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Government said planning to roll out vaccine ‘green passport’ in lockdown exit

Reported plan would see Israel first reopen kindergartens, some school grades and stores, then use document to control access to hotels, culture and sports venues

Israeli police on the beach boardwalk in Tel Aviv, making sure people are keeping to the government's guidelines  during a nationwide lockdown. January 12, 2021. ( Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli police on the beach boardwalk in Tel Aviv, making sure people are keeping to the government's guidelines during a nationwide lockdown. January 12, 2021. ( Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The government may roll out the proposed “green passport” for those vaccinated against COVID-19 when it begins easing lockdown measures, Israeli television reported Tuesday, publishing some details from the planned steps for exiting the current closure.

The lockdown is set to end on January 21, but officials have warned it may be extended as Israel has in recent days recorded new records in daily confirmed infections, active cases and serious patients.

According to Channel 12 news, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks Tuesday to discuss how to gradually lift the lockdown and on introducing the green passport.

The document, which is being spearheaded by the Health Ministry, will be granted to Israelis who have received a vaccine or recovered from the virus, allowing them to attend large gatherings and cultural venues. The ministry has said those who test negative for COVID-19 can receive a temporary green passport for 72 hours.

The TV report said an initial plan for rolling back the lockdown will see kindergartens, some elementary school classes and grades 11-12 return to school in the first stage, along with some stores and service industries involving close contact if there is only one worker serving one customer at a time.

Young children at a kindergarten in Yashresh on October 18, 2020, after being shut down during a monthlong national coronavirus lockdown. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

In the next phase of the reopening, hotels and cultural and sporting venues can reopen if they operate the green passport, the network said, presumably demanding all participants must present the document on entry.

No further details were given on the plan.

After a record 9,665 new infections were confirmed Monday and with the death toll surging, a top Health Ministry official said planning for lifting restrictions was made “more complex” by the national vaccination drive, a factor not present during the previous lockdowns.

“Therefore, one of the things we’ll look at is the number of sick patients. As soon as we see a decrease, we’ll know it’s possible to open,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, said during a briefing.

She said there was no way to bring down infections without stringent restrictions.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis. (Courtesy)

“We need to maintain the lockdown and the guidelines to bring down the morbidity rate. We’ll keep track of the infection figures and make recommendations accordingly. I believe that we cannot leave the lockdown in ten days,” she said.

Alroy-Preis said that 73% of Israelis who are over the age of 60 or who have other high-risk factors have already been vaccinated with at least one shot, but noted that inoculations were slower in the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities.

The latest number given by officials for total vaccinations was 1,910,330 — about 20% of the population — although Netanyahu on Tuesday held a ceremonial event celebrating the two-millionth person to be vaccinated.

Updated figures published Tuesday evening by the Health Ministry said 9,665 new cases had been confirmed Monday, an all-time record. However, the rate of positive tests, 7.6%, was roughly half of the record reached in September. The number of daily tests has since grown dramatically and stood at 127,075 on Monday.

Initial figures for Tuesday showed a similar positivity rate of 7.3% — 5,399 cases out of 73,874 tests conducted by 6 p.m.

The number of total cases since the pandemic began, which passed half a million earlier in the day, reached 508,604, including 75,408 active cases — a new all-time record. Of them, 1,072 people were in serious condition, including 336 listed as being in critical condition and 269 on ventilators.

The death toll surged to 3,756 — an increase of more than 50 since the morning.

The Health Ministry hopes to have vaccinated 5.2 million citizens against the coronavirus by the end of March.

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