reopening comes as 41% of the country has been fully vaccinated and 55% have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
The reopening is not complete, with a mask mandate remaining in place and continued capacity restrictions and distancing requirements for gathering places like restaurants and event halls. But fully vaccinated Israelis will benefit from “Green Passports” attesting to their immunity status, which allow them to dine indoors and to gather in greater numbers than those who have not been vaccinated.
According to the new rules, restaurants can reopen at 75% capacity indoors for vaccinated Israelis while unvaccinated people can be served at restaurants outdoors. Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, which has been kept largely closed since January, will also allow 1,000 people to enter the country per day, with the number set to increase to 3,000 later this week, according to the Times of Israel.
Israel’s vaccination campaign has already had an impact since it began in December. According to Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, Israel has seen a 71% reduction in deaths and 55% fewer cases since the country’s mid-January peak.
The country has been vaccinating at the fastest rate of any country in the world, though Palestinians in the West Bank have not been included in the country’s vaccination campaign. Israel’s military announced last week that it would begin vaccinating Palestinians who live in the West Bank and work in Israel.
And as the country reopens, it is unclear if infections will remain low. After the infection rate increased slightly on Friday, Nachman Ash, Israel’s coronavirus czar, said the country could still head into a fourth lockdown if necessary. Ash also noted that the country will need to vaccinate 2 million more Israelis before the country reaches herd immunity, according to the Times of Israel.
The reopening is being seen by some as a political move by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just three weeks before Israel heads to the polls for the fourth time in two years. Netanyahu’s campaign has emphasized his role in returning the country to normal. The prime minister posted a photo to Facebook Sunday showing him drinking coffee with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at an outdoor cafe.