The Jewish New Year starts this Monday (6) and the Jews of Israel – 75% of the population – prepare for the traditional family supper.
The new Jewish day begins with the appearance of the first star, not midnight. The celebration takes place with a dinner just after dark, with foods like apple and honey and pomegranate seeds to wish you a sweet and fruitful year. The most religious go to synagogues to hear the sound of the shofar, an animal horn, played by rabbis to mark the date.
The starting year will be 5782 – the number of years since the creation of the world, according to Jewish tradition. But like last year, the celebration takes place in the shadow of yet another wave of coronaviruses, the fourth since March 2020. According to a survey by the Israel Institute of Democracy, 50% of Israeli Jews would give up the traditional family dinner if they knew that one of the relatives present did not get vaccinated.
A week ago, the number of people infected by the virus per day hovers around 10,000, with a weekly average of 25 deaths per day, high numbers for a country of just 9.3 million inhabitants.
Therefore, many families will have the New Year’s dinner with fewer relatives to avoid crowding, since the restrictions are up to 50 people maximum. Many families are going to party outdoors, and some are even asking unvaccinated people – including children – to get quick tests done before attending.
49% of Israelis find restrictions insufficient
Among those who don’t mind going to parties with unvaccinated people, the majority are young people under 44, who are less concerned about the pandemic. This is also reflected in the percentage of Israelis who believe the country’s government should impose more restrictions to contain infections.
Nearly half of respondents, or 49%, said they believe restrictions on unvaccinated people are not severe enough. But among those over 55, this percentage increases to 61%.
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Currently, Israelis must wear masks indoors and follow the so-called “Green Pass”, a kind of passport to be able to enter places such as restaurants, cafes, hotels, public swimming pools and other places. All Israelis also need to be quarantined when disembarking at the airport, and citizens of some countries – including Brazil – cannot even visit the country.
Almost all of these measures had been abolished in May because of the success of mass vaccination in the country and the drastic drop in the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. But the masks returned at the end of July, with the arrival of the delta variant and the decrease in the effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccines – practically the only one used in the country.
The other restrictions also returned when authorities realized that, in addition to the delta variant being more contagious, the disease became highly detected among people who had taken the two doses for more than five months.
Israel was the first country to start offering, on July 30, the third dose of the vaccine to people over 60 years of age. Afterwards, the age was lowered and today, everyone over 12 years old can receive the booster, as long as the second dose was administered more than 5 months ago. So far, 35% of the population has been immunized with this booster.
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Number of infections starts to fall
There is no doubt that the vaccination campaign is a success in the country. Only 12% of Israelis over the age of 12 have not received the first two doses to date, most fearing the vaccine could harm their health.. But, adding the unvaccinated, children up to 12 years old and those who have not yet received the third dose despite being eligible, there are still many people getting infected.
The results of the third dose are already starting to be measured and the rate of infections and hospitalizations is falling. Authorities believe that the new wave of Covid-19 will soon pass because of the booster vaccine.
Palestinian Vaccination Campaign Is Still Slow
Among Palestinians, vaccination progresses more slowly. The vaccine has been widely available in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since February, when authorities received 2.8 million doses from COVAX – the international vaccine sharing mechanism supported by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Others 4,6 million doses of Pfizer are expected to arrive soon.
However, most Palestinians hesitate to get vaccinated, both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Only about 30% of the 2.8 million Palestinians over the age of 18 have received the first dose of the vaccine so far, according to recent data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. And only 16% are double vaccinated.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, and the Islamic group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, are trying, as they can, to convince the population. They recently ordered civil servants to be vaccinated under penalty of being placed on unpaid vacation.
But they come up against fake news and conspiracy theories circulating throughout the Arab-Muslim world, as well as a lack of trust in medical authorities. The hope is that, little by little, the vaccination campaign will reach more people in the Palestinian territories.