JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel lifted many of its coronavirus restrictions and began reopening its economy on Sunday as the country’s vaccination campaign and third nationwide lockdown began to reduce infections.
Most elementary and secondary school classrooms have reopened after a nearly two-month closure, along with museums, libraries, malls and markets. Some restrictions on the number of people present remain in place. The entire education system is expected to resume normal activities in early March.
Gyms, swimming pools, cinemas and restaurants are opening their doors to people who have received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Israel unveiled its plan to allow those vaccinated to attend cultural events, fly abroad, and frequent restaurants and health clubs using a “green badge” app on Saturday before the economy reopens. The deployment of the application was strewn with technical pitfalls.
After making a deal with Pfizer to exchange data for doses, Israel’s vaccination campaign has become the fastest in the world in the past two months. Almost half of its population of 9.3 million received the first dose of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine. Almost 3 million got the second shot.
Israel has been criticized internationally for largely excluding Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from its highly successful vaccination campaign. The dispute highlights the Palestinians’ dependence on Israel even as they struggle alone to combat the pandemic. Last week, Israel facilitated the transfer of the first 2,000 doses of Russian vaccine against Sputnik V from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.
The coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in Israel, however, and restrictions on movement and assembly have remained in place since the government imposed a nationwide lockdown in late December.
Israel has recorded at least 743,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 5,521 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year. Its three lockdowns crippled the economy and pushed unemployment to over 20%