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Middle East

Life after Covid: Israel paves the way

Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Israel has become a “test case” for life after Covid, says Mehul Srivastava in the Financial Times. With more than half of the population fully vaccinated, hospitals are emptying and bars are filling up. “Parties have spilled out on to the streets, children giggle in school playgrounds and beaches heave with families.” After my second jab, I hosted a “joyful, mask-less party” for 30 friends.

To avoid falling prey to vaccine-resistant variants from abroad, returning Israeli citizens will be fitted with ankle bracelets while they quarantine at home. But the centrepiece of its post-Covid strategy is vaccine passports, says Isabel Kershner in a podcast for The Daily. You download an app that includes your name and ID number, giving you access to reopened amenities such as gyms, theatres and restaurants. It’s a “carrot” to get people vaccinated – the stick being that employers might refuse you work if you don’t have the jab.

Cracking these “hardened pockets” of vaccine resistance is crucial, says Felicia Schwartz in The Wall Street Journal. Israel is mounting awareness campaigns to reach vaccine-hesitant Arab Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews. One epidemiologist says the country won’t achieve herd immunity until 80% of the population is vaccinated. To reach that figure, Israel will start inoculating children between 12 and 16 in a few months – the first nation to do so.

There’s reason for optimism, says Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman in The Jerusalem Post. But the “shadow pandemics” of poor mental health and economic scarring won’t subside with the case rate – more than a third of Israel’s restaurants have shut for good. Another issue is “complacency”. In January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently told his cabinet that the pandemic was “all over”. Then a rapid, unexpected spread of the Kent variant led to a third lockdown and 1,460 deaths. “Israel has likely not reached the final inning, let alone the end of the game.”