TEL AVIV – Alarm bells were ringing in Israel on Jan 20, when the number of Covid-19 deaths crossed the 100 mark for the first time. The country had just begun its vaccination programme a month before, on Dec 19, and policymakers had been forced to impose and then extend unpopular lockdowns, in a bid to curb the spread of the disease.
Now, just four months after the grim toll, the country has removed all coronavirus restrictions and is set to welcome vaccinated tourists from overseas from next week.
The remarkable turnaround has been made possible by a rapid vaccine roll-out that has inoculated 58.8 per cent of its population, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker.
The success story of the nation of just 9.05 million people could be cause for celebration in Singapore, which has so far vaccinated 41.1 per cent of its population and aims to give two-thirds of all adult residents two doses of the vaccine by National Day.
Israel’s success can be judged by the statistics: The country saw just 89 new cases and one death on Tuesday (June 22), down from a high of 11,934 cases on Jan 27, when 92 new deaths were recorded.
The feat was made possible by Israel’s aggressive vaccine purchase strategy, even as other nations hesitated to administer the novel formulations.
But there is evidence that the inoculation effort has stuttered in recent months. From a high of 193,000 jabs being given every day on Jan 26, the vaccination rate has now dropped to just 3,413 doses per day on average.
Nevertheless, Israel’s achievement has allowed the country to attain some modicum of normalcy in troubled times. The vaccination drive has seen the daily positivity rate – the percentage of people who test positive for Covid-19 – at just 0.1 per cent over a seven-day period as at Monday. This marks a steep fall from Sept 30 and Oct 1 last year, when 13 per cent of all test results came back positive.
Furthermore, evidence indicates that vaccinated individuals are 30 times less likely to contract Covid-19 than unvaccinated people. And should a vaccinated person get infected, the hospitalisation rate is 10 times lower than for those who did not get a jab.
The hospitalisation rate across age groups for fully vaccinated people is just 0.3 per 100,000 on a daily basis, and the mortality rate is 0.1 per 100,000.
The statistics were seen as enough of a reason for Israel’s Ministry of Health to remove all Covid-19 restrictions from the start of June, including a “Green Pass” system that allows greater freedoms for vaccinated people. In addition, the ministry recently announced an end to the requirement for face masks indoors, in schools and on public transportation.
That is likely to give cheer to Singaporean policymakers as well, as proof of the merits of the island’s own vaccine strategy.