BAT YAM, Israel Israel has raced forward with the world’s fastest Covid vaccination campaign, inoculating nearly half of its population with at least one dose. Now, the rapid spread is turning the country into a direct laboratory for setting rules in a vaccinated society by raising prickly questions about rights, obligations and the best.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted this week to open shopping malls and museums to the public, subject to rules of social distancing and mandatory camouflage. For the first time in many months, gyms, cultural and sporting events, hotels and swimming pools will also reopen, but only for a few.
Under a new Green Badge system that functions like a carrot and a stick, the government is making leisure activities accessible only to people who have been fully vaccinated or are recovering starting Sunday. Two weeks later, restaurants, event halls and conferences will be allowed to operate under these rules. Clients and attendees will need to hold a vaccination certificate with a QR code.
Israel is one of the first countries to face in real time a host of legal, moral and ethical questions as it seeks to balance steps towards resuming public life with sensitive issues such as public safety, discrimination, free choice and privacy.
Vaccination is a moral duty. It is part of our mutual responsibility, said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. He also has a new mantra: Whoever is not vaccinated will be left behind.
The ongoing debate within Israel is spreading to other parts of the world, with plans to book international travel for vaccinated green passport holders and warnings of growing disparities between the richest vaccinated and the poorest least. vaccinated.
Israel’s central government eager to pull the country out of its third national stalemate without imposing a new wave of infections was driven into action by local initiatives. Entering under country blockade rules, a closed shopping mall on the outskirts of Bat Yam’s working-class suburb in Tel Aviv opened its doors last week to customers who could prove they had been vaccinated or cured of Covid-19.
In Carmiel, the mayor made a similar decision to open his city in the northern region of Galilee for business. His office began processing requests from employers who could verify that all of their employees had received the required two doses of the vaccine or had been cured of the virus.
And in other cities, mayors wanted to ban unvaccinated teachers from classrooms while some hoteliers threatened unvaccinated employees with layoffs.
Dr. Maya Peled Raz, an expert in health law and ethics at the University of Haifa, defended some restrictions on personal freedoms for the greater good. Employers can not force employees to be vaccinated, she said, but they can only be allowed to hire vaccinated workers if they do not do so it could hurt their business.
This may include some violations of individual rights, but not all damages are prohibited if they are well balanced and legitimate to achieve a worthy goal, she said. Choices is your choice, she added for leisure activities. If you are vaccinated, you can log in. As long as you are not, we cannot allow you to endanger others.
Four million Israelis nearly half the population of nine million have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and more than 2.6 million have received a second dose. But about two million qualified citizens aged 16 or over have not sought vaccines. The average number of new infections per day is around 4,000.
Mr Edelstein, the health minister, said Thursday that vaccination would not be mandatory in Israel. But his ministry is now proposing legislation that would force unvaccinated workers whose work involves contact with the public to be tested for the virus every two days. And he is promoting a bill that would allow the ministry to identify unvaccinated people to local authorities.
Local authorities and volunteers have tried to lure people to vaccination centers with offers for free pizza, Arabic cakes and, in the ultra-orthodox town of Bnei Brak, bags with a slow cooker traditionally cooked for Saturday.
However, vaccination remains voluntary and not everyone is rushing for it.
Ofek Hacohen, 34, a holiday manager in Jerusalem, said he believed in a natural approach to a healthy body and insisted that the risk posed by the virus he called the flu was exaggerated. He added that he did not trust the safety of vaccines.
He said he did not know what he would do if the legislation were introduced limiting his options.
But I am not vaccinated. I will certainly take part in the demonstrations. I believe I will not be alone, he said, adding, I can survive without going to the theater, to football matches or to a restaurant. It’s annoying, but what can I do?
Concerts and restaurants are luxuries that people can more easily abandon. But the questions become more pressing and controversial when it comes to the rights of employers and workers.
The rights of the teaching staff have been under special scrutiny as some classes are personally reopened. A quarter or more of Israel teachers have not requested the first dose, a situation critics say poses a potential risk to students under the age of 16 who are too young to be vaccinated. Some health workers have also been restrained from vaccination.
After a number of city mayors threatened to ban unvaccinated teachers from their classrooms, the deputy attorney general clarified that they had no authority to do so without new legislation.
Dr. Peled Raz said the interim emergency law governing Israel’s response to the virus would be easier to change in relation to health workers than others because of the potential harm to them and patients, adding that it would to be justified.
You want to be a nurse and not be vaccinated? she said. Either get vaccinated or choose another profession.
But two rights organizations, the Israel Civil Rights Association and the Workers’ Line, said they had already received complaints from other unvaccinated workers. The groups wrote a letter to the attorney general this month asking him to issue a clear opinion and said that under existing law an employer may not request information from workers about their vaccination status.
The first problem is that there is no politics, said Gil Gan-Mor, director of civil and social rights at the Civil Rights Association in Israel. When the government is not working fast enough, we see a lot of private initiatives.
Establishing a balance between competing rights and interests remains a matter of debate, he said, and requires a broad discussion in Parliament.
Barack Cohen, a lawyer and social activist, raised more questions in the latter Facebook post.
To what extent is it appropriate to exert pressure and coercion when the vaccine decision-making process is kept secret, obscure and confidential? he wrote, stressing that he does not deny the seriousness of the coronavirus or the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine.
He also noted the low public confidence in government and what he called drug companies of great financial interest.
In Carmiel, City Hall gave at least 20 businesses a local version of a Green Badge to place in their windows, according to Eli Sade, director of the mayors’ office. All who entered were asked to indicate that they had been vaccinated or had been cured of the virus. But police officers told the shop owners to close because they were breaking the law.
The mall in Bat Yam, which wanted customers to prove they had been vaccinated, quickly dropped the requirement to show a green passport at the entrance and returned to equipping the guards with temperature guns.
Inside, several stores that opened had set up their own entry policies. One chain followed basic social distance regulations while another required a vaccination certificate. Sportswear and lingerie stores operated a shopping service for customers standing at the door.
Haifa Zeinab, 20, who was working in a Japanese-style clothing and gift shop, said she had no plans to get vaccinated because an aunt had overcome dizziness after both doses. If she was told not to come without a green passport or a negative test every two days, she said with a shrug, So I will not come.
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