Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Israel’s reopening, and vaccine doses in limbo.

Jonathan Wolfe

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Credit…The New York Times

Nearly 60 percent of Israel’s population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The number of severe cases has dropped. Over the weekend, the country lifted many of the virus restrictions that had been in place for months.

To exit the lockdown, Israel is relying on a Green Passport system that allows vaccinated individuals to re-enter public spaces. For insight into the reopening and how the passport system is working, I spoke to Isabel Kershner, The Times’s correspondent in Jerusalem.

How has daily life changed since the rollout?

The country has opened up the vaccine program to everyone 16 and over, and there’s really a big feeling of relief. Israelis love to sit in cafes and go out to eat — I mean, it really is a national pastime — and they have been closed for much of the last year. Now, since Sunday, they’ve reopened the cafes and restaurants. I’ve called a couple in the last few days and I can’t get in. They’re all full.

How has your life changed?

On a very personal level, we are seeing friends and family again in a much more relaxed way. It’s still mandatory to wear masks when you walk out and about, but your consciousness is just different. I recently walked into the supermarket and noticed that people were looking at me funny and then realized — oh my God, I forgot to put my mask on.

How is the Green Passport system working, for example, at restaurants?

So to sit inside, you have to have the Green Passport, which you download as a government app on your phone and you have to put in your details. And then you can show this app or you can get a printout version.

From what I understand, restaurants are not all checking everybody assiduously. You can kind of flash a document and it might be yours or it might not. They’re not checking your ID and then checking your Green Passport, but they are trying to stick to the regulations at least by asking if you have a Green Passport when you phone to make a reservation.

Of course, it’s a bit awkward for the restaurateurs because they don’t want to be the police, checking people’s documents. I called a restaurant yesterday, one of my old favorites in Jerusalem, and I asked the owner, “How’s it going?” And he said: “Well, actually, it’s really embarrassing. People call and I have to start getting into their personal business. ‘Are you vaccinated?’ And then they start saying, well, I’m not because this, that and the other, and telling me stuff I just don’t want to hear.”

What lessons can the rest of the world learn from Israel’s reopening?

In a way, Israel was this kind of world laboratory for the efficacy of the vaccine, because the government pressed ahead so quickly with the campaign to vaccinate. Now, I think to some degree, Israel has become the test case for all these other legal and ethical questions that arise about what to do with your vaccinated population and, of course, your unvaccinated populations.

There are some people who don’t want to get vaccinated and people who feel their rights are being infringed. And that has created some confusion, and a bit of chaos, and some slightly illogical situations. Are unvaccinated teachers allowed to teach a classroom? Are unvaccinated waiters or bartenders allowed to be in a restaurant full of vaccinated customers? There are still lots of open questions. So one of the lessons is to try to work out some of the pitfalls before you open.

What’s the latest on the campaign to vaccinate the Palestinians?

There’s been a long-running dispute about obligations and responsibilities of Israel as the occupying power. Human rights organizations, international organizations and the Palestinian Authority have strongly argued that Israel is responsible for providing the vaccine to the Palestinian population, especially given that Israeli settlers in the West Bank were receiving the vaccine.

When I first asked the health minister about this early on, he said, our responsibility is toward our own citizens first, and once we’ve vaccinated enough of our own population, if we can, we’ll help. But just in the last few days, there’s been a bit of a turnaround because Israel did begin a campaign to vaccinate about 120,000 Palestinians who hold work permits to work inside Israel or in the settlements.

The Israeli authorities are portraying it as a kind of humanitarian thing. But of course, it’s also in Israel’s interests because diseases don’t have borders. The Palestinian workers come in and out on a daily basis and work together alongside the Israelis who may or may not be vaccinated and then go home to their families in the West Bank, who, for the most part, are still not vaccinated.


Tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are sitting in manufacturing facilities in the United States, awaiting the results of the company’s U.S. clinical trials.

At the same time, the vaccine is already being deployed in more than 70 countries. Some are begging the U.S. for access to the stockpile.

What to do with the doses is the subject of a debate in the White House and among federal health officials, with some arguing the administration should let them go abroad where they are needed while others want to preserve the supply, hoping for regulatory authorization in the coming weeks. The White House’s hesitation is at least partly related to uncertainties with vaccine supply ahead of a self-imposed deadline in May, when President Biden promised that America would have enough vaccine doses for every adult.

To complicate matters, health authorities in Denmark, Norway and Iceland suspended use of the AstraZeneca’s vaccine today because of concerns that it may increase risk for blood clots. So far, there is no evidence of a causal link.

Some federal health officials are pushing the White House to make a decision in the next few weeks on whether to begin sending the AstraZeneca doses to other countries. But for now, tens of millions of doses are stuck in limbo.


On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. One year later, writers, photographers and audio producers from The Times and elsewhere are looking back and sharing their stories of loss and disruption.


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Jonathan Wolfe