Israel is hoping that its world-leading vaccination programme will allow it to resume tourism later this year and is talking to Greece and Cyprus about reopening their borders.
The country, which has vaccinated a higher proportion of its citizens than any other, started to issue “green passport” certificates last week that show holders have been given two full doses of the vaccine, one of its diplomats in China said.
It is now trying to negotiate reciprocal arrangements with other countries to permit entry to those carrying the certificates.
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Israel’s experience is likely to be closely watched around the world as it could become the first country to inoculate enough people to reach the ultimate goal of achieving herd immunity.
“What we are planning to do is to open a programme of green passports, which means everybody that’s been vaccinated could travel to other countries without the need for being tested before, during the visit or being quarantined after visiting the country,” said Yuval Waks, deputy chief of the Israeli mission in Beijing.
He said Greece could be the first country to sign such an agreement with Israel, followed by Cyprus because “it’s also good for their economy” and “tourists from Israel are eager to go”.
Waks continued that talks with China were at an early stage and media reports have suggested that countries in Europe such as Serbia and Romania may also take part in the scheme.
Israel has vaccinated more people per capita than any other country. More than 3.4 million people out of the nine million population have received a Covid-19 jab, including about two million who have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Israel started vaccinating its elderly in December and has now extended the vaccination campaign to over-16s. It plans to inoculate 70 per cent of the population by the end of March or early April.
It however needs further data on the younger population to achieve a higher rate of coverage, according to Asher Salmon, head of international relations at the Israeli health ministry.
An agreement with Pfizer allowed Israel to secure enough doses for the whole population in exchange for data on compliance “in a real-world context to evaluate whether herd immunity protection is observed” during the vaccination roll-out.
But Salmon said it was too early to say whether this could be achieved, but the authorities were encouraging everyone to take the vaccine in any case.
“Nobody really knows whether being inoculated fully protects you so you cannot infect others, which is the optimistic scenario, or maybe you are still stuck with the virus [and infect others].” He said the second scenario would threaten the idea behind the green passports of allowing people to come and go safely.
The country has seen a sharp drop in infections since the vaccination programme began.
Case rates among the over-60s have fallen by 46 per cent and by 18 per cent among people under 60 years old, according to an analysis by the Weizmann Institute of Science at Tel Aviv University.
Salmon said data from other countries would be needed to evaluate the vaccine’s performance, but preliminary studies of people who became infected even after receiving two full doses suggested it could either stop them from becoming sick or ensure their symptoms were much milder than they would have been otherwise.
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