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What Israel’s lockdown easing plan may tell us about Boris Johnson’s roadmap

World leader in the vaccination race begins staged exit from the country’s third shutdown

While vaccine nationalism has left many countries at loggerheads during the Covid pandemic, relations between Israel and the UK appear to have been given a booster shot by the jabs rollout race.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been in regular contact with his Israeli counterpart, Yuli Edelstein, with the pair reportedly sharing tips to put in place speedy national immunisation campaigns.

And with a tentative lifting of Israel’s third lockdown now beginning, the allied nation’s plan may offer an insight into what to expect when Boris Johnson lay out the UK’s roadmap to normality later this month.

Slow and steady

Israel is leading the global race to vaccinate populations against the coronavirus, with almost 70 doses administered for every 100 people in the Middle Eastern country, according to latest tracking from Oxford University

That success has led Israel to become one of the first countries in the world to record a fall in Covid infections in areas with higher levels of vaccinations.

Indeed, data released by the Israeli Health Ministry has shown “the first clear sign worldwide that Covid-19 jabs are preventing illness following a mass inoculation campaign”, says the Financial Times. A “striking divergence” has emerged in terms of infections “between the older citizens - who have received the jabs - and younger people”, the paper reports.

A recent analysis by a team from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science found that case rates had fallen by 46% among people aged over 60 since mid-January, compared with 18% among younger demographics. 

The country is still recording a daily average of 6,500 new Covid cases, however, so ending the lockdown will be a slow process.

As of Sunday morning, “nature reserves, national parks, heritage sites, and Israel Antiquities Authority sites” have been allowed to reopen, along with “businesses that do not cater to the public” and “businesses with individual interactions” such as hairdressers, The Times of Israel reports. People are no longer required to stay within 1,000 metres of their home, and holiday rentals may host single households.  

The government will also “partially reopen schools in towns where more than 70% of over 50s have been vaccinated”, adds The Telegraph’s Middle East correspondent James Rothwell. 

And children in nursery and those between aged 6-9 and 17-18 are allowed back from today under the new strategy, “which prioritises those leaving school and those just starting”, he continues.

The next stage of Israel’s lockdown is expected to end on 23 February, when “street shops, malls, gyms, culture and sporting events, museums, libraries and hotels reopen in accordance with health rules”.

However, the easing of these measures will only be allowed on the conditions that at least three million Israelis have received their second vaccine shot; at least 90% of over-50s are vaccinated; 900 or fewer Covid patients are in serious condition; and the R rate is below one

Finally, on 3 March, “cafes and restaurants will be allowed to fully reopen, though a vaccine certificate will be needed for larger cultural events such as concerts”, says Rothwell. A total of four million Israelis, including 95% of over-50s, are expected to have received both doses by this point.

Israel has also imposed a total ban on international flights during the latest lockdown lockdown, and has closed its land borders with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories of West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

These restrictions will remain in place until at least 20 February, although citizens stuck abroad will be permitted to return on special flights and will then be transferred to quarantine hotels upon arrival.

Johnson’s roadmap

If London is getting intel from Israel on how to exit lockdown, the same route would see “non-essential shops, gyms, sporting events, museums and libraries have to wait until late May to reopen” in the UK, says The Telegraph.

Cafes and restaurants “would have to wait a week or two longer until early June”, while schools would not be ready to readmit students until “mid-May”, the paper continues.

However, if Johnson were to tweak the Israeli criteria so that the lifting is conditional on patients receiving one dose of the vaccine, rather than two, “the dates for schools, non-essential shops and restaurants would move forward to late February and mid to late March respectively”.

This time frame ties up with reports last week that the prime minister intends to open schools in March, followed by the reopening of non-essential shops in April and then pubs and restaurants in May.

Johnson has pledged to publicly share his roadmap to normality in the week beginning 22 February, so whether the UK is following Israel’s lead has yet to be confirmed.

But with its finance minister, Israel Katz, promising that Israel is emerging from what will be “absolutely the final lockdown”, many Brits may hope that Downing Street has similar plans.

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