Israel has begun easing its lockdown after data from its health ministry showed that the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine is highly effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19.

Israelis on Sunday saw life gradually return to normalcy after the government lifted coronavirus curbs on many businesses and services following its third national lockdown and a vaccination drive that has been hailed as the world’s fastest.

The relaxing of restrictions means stores, libraries, synagogues and museums can now re-open, but physical distancing and face masks are still required.

Shopping malls and shops with street access also re-opened their doors on Sunday, but with certain limitations on crowd size.

Most school classes have reopened after a nearly two-month closure. Israel’s entire education system is expected to resume normal operations in early March.

The ‘Green Pass’
Some sites, however, will only be accessible to those who can prove they have been vaccinated with the so-called “Green Pass” — an app tied to a person’s medical history which is valid for six months, one week after the second dose has been administered.

Only people who can prove with the app that they have been fully vaccinated can stay at hotels, visit gyms and swimming pools or attend cultural or sporting events.

Restrictions on movement and assembly have also remained in place since the government imposed a countrywide lockdown in late December.

Rapid vaccine campaign
Israel began easing restrictions after a steady flow of data from its health ministry emerged, claiming that the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine was 98.9% effective at preventing hospitalizations and death caused by COVID-19.

Citing the data, the Israeli health ministry also said that the rate of COVID-19 infections also declined 95.8% among people who received both shots of the vaccine, and that the vaccine was also 98% effective in preventing infections that prompted fever or breathing problems.

Around three million people, almost a third of Israel’s population, have received the two recommended shots of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, said to be the world’s fastest inoculation pace per capita.

In late December, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said Israel’s goal is to vaccinate about 60% of the country’s population by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Palestinians excluded from vaccine campaign
Israel’s rapid vaccination drive, however, has been met with international criticism for largely excluding Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government last week facilitated the transfer of the first 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

The coronavirus continues to spread rapidly throughout the country. Israel has recorded around 743,000 cases of COVID-19 with at least 5,521 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.

Israel’s three lockdowns have crippled the economy and driven unemployment to over 20%.


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