Vaccine Passports Are Back in Israel

Vaccine passports are back in Israel, little more than 11 weeks after Jerusalem-based writer Arieh Kovler wrote in the Spectator: “The scaremongers who said that vaccine certificates would be some lasting form of social control were wrong.” From today, Israelis over the age of three must show proof of vaccination against Covid or of a negative test to be allowed into indoor public spaces, except for malls and stores. Mask mandates are also back, including for large outdoor gatherings. Haaretz has the story.

Children between the ages of three and 12 will be entitled to receive free rapid antigen swab tests. Those aged 12 and up who are not vaccinated will have to pay for their own tests. Around 220 testing stations will operate throughout the country to carry out these tests, and more will be added according to demand, the Health Ministry said. Results from the rapid antigen swab tests are available in 15 minutes, and a negative result grants a Green Pass valid for 24 hours.

The requirement to present proof of immunity will be applied in most sectors of the economy and public and private institutions, including swimming pools, gyms, academic institutions, all cultural and sporting events, conferences and exhibitions, museums, libraries, restaurants, and hotels. 

However, the Green Pass will not apply to summer school programs, so that parents will not have to test their children every day as a condition of participation.

Starting Wednesday, the number of participants at events will be limited to 1,000 people in enclosed spaces and 5,000 at outdoor events without assigned seating. At events in private homes, where proof of immunity won’t be required, the attendance limit will be set at 50 in enclosed spaces and at 100 in open ones. There will be no limit on crowd sizes at events with assigned seating, but these events will also require proof of immunity.

The renewed requirement for vaccine passport checks comes amid fears over the Delta Covid variant, reports the Guardian.

After its launch in December, Israel’s widely praised vaccination drive helped to drastically bring down infections. But that trend has since reversed, driven by the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, with restrictions that were lifted in June reimposed since July. …

About one million Israelis have not been vaccinated even though they are eligible.

According to the Health Ministry, more than 8,700 people tested positive for Covid on Tuesday, the highest number for a single day since January.

The Haaretz report is worth reading in full.

Pfizer Vaccine Effectiveness Drops to 64% in Israel

As infections have surged in Israel in the last few weeks, the Israeli Government reports that the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against infection has dropped to 64% from 94% the previous month. However, its effectiveness against serious disease is holding up. The Telegraph has more.

The vaccine had a 64% efficacy rate from early June until early July, the latest figures show, down from 94% a month earlier. The decrease coincides with a period in which the government reversed coronavirus restrictions and the delta variant spread through the country.

But the vaccine is still conferring strong protection against severe symptoms of the virus, with hospitalisation rates remaining low. The ministry’s data shows the vaccine’s efficacy in preventing hospitalisation was 93% from June 6th to July 3rd, compared to a 98% rate in the previous period.

On Monday, Israel reported the highest rate of new infections since the start of its most recent outbreaks, with the ministry recording 343 new cases over the past 24 hours.

Over half (55%) of the new infections are in fully vaccinated people, according to recent data. Since the country has fully vaccinated about 60% of the population, this suggests the vaccine is not protecting from infection very much at all (less even than the new stated efficacy figure of 64%). This is particularly so given that most of the infections are likely to be in socially and economically active younger people (like they are in the U.K.) who have lower vaccination rates, so that the vaccinated may even be suffering disproportionately more infections than the unvaccinated (the data is currently unavailable to confirm this).

The pattern of outbreaks in highly vaccinated countries such as Bahrain, Seychelles, Maldives and Chile and the fact that the vaccines don’t produce mucosal IgA antibodies has suggested for a while that their effectiveness against infection may have been exaggerated in studies. The idea that the IgG antibodies they produce in the blood should protect against progression to serious illness makes more sense and it is reassuring to see this data holding up.

The Israeli Government is now discussing the need for a third booster shot, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has said people will “likely” need a third dose within 12 months of getting “fully vaccinated”. The Government may also consider limiting gathering sizes and reintroducing the controversial “Green Pass” vaccine apartheid system.

However, if a highly vaccinated country like Israel cannot return to normal without constant threat of new restrictions you have to wonder if anyone can. At some point leaders will need to accept that they have done all they can to guard the vulnerable against serious illness and death and remember that there is more to life than avoiding COVID-19.

Stop Press: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now investigating the death of a 13 year-old American boy who died a few days after receiving his second dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine.

Lockdown Restrictions to Come to an End In Israel from June – But They Could Return Further Down the Road

The success of Israel’s Covid vaccine rollout means that the country’s lockdown restrictions – vaccine passports included – will be revoked from the beginning of June. But Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says restrictions could return if Covid cases surge again. The sudden U-turn on vaccine passports suggests that, as could be the case in Britain, certification was introduced at venues merely to ‘nudge’ younger people into taking the vaccine. Reuters has the story.

With the majority of the population having received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and about 92% of those 50 and older inoculated or recovered, Israel has been gradually reopening its economy after three lockdowns.

The country reported just 12 new virus cases on Saturday, down from a daily peak of more than 10,000 in January.

