Israel is opening up its economy, following a world-beating vaccine rollout. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, gyms, pools, nightclubs, theatres and concerts have reopened for people who’ve been vaccinated. Schools are slowly reopening too, with fewer social distancing measures — and Israelis are loving it.
“It’s a miracle — there’s no other word for it,” says Diane Harkavy of Jerusalem. “Last year at the Passover meal we were just three: me and my husband and one daughter who was living at home. This year, there were 14 of us. All my daughters, their partners, my new granddaughter. Passover is about celebrating the passage from slavery to freedom and this year we really felt the freedom.”
Ms Harkavy has another reason to celebrate. She’s a swimmer and a regular at the YMCA gym. She describes returning after six months out of the water. “I feel this incredible sense of pride and joy when I swipe my card and go in. I think about the vaccine every day and I am so appreciative,” she said.
There are still restrictions in place, especially on indoor gatherings, but this progress is possible because of Israel’s high vaccination rates — more than 80 per cent of eligible Israelis over the age of 16 have received the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine.
Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s top public health official who is behind its vaccine success, says there has been a dramatic decline in all indicators — infections, hospitalisations and deaths. “We’ve learnt that it’s doable. You can get to a point in this pandemic — and I think Israel is the first to show it — where you open sectors and the disease goes down. This is something that has not been shown anywhere in the world so far,” she said.
One of Jerusalem’s leading hospitals, Shaare Zedek, closed its COVID intensive care unit on Wednesday for the first time since opening it a year ago, and other hospitals are doing likewise.