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Hopes for global vaccine ‘green passport’ said dampened as some EU states object

Germany, Austria, Belgium, others reportedly fear document will create indirect obligation to get inoculated; Israel said set to expand shots to those aged 45+, as cases stay high

Hadassah Medical Center staff members receive the second round of the COVID-19 vaccine, at the Hadassah Medical Center, in Jerusalem, January 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hadassah Medical Center staff members receive the second round of the COVID-19 vaccine, at the Hadassah Medical Center, in Jerusalem, January 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli hopes for an international “green passport” that will enable those vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel the globe without quarantine restrictions have been dampened due to objections voiced by several major countries, according to a report Wednesday.

The planned green passports were seen as a mean of granting some benefits to Israelis who have received their second vaccine doses, such as permission to attend cultural and other public events. There have been hopes that a similar strategy would be adopted on a global level, restoring the ability to travel abroad to those who have been inoculated.

But according to Channel 12 news, prospects for such an international document are in doubt after several European states voiced fears in talks held by the World Health Organization (WHO) that it would indirectly force people to get vaccinated and overly limit individual rights.

The report said the objections were being led by Germany, Austria and Belgium. It cited Health Ministry Deputy Director-General Itamar Grotto as expecting more countries to express doubts in the coming days about the green passport plan.

Still, the document is going ahead at least on a national level, with Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen telling the Kan public broadcaster Thursday that it will be rolled out at the end of the month.

He added that more than 3 million Israelis would receive both vaccine shots by the end of February and be able to return to something close to normal life.

Hospital workers at Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed transport a new patient to the coronavirus ward on January 7, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Health Ministry figures published Thursday morning said there were 9,388 cases confirmed Wednesday, similar to recent days, with 7.9 percent of tests coming back positive.

The total number of cases since the pandemic began grew to 522,974, including 78,826 active cases — an all-time high. Of them, 1,063 were in serious condition, including 305 in critical condition and 273 on ventilators.

The death toll reached 3,826, registering an alarming 56 deaths in 24 hours.

According to the data, 1,934,685 Israelis have received their first vaccine shots, including more than 80% of all citizens aged 70 and up. A second dose was administered to 104,346 people.

Israel has seen a shortage of vaccines in recent days, but Pfizer has stepped up deliveries once again and is expected to send hundreds of thousands of doses a week. Another half a million doses are expected to arrive in Israel early next week.

After all Israelis over the age of 50 became eligible to get inoculated, Army Radio reported Thursday that that could be expanded to anyone aged 45 and up as early as this coming Sunday.

Thursday night will mark one week since Israel entered a tightened lockdown that is scheduled to last until January 21, although officials have repeatedly said the rules will likely extend beyond that date.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash visits the Ziv hospital in Safed, December 24, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash expressed optimism despite the high infection numbers, estimating that the current tightened lockdown could be extended for just a week and be over as early as January 28.

Thanks to much of the at-risk population becoming immunized, and if serious cases start going down, measures could be eased even if confirmed cases remain high, Ash told the Ynet news site on Thursday.

Health Ministry officials believe virus morbidity in the third wave sweeping the country has peaked and is set to decline, and are weighing loosening the current lockdown restrictions, a separate report said Wednesday.

Netanyahu will meet with Health Ministry officials on Thursday to discuss whether to extend the restrictions. Some health officials support loosening the rules if there is a decline in the number of serious cases, Channel 12 News reported.

Netanyahu’s discussions on Thursday will also include talks on the green passport plan.

Channel 13 News reported on Wednesday Health Ministry guidelines for easing the lockdown: In the first stage, kindergartens and grades 1-4 and 11-12 will partially reopen, as will street-front stores, the report said. In the second stage, grades 5-10 will resume studies and green passport holders will be given certain freedoms, such as permission to attend cultural events. In the third stage, restaurants and cafes will reopen.

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