Curbs on higher-risk activities and limits on how many people can gather in a specific area remain, with a Government-issued “Green Pass” that indicates immunity post-vaccination or recovery from Covid allowing greater freedom.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Sunday that he will not be extending the arrangement, meaning the restrictions and the Green Pass system will be revoked from the start of June.

“The economy and the citizens of Israel will get extra room to breathe,” he said, but also warned that they could be reimposed should the situation take a turn.

Rules on mask-wearing inside and incoming travel will also be reviewed by the Health Ministry in the coming months.

Worth reading in full.

Case Numbers Do Not Always Decline After Lockdowns

Lockdown proponents often argue that, although case numbers sometimes decline in the absence of a lockdown (as in SwedenSouth DakotaFlorida), case numbers always decline in the presence of one. Once you put a lockdown in place, they claim, the curve reaches its peak and the epidemic starts to retreat.

There are certainly many countries where a decline in case numbers has coincided with the imposition of a lockdown. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one caused the other. 

As the researcher Philippe Lemoine has argued, people start changing their behaviour voluntarily when they see deaths and hospitalisations rising. The government, meanwhile, feels an increasing need to “do something”, and the subsequent imposition of a lockdown happens to coincide with the peak of the infection curve.

Consistent with this account, there are several countries where a lockdown was imposed, but case numbers did not immediately decline; or if they did decline, they rose again while the lockdown was still in place. These examples constitute evidence against the claim that lockdowns have a substantial effect on the epidemic’s trajectory. Here I will present six. 

It’s important to note that some countries went into lockdown all at once, whereas others built up restrictions gradually over several weeks. This raises the question of exactly how to define a lockdown. For the purpose of this analysis, I will rely on the Oxford Blavatnik School’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker. 

The dataset includes several measures of government restrictions. Each one is accompanied by a “flag” indicating whether the relevant restriction was applied to specific regions or the entire country. I will define the start of a lockdown as the first day on which there were mandatory workplace closures and a mandatory stay-at-home order in place for the entire country.

The first example is Israel, which went into lockdown on December 27th, but did not see the peak of its infection curve until January 17th.

The second example is Lebanon, which went into lockdown on November 14th, but did not see the peak of the curve until January 16th.

The third example is Slovakia, which went into lockdown on October 22nd, but did not see the peak of the curve until January 6th.

The fourth example is Slovenia, which went into lockdown on October 20th, but did not see the peak of the curve until January 10th.

The fifth example is Peru, which went into lockdown on March 16th, but did not see the peak of the curve until June 2nd.

The sixth example is Venezuela, which went into lockdown on September 28th, but did not see the peak of the curve until April 6th.

Note that, in every case, the lockdown measures were in place until after the peak of the curve. The fact that cases did not immediately decline, or proceeded to rise again (as in Venezuela), cannot therefore be blamed on the lifting of lockdown measures. 

The evidence presented here is consistent with the many empirical studies finding that lockdowns do not substantially reduce deaths from COVID-19. 

Israel Investigating Link Between Pfizer Vaccine and Heart Problem in Men Under 30

The Israeli Health Ministry has raised concerns that there could be a link between the Pfizer Covid vaccine and heart complications, particularly among younger men. There are currently 62 recorded cases in Israel of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which occurred in the days after vaccination. Pfizer responded saying it has not seen similar reports in other countries where the vaccine has been rolled out, though this could be because few other countries have vaccinated as many young people as Israel. The Times of Israel has the story.

Details from an unpublished Israeli Health Ministry report into the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine have raised concerns that there could be a link between the second shot and several dozen cases of myocarditis… particularly in men under 30, Channel 12 reported Friday.

The concerns come from an intermediate report that was presented to ministry heads and to Pfizer in recent weeks, the TV report said. Excerpts from the leaked report stressed that investigators had not conclusively proved a link, but that they had significant concerns.

The report said that out of more than five million people vaccinated in Israel, there were 62 recorded cases of myocarditis in the days after the shot. It found that 56 of those cases came after the second shot and most of the affected were men under 30.

The report said that 60 of the patients were treated and released from hospital in good condition. Two of the patients, who were reportedly healthy until receiving the vaccination, including a 22 year-old woman and a 35 year-old man, died.

“The findings were presented to the Pfizer company who replied that they had not had similar reports in the rest of the world and would examine the data,” an excerpt from the report said, adding that the details had also been sent to the U.S. FDA and CDC, who were also investigating.

The report was authored by senior ministry officials led by Professor Dror Mevorach, head of one of the Covid units at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.

The authors surmised that “one possible reason for lack of similar findings in other countries was the low rate of vaccinations among young people”.

“There is specific concern regarding the frequency of the occurrence observed in men under 30 in the days immediately after the second shot,” they wrote. “At this stage, according to initial findings that still need to be verified, there is an impression that the number (of cases) is higher than would be expected, especially for those under 30.”

The report found that of those who received the second dose, 1 in 100,000 had possible side effects of myocarditis; however, this number rose to 1 in 20,000 among those aged 16-30.

“We cannot yet tell if there are more cases than normal or if there are similar numbers annually and the proximity is just a coincidence. Efforts to collect more data are continuing,” the report said.

