TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Violet light bathed the club’s stage as 300 people, masked and socially estranged, erupted in gentle applause. For the first time since the pandemic began, Israeli musician Aviv Geffen stepped up to his electric piano and began to play for an audience seated across from him.
“A miracle is happening here tonight,” Geffen told the crowd.
Still, the resuscitation experience Monday night above a shopping mall north of Tel Aviv was not accessible to everyone. Only people who showed a “green passport” showing they had been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 could enter.
The highly controlled concert offered a glimpse into a future many long for after months of COVID-19 restrictions. Governments say getting vaccinated and having the proper documentation will make travel, entertainment and other social gatherings easier in a post-pandemic world.
But it also raises the possibility of further dividing the world in terms of wealth and access to vaccines, creating ethical and logistical problems that have alarmed decision makers around the world.
Other governments are watching Israel go through the world’s fastest vaccination program and grapple with the ethics of using vaccines as currency and diplomatic power.
Within Israel, green passports or credentials obtained through an app are the currency of the kingdom. The country recently reached agreements with Greece and Cyprus to recognize each other’s green badges, and more such agreements are expected to boost tourism.
Anyone unwilling or unable to receive the immunity-conferring blows will be “left behind,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.
“It’s really the only way forward right now,” Geffen said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Controls at the club gates, which only admitted those who could prove they were fully vaccinated, allowed at least a semblance of normalcy.
“People cannot live their life in the new world without them,” he said. “We must get vaccinated. Must.”
The vaccine is not available to everyone in the world, either because of supply or cost. And some people don’t want it, for religious or other reasons. In Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, only about half of the adult population has received the two necessary doses.
There is new pressure from the government to promote vaccines. Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday passed a law allowing the Health Ministry to release information about people who have not yet been vaccinated. Under the policy, names can be released to ministries of education, labor, social affairs and social services, as well as local governments, “for the purpose of allowing these bodies to encourage people to get vaccinated.”
The government appeals to the emotional longing for the company of others, in Israel’s famous open-air markets, at concerts like Geffen’s, and elsewhere.
“With the Green Pass, the doors just open for you. You could go to restaurants, work out at the gym, see a show, “read an ad on February 21, the day that much of the economy reopened after a six-week shutdown.
He then posed a question at the center of the global quest to conquer the pandemic that has hampered economies and killed nearly 2.5 million people:
“How to get the pass? Go get vaccinated right now. “
It’s that simple in Israel, which has enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone over the age of 16, although the government has been criticized for sharing only small amounts with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that he intends to send the excess vaccine to some of the country’s allies. Israel’s attorney general said Thursday night that the plan has been frozen while it reviews legalities.
Most countries do not have enough vaccines, highlighting the tense ethical landscape of who can receive it and how to ease the burden of COVID-19.
“The fundamental principle of human rights is fairness and non-discrimination,” said Lawrence Gostin, professor at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law.
“There is a huge moral crisis in equity globally because in high-income countries like Israel or the United States or the EU countries, we are likely to get herd immunity later this year,” he said. But for many low-income countries, most people will not be vaccinated for many years. Do we really want to prioritize people who already have so many privileges? “
It is a question that haunts the international community as the richest countries begin to gain ground against the coronavirus and some of its variants.
Last April, the initiative known as COVAX was formed by the WHO, with the initial goal of bringing vaccines to poor countries around the same time that vaccines were being rolled out in rich countries. It fell short of that goal, and 80% of the 210 million doses administered worldwide have been administered in just 10 countries, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week.
Ghana became the first of 92 countries to get vaccines for free through the initiative on Wednesday. COVAX announced that some 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have reached the African nation. That’s a fraction of the 2 billion injections the WHO intends to do this year.
As those countries begin to get vaccinated, wealthier nations begin to talk about logistics, security, privacy, and “green passport” policies.
The British government said it is studying the possibility of issuing some kind of “COVID status certification” that could be used by employers and organizers of large events as it prepares to ease lockdown restrictions this year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the policy could cause problems.
“We cannot discriminate against people who, for whatever reason, cannot receive the vaccine,” he said.
Many countries in Europe are struggling to develop their own vaccine certification systems to help revive summer travel, raising the risk that different systems will not function properly across continent borders.
“I think there is great potential for not working well together,” said Andrew Bud, CEO of facial biometrics company iProov, which is testing its digital vaccination passport technology within the UK’s National Health Service.
But the technical knots around vaccine passports may be the easiest to work out, he said.
The biggest challenges “are mainly ethical, social, political and legal. How to balance the fundamental rights of citizens … with benefits for society ”.
Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Kelvin Chan in London contributed.
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