Israel begins reopening economy following two-month lockdown

Israel begins reopening economy following two-month lockdown
Israel started reopening economically on Sunday as the country's coronavirus vaccination drive has reached almost half the population.
3 min read
21 February, 2021
Israel has vaccinated more than 45% of its population [Getty]
Israel started reopening its economy on Sunday in what it called the start of a "return to routine", enabled by a coronavirus vaccination drive that has reached almost half the population.

After exactly a year after Israel's first documented coronavirus case, Sunday's easing of curbs is part of a Tel Aviv plan to open the economy more widely next month, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up for re-election.

Shops reopened open to all, while access to leisure sites like gyms and theatres was limited to vaccinees or those who have recovered from the disease with presumed immunity, a so-called "Green Pass" status displayed on a special health ministry app.

But as the vaccination drive is not complete, social distancing measures remain in force.

Dancing is barred at banquet halls, and synagogues, mosques or churches are required to halve their normal number of worshippers.

Elementary school students and pupils in the last two years of high school resumed attending schools in towns found to have contagion rates under control, while middle school students are due back by next month, after almost a year of remote learning.

Israel has administered at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc vaccine to more than 45% of its nine million population, the health ministry said.

The two-shot regimen has reduced coronavirus infections by 95.8%, ministry data showed.

The country has logged more than 740,000 cases and 5,500 deaths from the illness, which pushed the government to enforce three national lockdowns.

While pushing out its population to get vaccinated, Tel Aviv has prevented a vital first shipment of 2,000 coronavirus vaccines intended for frontline health workers from entering the blockaded Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian officials.

The Palestinian Authority said a planned transfer of Russia Sputnik V vaccine doses to the coastal enclave was blocked last Monday at an Israeli checkpoint.

Eventually, Israel on Wednesday allowed only 1,000 doses to enter the enclave, which has a population of some 1.8 million Palestinians.

Following mounting international pressure, Israel also agreed to transfer 5,000 Moderna vaccine doses to Palestinian medical workers in the West Bank, where some 2.7 million Palestinians live.

The Palestinian Authority has also procured 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

On Friday, the PA said Israel had agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinian labourers working in the Jewish state.

The decision came a day after Israel's health minister announced that the country will also vaccinate Palestinian prisoners, after facing harsh criticism from rights activists after Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said Palestinian prisoners would be the last to get innoculated.

The move also came after a president's declaration that withholding vaccines was against "Israel's Jewish and democratic values".

Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state.

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