This news comes as the E.U. gets closer to signing off on a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to buy up to 1.8 billion doses of their Covid vaccine. The bloc has come to prefer this vaccine to that produced by AstraZeneca due to a number of factors, some of them political.

The Times of Israel report is worth reading in full.

Gove Ignores Pesky Mask Mandate

Good to see this picture of Michael Gove in the Times of Israel ignoring pointless rules about indoor mask wearing. As you can see, he has set his to one side while he talks to the Israeli Prime Minister on his fact-finding mission in Israel. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is over there to investigate the country’s ‘Green Pass’ system, which is similar to the Covid status certification scheme that he is currently looking into on behalf of the Government.

No doubt when challenged about this, Gove will say he had just temporarily removed his mask in order to speak and promptly put it back on again when he returned to nodding-and-listening mode. But in those indoor spaces where the Government has recommended mask wearing – when out shopping, for instance – the guidance doesn’t say you’re allowed to remove your mask when you’re talking. Surely, if you’re a believer in the magical properties of disposable face nappies, of the type Gove has put aside in this photograph, you think it’s precisely when you’re holding forth at a small gathering that it should be worn? Or is the Gover, who apparently does believe in this voodoo, just worried about being infected by Benjamin Netanyahu and not about infecting him?

Whichever way you cut it, this is an embarrassing photograph for Boris’s right-hand-man.

Civil Service Job Advert Confirms Covid Passports Are In Development

Michael Gove is visiting Israel to review its ‘green pass’ scheme as part of his ongoing review into Covid passports – but new civil service job ads suggest that the introduction of ‘Covid Status Certificates’ (both digital or non-digital) is already underway. Guido Fawkes has the story.

Multiple jobs have now come up in both London and Leeds with NHSX [the tech arm of the NHS], which spells out they are: “Developing both digital and non-digital options to enable U.K. residents to assert their Covid status, including both vaccination history and test results.”

The ad also confirms a rapid timetable, given applicants must be able “to start with us by Tuesday, May 4th, 2021“. The consultation document released by the Government a fortnight ago merely said they had “committed to explore whether and how Covid-status certification might be used to reopen our economy”. Sounds like the “exploring” is over…

It doesn’t take an incredible memory to remember back to February when [Vaccine Minister] Nadhim Zahawi was confidently telling Andrew Marr Covid passports would be “discriminatory”.

In a recent article for the Telegraph – in which he asked readers to give their thoughts on Covid passports and received some great (though not, for him, agreeable) responses – Gove praised Israel’s ‘green pass’ scheme and considered whether something similar could be introduced here.

In Israel, which is one of the few countries to have vaccinated a higher percentage of the population than we have in the U.K., they have been using a ‘green pass’ to get back to normal more quickly. This green pass system allows citizens who’ve been vaccinated, recently recovered from the virus or who’ve had a recent negative test to congregate in venues which had been closed for months such as theatres and nightclubs…

If we do accept that Covid certification is going to be required to travel abroad, the question then follows can these certificates help in other ways? If Israel can accelerate its citizens’ returns to nightclubs, football stadia and theatres with these certificates, might we?

The Guido Fawkes report is worth reading in full.

Israel Begins to Ease Lockdown Restrictions as around 80% Of Its Population Are Now Vaccinated

With almost 80% of its population having been vaccinated, Israel has scrapped the requirement for people to wear face masks outdoors. The rule has been in place – for all outdoor activities not relating to exercise – for the past year. The Mail has the story.

Israel has dropped its almost year-long outdoor mask mandate as it inches towards total immunisation of its adult population. 

The restriction, which required masks to be worn outdoors unless exercising, was lifted on Sunday as Reuters reported that the country had vaccinated around 80% of its adult population. 

“The rate of infection in Israel is very low thanks to the successful vaccine campaign in Israel, and therefore it is possible to ease [restrictions],” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Thursday, adding that masks will still be required indoors.

Israel’s highly successful vaccination campaign has seen close to five million of its 9.3 million people vaccinated, according to Reuters.

The drive has drastically cut hospitalisations and deaths from coronavirus. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu obtained millions of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines in part by agreeing to share with Pfizer medical data on the product’s impact.

The vaccines have transformed life in Israel. In mid-January the country had a peak of some 10,000 new infections a day but the rate is now about 200 cases a day.

The rate of new infections has remained low even after in-person learning resumed and restrictions were loosened on bars, restaurants and indoor gatherings.

Strict measures also remain in place for anyone entering the country with citizens and foreigners alike required to self isolate.   

“We are leading the world right now when it comes to emerging from the coronavirus,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters. “(But) we have still not finished with the coronavirus. It can return.”  

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was a guest of honour at a Government ceremony on Wednesday evening marking the 73rd anniversary of the founding of Israel…

Throughout the festivities marking the anniversary, thousands of people held barbecues, lounged on beaches and celebrated at parties, often without masks.

“Breathing Freely,” read the cover headline of the mass-circulation daily Israel Hayom, as reported by Reuters.

The Mail’s report is worth reading in full.