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Government launches Green Pass for vaccinated, warns fraudsters will be jailed

Top official promises ‘uncompromising punishment’ for forgeries; businesses and events will be able to open Sunday for those carrying the pass

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during the announcement of the "Green Pass" certification on February 18, 2021 (Health Ministry)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during the announcement of the "Green Pass" certification on February 18, 2021 (Health Ministry)

The Health Ministry on Thursday launched the long-awaited “Green Pass” certificate which will enable those vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus to take part in various activities. At the same time, the ministry warned of serious legal penalties for those who falsify the passes.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, and other health officials presented the new certification and demonstrated the methods of issuing the QR-code-secured pass, which has been the target of skepticism following reports demonstrating how easy it is to falsify.

Cabinet ministers on Monday approved the reopening of stores, gyms, hotels, and other venues starting Sunday, in a major easing of sweeping lockdown measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Street-front shops, malls, markets, museums, and libraries will be open to all Israelis. But only those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 will be able to use gyms and pools, attend sporting and culture events, and stay at hotels.

To be allowed to open Sunday, relevant businesses must undertake to scan for the pass and only accept those carrying it.

In a further easing of restrictions, the Health Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office said Tuesday that the government will allow outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people, and indoor gatherings of up to 10, starting Friday morning. The previous rules restricted outdoor gatherings to 10 people and indoors to five.

Those eligible will be able to get the Green Pass using three methods starting Sunday, February 21:

  1. Downloading the Traffic Light (Ramzor) app on Google Play or the Apple App Store, entering personal details and getting the pass on one’s phone.
  2.  Signing up on the Health Ministry website and downloading a printable personal document.
  3. Calling the Health Ministry’s hotline at *5400 and having the pass sent by email or fax.

“The vaccinated and recovered will be able to enter gyms, events, hotels, and synagogues that are registered under the Green Pass certificate from Sunday,” Edelstein said. “This is how the first stage will look in the return to your almost normal lives.”

Still, he stressed the importance of continuing to wear masks — even those who’ve received both vaccine doses.

The pass has already been criticized as easy to counterfeit. A black market for fake certificates is thriving on Telegram, where more than 100,000 users have joined groups that offer the forgeries at a price, Channel 12 News reported.

In response, Edelstein stated, “Those who think this a game and print a vaccination certificate without being vaccinated will be caught and their activities may end with them in jail.”

Israelis sit in Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on February 15, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

At the same time, Edelstein said, “There will be no forced vaccination in Israel; those who choose not to be vaccinated — it is their choice.” He added that there “won’t be any personal sanctions against those who do not vaccinate.”

Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri said Thursday that under certain circumstances, employers can legally demand their workers get vaccinated, but stressed that the demand must be “justified.”

Nizri, writing a legal opinion on the issue, said he opposes any sort of blanket ban on employers conditioning their workers’ continued employment on their immunization from the coronavirus.

“It is not possible to establish a blanket ban on employers in these contexts (of the obligation to vaccinate), and at the same time it is not possible to establish a general requirement to be vaccinated without examining and establishing the justification of the requirement, and examining its proportionality, meaning of refusal, etc.,” Nizri wrote.

He instructed employers to examine each decision according to the specific circumstances of the workplace and its nature, and also suggested employing other alternatives which can “fulfill the important purpose of preventing infection in the workplace and protecting the public.”

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, speaking after Edelstein, called upon citizens to get vaccinated in order to “exit where we are now, and renew activities and return to normalcy.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during the announcement of the “Green Pass” certification on February 18, 2021 (Health Ministry)

“We should remember that the main benefit from vaccinating is the health of everyone,” Levy said.

On the subject of forgeries, Levy said: “Today we conducted a meeting with police officials on the subject of enforcing and issuing an uncompromising punishment against counterfeit Green Pass producers.

Ran Bar-Zik, an expert on cybersecurity, wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday that it is “easy, with a graphics program, to change the text on the pass, but the QR code is what looks scary and hard to forge, no? Actually, this is very easy,”

Bar-Zik explained that the QR code on the pass has no encryption, and corresponds directly to a string of text with the holder’s personal information, including name, ID number, and date of vaccination, identical to the text printed on the pass itself.

“Whoever scans the false pass will see the exact same details as are printed on the pass, and there are already tens of thousands of people forging it,” Bar-Zik said.

A sign reads ‘The False Passport’ as Israelis protest against the COVID-19 vaccine outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The concerns regarding forged vaccination certificates come amid widespread government efforts to provide incentives, both positive and negative, to Israelis who are leery of receiving the shots.

A Tuesday survey of Israelis who have not vaccinated found that 41 percent said they fear possible side effects, 30% are not sure the vaccine is effective, 27% will vaccinate soon, 10% cited information on social media and 4% said the incentives are insufficient. Respondents were allowed to give more than one answer.

About 25% of those who haven’t been vaccinated yet said they had no intention of getting the shot.

A young woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on February 08, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash9)

Another Tuesday poll found that, despite a sharp increase in infections among children, only 41% of Israeli parents said they intend to vaccinate their kids once inoculations become available for those under 16. The poll, conducted by the Rushinek research institute, found that 29% of parents don’t plan on vaccinating their 6- to 15-year-olds, 30% are unsure, and 41% plan to do so, Channel 13 reported.

Vaccine hesitancy and skepticism have become a growing concern in recent weeks as Israel’s world-leading inoculation campaign has slowed. However, rates have ticked up again this week as ministers approved measures to reopen certain venues and events only to those who have been vaccinated or previously contracted the virus.

Over four million Israelis, or some 45 percent of the country’s total population and two-thirds of those eligible, have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, ministry data showed Thursday. About 2.7 million Israelis have received both doses. Fewer than 2 million eligible Israelis have yet to receive either dose.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein seen during a visit at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Zarzir, northern Israel, February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“If we continue at this high vaccination rate and keep to the guidelines — we won’t need a fourth lockdown,” Edelstein said.

Around 3 million Israelis are not eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and those who have recovered from COVID-19, among other reasons.

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