How Israel plans to operate a COVID ‘green pass,’ and prevent forgeries

Many activities will only be available to those vaccinated or with negative virus tests; app and certificates with barcodes are intended to ensure only the authorized gain access

An employee at a digital task force to counter "fake news" on the Internet works on a computer with a banner that reads in part: "wake up, the vaccination," in the Health Ministry office near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
An employee at a digital task force to counter "fake news" on the Internet works on a computer with a banner that reads in part: "wake up, the vaccination," in the Health Ministry office near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

As country begins to reopen stores, gyms, hotels, and other venues starting next week, Israelis will need to show proof that they have been vaccinated against, or recovered from, COVID-19 before being allowed to enter some events and places.

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 enter sporting and culture events, hotels, and swimming pools, showing “green pass” proof to gain access.

The coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, said Monday that Israelis will have to use an app as proof, or print out barcoded certificates to prove their status.

According to Channel 12, Israelis will be able to download the app — which is not yet up and running — and enter their personal details, and within a minute, receive an authorization that security guards at restricted sites can scan.

Those without smartphones — mostly among the ultra-Orthodox communities — will be able to print out a certificate with a barcode that can also be scanned at the entrance to sites.

Authorities are hoping the barcode will be enough to deter forgeries. However, Ash said anybody gaining unauthorized access to restricted areas and events will be subject to harsh punishment.

Channel 12 said the Health Ministry was still debating what punishments would be given to those trying to skirt the rules, but it was likely that anyone forging “green pass” certificates would be subject to criminal prosecution.

The report said that the Health Ministry had already uncovered several cases of Israelis trying to get out of vaccinating by supplying fake results to show that they had recovered from the virus. Some of them had fraudulently bought documentation overseas, the report said.

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

Those coming from overseas had tried to use the documentation to get out of mandatory quarantines for new arrivals.

“We are doing everything to prevent this and we will use all means at our disposal against the forgeries,” Ronni Berkowitz, of the Health Ministry’s enforcement division, told Channel 12. “These people are, in the end, endangering all of us. They can spread the disease and also bring in new variants.”

The new plans came as cabinet ministers on Monday approved the reopening of stores, gyms, hotels, and other venues starting next Sunday, in a major easing of sweeping lockdown measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The high-level coronavirus cabinet also okayed the reopening of synagogues under restrictive conditions for the Purim holiday late next week, while pushing off a decision on whether to allow all students to return to school in localities with low-infection rates.

The decisions come amid a continued decline in morbidity rates, particularly among high-risk groups, thanks to Israel’s rapid vaccination campaign.

Under the plan approved by ministers, the restrictions will be rolled back Sunday, February 21, in an apparent compromise between health officials’ desire to wait for Tuesday, February 23, and the Blue and White party’s demand to start reopening this week.

Israelis exercise at the Holmes Place gym and country club in Modiin on July 14, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Synagogues and other houses of worship will be permitted to reopen on Friday, with attendance limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outside.

The coronavirus cabinet barred festivities and other gatherings over Purim next weekend, while restricting attendance at holiday meals to immediate family members.

Health officials have expressed concern that festive gatherings will spark another wave of contagion. Last year’s Purim is believed to have been a major contributor to Israel’s first wave of infections.

Students in grades 5-6 and 11-12 in “green” and “yellow” municipalities will be allowed to return to in-person learning on Sunday. Ministers will convene again later this week to decide about allowing additional grades to get back to the classroom.

An Israeli military paramedic prepares a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, to be administered to elderly people at a medical center in Ashdod, southern Israel, January 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)

Almost 4 million Israelis have now had at least one vaccination dose and 2.5 million — over a quarter of the population — have received both shots. However, there has been a noticeable reluctance among Israelis below the age of 50 to get the injections, including among teaching staff.

Before the start of Monday’s meeting, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein lashed out at teachers who have not yet been vaccinated.

“A teacher who doesn’t vaccinate is abandoning students’ welfare and failing his job,” Edelstein tweeted.

He went on to stress that the government is seeking to pass a bill that will require all workers who have a high exposure to the public to be vaccinated, or have a virus test every two days.

“We will not compromise on public welfare,” Edelstein wrote.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 3,450 new coronavirus cases were confirmed Sunday, which along with another 3,565 since midnight brought the number of cases since the pandemic began to 729,373. Of the 53,957 active cases, there were 979 Israelis in serious condition, including 307 on ventilators.

The death toll stood at 5,406, with 32 fatalities recorded Sunday.

The ministry said 47,399 people were tested for COVID-19 on Sunday, with 7.6 percent of tests coming back positive. It added that 44,286 had so far been performed Monday and that the positive test rate was 8.3%.

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