As the world waits for vaccines to return to normalcy, Israel is showing how long and steep the road will be.
With nearly half of its population of 9.3 million having received at least one vaccine, Israel has administered more Covid vaccines per capita than anywhere else in the world. He bet on this deployment to start reopening his economy. On Sunday, theaters, sports arenas, hotels and gymnasiums were allowed to open their doors to people who can show – using a “green pass” mobile application – that they have had both vaccines or have recovered from the coronavirus. The 30% of the population eligible for the pass can access gymnasiums, swimming pools and other similar facilities.
But while it does bring hope for businesses that have been shut down for months and for economies around the world that have spent billions of dollars supporting people during lockdowns, Israel is showing a new emerging standard that might not look like much. in the pre-pandemic world for a while. come.
Take Niza Ben Zvi’s Haifa Theater in northern Israel, for example. He’s getting ready for his first in-person show since the summer.
“I saw all the lights in the hall and my heart filled,” said Ben Zvi, general manager of the theater. “I hope that’s it. We’re done, we’re coming back and there are no more restrictions.
However, while he has sold his shows for the “Bargain Market” cabaret which begins at the end of February, he can only occupy half of the theater since the guests must sit separately in capsules. This is not enough income to cover big budget productions like musicals.
Similar stories are unfolding across Israel as citizens prepare for the post-lockdown world. Companies are cautiously ramping up their operations, social distancing remains unheard of, and consumers are still wary. With vaccination certificates expiring after six months, it will be some time before people can put the pandemic behind them.
At Isrotel Ltd., one of the largest hotel chains in the country, executives are reopening most sites, but rooms are filled to about 50% of capacity this week, below normal for this time of year. year, according to group operations director Amit Bahat.
The Beitar Jerusalem football team don’t think it’s worth bringing fans to their home Teddy Stadium as part of the green-pass program, even though it has been empty for almost a year. That’s because the stadium will only be allowed to occupy 500 of its more than 30,000 seats, not enough to justify the cost of opening, said Beitar CEO Mony Brosh.
“I still don’t know what the opening will look like,” he added.
Other key economic drivers remain on hold. Tourism is almost non-existent as the country’s main airport is closed to almost all flights until early March.
After an economic contraction of 2.4% last year, the Bank of Israel predicts growth of over 6% this year if rapid vaccination campaigns continue. Risks remain, especially if a new vaccine-resistant variant circulates. Another risk is that the government – which faces the March 23 elections – fails to provide sufficient budget support to facilitate the economic transition.
“The question now is how to carefully withdraw the stimulus so as not to waste money and become dependent on government support on the one hand,” said Adi Brender, head of the macroeconomic and policy division of the bank’s research department. central. And “on the other hand, don’t kill the momentum, leave people helpless too soon.”
Israel’s rapid vaccine rollout helped boost its currency, placing it among the top performers in the world at the start of the year. Local stock gauges have surpassed the S&P 500 since the start of the year.
But after a rapid start, the pace of vaccinations has slowed from the first weeks and authorities are raising the possibility of a regulation to appoint the unvaccinated and require that people in certain professions such as teaching get vaccinated or submit. to frequent testing.
‘Don’t feel it’
If the current stage of reopening goes well, Israel will take steps to allow restaurants and cafes to open for full service in early March, building on current restrictions on take-out and deliveries.
As elsewhere in the world, the pandemic has hammered the restaurant industry. More than 4,000 restaurants out of a total of 14,000 have closed, said Tomer Moore, who heads a trade association. During the pandemic, the sector’s workforce fell by 80% to just 50,000 workers. Additionally, the costs associated with the reopening could be too high for an additional 2,000 restaurants, Moore said.
This steep barrier to reopening leads Jonathan Borowitz, chef and owner of the famous M25 grill house in Tel Aviv, to plan a slow reopening.
Instead of about 20 dishes on the menu, it will reopen with five or six basics like kebabs and a stuffed meat pita called Arais. Hours of operation may be shorter as it is not sure to have enough staff to operate 12 hours a day. With a reopening price of 140,000 shekels ($ 42,800), he remains suspicious.
“I still don’t feel the urgency to fill all of our refrigerators and put all that money on the shelves,” he said. “I still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
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