Israel vaccination 'green pass' may offer a glimpse of a post-Covid future

Israel vaccination 'green pass' may offer a glimpse of a post-Covid future

Israel boasts one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with more than 50% of its population having received both doses of the vaccine. As CNN reports, now it's trying to restore a sense of normalcy by giving those who are fully vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19 a green pass that will grant them access to activities that largely disappeared over the past year as the words "social distancing" and "lockdown" entered the lexicon.

The green pass is authorized by Israel's Ministry of Health. It can be a physical document or downloaded to a person's phone, and will be required for activities like going to the gym, dining inside a restaurant at 75% capacity with a 100 person limit, attending a theater performance with up to 500 people indoors, or even a gathering in an event hall with up to 300 people.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has largely staked his campaign in upcoming legislative elections on Israel's aggressive vaccination push, boasted at an event in Tel Aviv on Monday that by early April the country will "emerge" from the coronavirus.

"We're marking five million people vaccinated and the reopening of our economy, which is nearly entirely under the green pass," Netanyahu said. "We're left with just slightly over a million people over the age of 16 [that are yet to be vaccinated]."

The Israeli Ministry of Health says there are currently 36,712 people infected with the virus, with 5,955 total deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Positive reinforcement

Part of the appeal of the green pass is positive reinforcement, according to government officials. If you want to go to the gym or go out with your friends to dinner and a show indoors, you need the pass.

Professor Ayelet Baram-Tsabari, head of the Applied Science Communication research group at the Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology, told CNN she thinks the green pass will help convince more people to get the vaccine, but that research on public health campaigns shows it's not just about positive incentives.

Instead, the incentives are about the community aspect.

"Giving positive reinforcement is not just helping because you say, 'OK, it is easier for me to go to a concert if I have the green pass.' It's not just that, it's also creating a situation [in which] you look around and see everyone else is doing it -- all your tribe if you want -- is doing it and then you would feel safer doing it," Baram-Tsabari said.

Baram-Tsabari said some Israelis who haven't been vaccinated may not necessarily be opposed to getting inoculated. Instead, they may be hesitant and afraid and want to wait and see what others do.

When it comes to decisions around personal health, she said studies have shown most people can't be expected to judge whether a statement is true or not -- like whether a vaccine is safe, or whether it will help prevent serious illness. Instead, they judge whether they can trust the person delivering the message.

"We usually look around and see what are the sources that tell us to do this, what do people we trust, people we think are right, people we think did the research, what do they do? And if you have many people who [are doing] something, you would feel safer doing it as well," she said.

A side order of worry

The excitement over the green passes is palpable, especially for the country's hard-hit restaurant scene.

According to the regulations, in order to eat inside a restaurant a specially appointed staff member, like a host, must check the patron's green pass or vaccination/recovery certificate, which can be done by scanning the pass's QR or barcode, before they can be seated. Those without the green pass can only be seated outdoors, according to the government regulations.

Restaurateurs told CNN they are thrilled to be reopening but are serving their dishes with a side of trepidation citing confusion over the new green pass procedures as well as fears that a new lockdown will soon see them shuttering their doors once again.

Ethan Padnos, the manager at Jerusalem's Hatch brewery, said that reopening is "a little scary and very exciting," though he said he is still uncomfortable with being required to ask for a customer's vaccination status.

"It feels very invasive for me to ask, it's a personal question a little bit so we'll see how it goes," he said.

There have been some early hiccups.

Padnos said he has had some problems with the app used to scan the passes, and health officials cited by Israeli radio network Kan have warned that they have no good way to police or enforce the authenticity and use of the green passes.

There are also concerns, he said, that the re-opening of the economy could lead to a new spike in infections and another lockdown, especially during the upcoming Passover holiday.

Protesters in Tel Aviv last month complained that the new green pass will separate society into two classes, and that those who can't or won't get the vaccine will be discriminated against, according to the Jerusalem Post.

In response to questions around difficulties around the green pass, The Israeli Health Ministry told Israeli News Channel 12 it will soon be issuing updated passes.

"The vaccination pass in its current form is meant to provide an initial quick response. At the same time, we are looking into implementing a secure barcode that will be internationally accepted," a spokesperson told the outlet.

Chef Assaf Granit, who has several restaurants around the world, said he feels like he's "opening a new restaurant."

"The excitement is crazy. I went out of my house for the first time in seven months with a chef's jacket in my hand so it is super exciting," Granit said as he prepared for the first diners at his Machneyuda restaurant in Jerusalem earlier this week.

"I gotta say we're happy, we're excited and we can't wait to meet the customers again. With that, we feel a lot of pressure and fear that we're going to be in the same situation in a few weeks, so fingers crossed the vaccination will hold and we won't see a rise in the [infection] rate."

But for Granit, anything that could help the restaurant sector in Israel is worth it.

"It's a sensible idea without any other real option," Granit said.

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