The government of Israel has released a new commercial as part of its campaign to promote its Green Passport, an app to keep track of vaccinated citizens, and encourage more Israelis to get their COVID jabs.
A sunny lunch with a friend, sweating it out in the gym, neon lights and guitar solos—these experiences that may have seemed banal a year ago are now a reverie for a socially distanced world where smiles are obscured by face masks. The Israeli government uses these visuals, set to upbeat music, as a carrot stick in a shiny new commercial to promote its Green Passport, an app it has been positioning as the key to reopening the country. “How much have we missed going out with friends?” a voiceover asks. “With the green pass, doors simply open in front of you. We’re returning to life.”
As citizens around the world continue to receive COVID vaccinations, countries have been debating the merit of issuing a vaccine passport—a government-issued card or digital badge—as proof that one has been inoculated. Israel became the first to roll out its own version on February 21. The country of nine million has had one of the quickest vaccination programmes, having administered jabs to over half its population so far.
Gyms, hotels, theatres and concerts were allowed to resume in Israel a week later, but are accessible exclusively to Green Passport holders. Indoor dining and bars are due to be added under the scheme shortly. The recently released Green Passport commercial is part of the Israeli government’s campaign to encourage those who haven’t been vaccinated yet to sign up for their jabs. “This is how the first stage will look in the return to your almost normal lives,” Israel’s health minister Yuli Edelstein has said. “With the Green Pass, doors just open for you. You could go out to restaurants, work out at the gym, see a show,” another campaign announcement promises.
Governments have been viewing the vaccine passport, which will record and verify citizens’ COVID vaccination status, as a solution to safely resume entertainment and social gatherings in a post-pandemic world, and as a possible way to reopen international borders to travellers without having to impose quarantine. On February 8, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis signed a deal to implement a vaccine passport to allow those who have been vaccinated unrestricted travel between Greece and Israel.
However, there are concerns that a policy that allows only vaccinated citizens to travel and participate in social activities could be discriminatory. The rate COVID vaccines are being rolled out around the globe differs, with wealthier nations likely to have a larger vaccinated population than poorer ones. According to data from January, the Economic Intelligence Unit has projected that only the United States, the UK and some parts of Europe will be fully vaccinated by late 2021. Nations like Pakistan and a majority of Africa might have to wait till early 2023 for complete vaccination.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said such a policy could cause problems, though the British government is also looking into issuing a COVID status certification as it prepares to ease lockdown restrictions this year. “We can’t be discriminatory against people who, for whatever reason, can’t have the vaccine,” he said. Echoing a similar concern, Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University professor and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, told AP, “There’s a huge moral crisis in equity globally because in high income countries like Israel or the United States or the EU countries, we’re likely to get to herd immunity by the end of this year. But for many low-income countries, most people won’t be vaccinated for many years. Do we really want to give priority to people who already have so many privileges?”
Even so, countries such as Thailand, which are heavily dependent on tourism, are hoping a vaccine passport will jumpstart their devastated tourism sector. On March 2, Thailand’s tourism minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn told the media the health ministry is awaiting guidance from the World Health Organisation to implement a vaccine passport scheme that would allow foreign visitors to enter the country without quarantining.