Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Vaccinated Tel Aviv offers a glimpse into the confusing future of pandemic exit


First entry: Monday, 22 February 2021, 09:29

Stelios Vassiloudis

There are many hopes that a successful vaccination program will allow a speedy return to normal. But the situation in Tel Aviv suggests a rather complicated future.

Israel aims to provide a coronavirus vaccine to all its citizens over the age of 16 by the end of March and has already begun to reap the benefits.

From Sunday, February 21, Israeli citizens who present a “green passport” – an application or printed certificate proving that they have received both doses of vaccine – will be able to attend cultural events. Two weeks later, on March 7, event venues and nightclubs will reopen.

People are looking to Israel to get a sense of what the “new normal” will look like – but, unfortunately, there is no clear way back to dancing, singing and having fun indoors. In Tel Aviv, the realities behind the opening of these spaces present a vague and confused picture.

“At the moment, we are very confused,” said Itai Drai, who expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity about what was to come for Teder, the multi-partner space he runs. “We live day by day and from week to week,” he adds.

The outline of the plan for the reopening of Israeli society was released on Monday, through a statement from the prime minister’s office and the health ministry, but regulations on capacity limits and social distance requirements have not yet been announced.

However, in the beginning, social gatherings of 20 people indoors and 50 people will be allowed from March 7, which suggests that the resumption process may become faster for event venues when the number of those receiving two vaccine doses increases. Current data on post-vaccination coronavirus transmission from animal studies to those receiving the Pfizer vaccine show significantly lower transmission rates. “Most evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people can meet without infecting each other, but this must be scientifically proven,” said Eyel Leshem, an infectious disease specialist at Sheba Medical Center.

Roy Fridman, owner of the music production company Tel Aviv and a supporter of the nightclub Night Spoons, hopes that the increase in the number of second vaccinations among people under the age of 40 will lead to the return of larger-scale events in May. “We want to believe that 500 people will be allowed in the area in May and 1,000 after June,” he said. “This is what the representatives of the night scene asked from the Ministry of Health,” he adds.

For now, however, confusion prevails. Drai says he must be able to sell food and drink to keep Teder running so he can allow free entry and pay the artists who play, but the Israeli government has given no indication as to whether this is likely to be allowed in the coming weeks.

Yaron Trax, owner of Tel Aviv’s famous nightclub, The Block, disagrees and believes there is not enough information available to reopen the premises safely. “I’m sure of one thing – that I do not want to risk anyone ‘s health – it’ s more important than the club and the dance,” he says.

Giyora Yahalom, director of cultural affairs in Tel Aviv Municipality, paints a picture of a much longer path to normalcy. “It will take at least a year, even with mass vaccination – we will open up what we can,” he said. As for whether venues like The Block could reopen, Yahalom offers little hope for performances beyond those with seated spectators and reduced capacity – “they will be able to offer something, this is a start,” he says.

The debate in Israel reflects what is happening in other countries, which are a few weeks or months behind in their vaccination programs. On 16 February, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson stated that British citizens may have a way back to the nightlife through the mass use of fast side flow tests that would require staggered entry and complex logistics, as 15 minutes or more for test results.

But there are tough challenges that need to be addressed – and Tel Aviv can offer a starting model. Leshem argues that there are concerns with the mass control approach, as there will be groups coming together while awaiting their results and also with the possibility of false positives and false negatives. The “green passport” policy is the most effective approach to opening up nightlife – although politicians in the UK are reluctant to support any kind of “vaccine passport”, he adds. “It’s a much more logical approach – at least scientifically. “What he is essentially saying is that as long as you pose a risk to others, you are prohibited from engaging in certain activities.”

But there are also problems. The “green passport” system was announced by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on February 19, and Israeli news was quick to report that a black market for fake vaccination certificates had already spread to Telegram, where more than 100,000 users had joined card-offering groups. sale.

However, the Israeli government has already reached an agreement with the governments of Greece and Cyprus on the free movement of citizens between the countries, with the presentation of a “green passport”.

While Israel’s “green passport” policy does not currently bar unvaccinated citizens from entering places such as supermarkets, there is little information on how to proceed and whether further restrictions will be imposed.

The country also offers a unique case study on the challenges of the partially vaccinated population. In particular, questions remain about how the system will affect Palestinians traveling to Israel and Israeli settlements from the Occupied West Bank, with Health Minister Edelstein recently revealing that Israel is seriously considering vaccination.

This would only benefit a few hundred thousand people in the West Bank from Israel’s current vaccination program. The program currently excludes some 4.6 million Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the exception of those living in East Jerusalem.

Sawsen Zaher, deputy director general at Adalah – a human rights organization and legal center focused on protecting the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories – describes the selective use of the vaccine as ominous. “Professional medical ethics guarantees equal treatment for all,” he says. “Adalah calls on the Israeli authorities to abide by their legal obligations and to ensure that quality vaccines are provided to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

In West Bank Ramallah, which has just started vaccinations, the return of nightlife seems even further away. “There is no sense in when it will open,” said DJ Dar, a resident of the town. “I think the nightlife has completely stopped here,” he added. In contrast to Tel Aviv, discussions of a resumption of nightlife in the occupied Palestinian territories appear to be non-existent.

While Tel Aviv is on its way to full vaccination, with 67% of the city’s residents receiving the first dose by February 18, it is clear that the city’s high vaccination rate does not guarantee an immediate return to nightlife.

Israel’s “green passport” system offers a possible plan for opening up, and other countries are watching closely – as is the UK’s nightlife sector. A recent survey found that 85% of its employees are considering leaving because of the long-term impact of the pandemic. However, the mood in the vaccinated Tel Aviv remains cautious and not promising. “A friend just called me to make a reservation in September and I still can’t do it,” says Drai. “I feel reluctant to make real plans for the summer, even for the end of the year,” he adds.

Source: Wired



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