Throughout history, vaccines have proven miraculous, virtually eliminating smallpox, diphtheria, polio and other diseases. Today, they are on the verge of liberating us from COVID-19. The epicenter of the latter is Israel, which is serving as an encouraging example for the entire world. Since the onset of the pandemic, Israel has lost more than 6,000 people to the coronavirus. This is no small number, and the country continues to mourn every individual among the dead, writes Fiamma Nirenstein.
But at the peak of the pandemic in January, the death toll averaged 79 per day, and now, since the delivery and distribution of the vaccine, the daily average is about 15-20, which is a significant decline. This means that though the event is not over, it is on the way out. This miracle is happening in an Israeli way. On 9 December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally welcomed the first shipment of Pfizer’s BioNTech vaccines at Ben-Gurion International Airport. By the time that the first batch of Moderna vials arrived on Jan. 7, Israel had already set in motion a determined and inventive vaccination campaign.
This is not to say that there weren’t pitfalls along the way. Indeed, many members of the country’s haredi and Arab communities both flouted the coronavirus restrictions on the one hand and were suspicious of the vaccine on the other.>> Yet, just as was the case during the 1967 Six-Day War, when the best elements of Israel’s culture of survival was on display—surprising a paralyzed world—the Jewish state took the initiative, striking first and then winning the battle against enemies bent on its destruction.
In an interview with Channel 12 News on March 11, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla explained why he chose Israel as a case study for his company’s vaccines. His reply was that he was “impressed with the obsession of your prime minister”.
Netanyahu “called me 30 times,” Bourla said. “He would call me at 3 a.m. and he would ask me: ‘What about the variants? What data do we have?’ I would say, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, it’s 3 o’clock,’ and he would say ‘No, no, don’t worry, tell me.’ Or he would call me to ask about children, saying 'I need to vaccinate the schools'. Or to ask about pregnant women. He convinced me, frankly, that he would be on top of things. And I know that the Israelis have so much experience with managing crises, because of the situation that they live in, surrounded by hostile nations and living under this almost constant war situation. So, I felt that they can do it, and I felt that the leader was really going to guarantee that this will happen.”
From the very beginning of the crisis, Netanyahu appeared on TV day after day, illustrating how to don a mask and wash one’s hands, appealing to the public to engage in social distancing. He begged citizens to stay at home during three long lockdowns, to protect themselves, their children and their parents.
Israel was indeed “obsessive” about maintaining public safety, issuing fines for violations, even when demonstrations against him specifically and coronavirus regulations in general increased dramatically. Health-care personnel acted lovingly—like Jewish (or Italian) mothers, even as hospitals operated at maximum capacity; and the Israel Defense Forces mobilized troops for help with COVID-19 testing and aid to families in quarantine.
Initially, while distributing the vaccine according to the age of recipients—beginning with those 60 and above—anyone who sought to get ahead of the line was almost always allowed to do so. Very soon afterwards, the age of recipients was younger and younger, with 16-year-olds getting injected. Some of these jumped at the opportunity in order to resume classroom activity ahead of their matriculation exams. Others, perhaps accompanying their parents or grandparents to vaccination centers, were asked if they’d like to take the jab.
“OK, sit down,” they’d be told. “Are you allergic to anything? Wait outside for half an hour after the injection.” For the past week, people in Tel Aviv have been practically dancing in the streets, dining at restaurants and attending the theater—needing to present a “green pass” to show that they either received two doses of the vaccine or had recovered from the virus.
True, perhaps they should be a little less excited and a bit more prudent. But the easing of the mandate to wear masks outdoors is already being planned. And what a day that will be when the main symbol of the pandemic disappears. Meanwhile, quick COVID-19 tests outside of eateries and other venues, such as sports arenas, are in the works for those not in possession of a “green pass”. This means that soon young children will be able to accompany their parents to places that currently are restricted to them. And though many airports around the world are still semi-closed—including in Israel—Israelis are now able to vacation in Greece, Cyprus and Georgia.
We are not witnessing a magical disappearance of COVID-19, but rather the historic event of the vaccines’ effectiveness. Since Dec. 20, 2020, 90% of Israelis above the age of 50 have been vaccinated; 81% of those aged 40-49; 46% of those aged 30-39; 69% of those aged 20-29; and 51% of those aged 16-19. By Wednesday morning (March 17), 5,140,261 Israelis had received the first dose of the vaccine, 4,362,416 had received both doses and the rate of infection, at 0.76%, was on a steady decline, as was the number (578) of critically ill patients. Will the vaccine totally succeed?
This depends on a few factors, among them the variants of the virus and common sense. It is undeniable that the Israeli character is characterized by more ingenuity and chutzpah—the special type of impudence that propelled Netanyahu to phone Bourla in the middle of the night—than patience. Nevertheless, Israel is a world leader where vaccination is concerned. The attention of the international media demonstrates this, as does Israel’s alliance with various European states to design a common strategy for the future distribution of vaccines to other countries and to Palestinians at border-crossings.
On the day of my own vaccination, I felt a sense of historical purpose—a common bond of salvation. Let this be the case all over the world.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Coronavirus: Practical advice for safe travel
After months of lockdown, travel and tourism have slowly restarted. Discover what the EU recommends to ensure safe journeys, Society.
While people need to take precautions and follow health and safety instructions from national authorities, the European Commission has come up with guidelines and recommendations to help you to travel safely:
- Re-open EU: a portal with the latest updates on travel conditions and safety measures in the EU
- The EU Digital Covid Certificate, which facilitates safe travel by proving that you are vaccinated, have a negative test result or have recovered from COVID
- Mobile coronavirus contact tracing applications
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency recommends the following when flying:
- Don’t travel if you have symptoms like cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell
- Complete your statement of health before checking in and check in online if possible
- Ensure you have enough face masks for the journey (they should usually be changed every four hours)
- Leave enough time for extra checks and procedures at the airport;have all documents ready
- Wear a medical face mask, practice hand hygiene and physical distancing
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow
- Limit your movement in the plane
Parliament has been insisting since March 2020 on a strong and co-ordinated EU action to overcome the crisis in the tourism sector, when it called for a new European strategy to make tourism cleaner, safer and more sustainable as well as for help to get the sector back on its feet after the pandemic
Find out more on what the EU is doing to fight the coronavirus.
Find out more
Warning signs for global recovery as Delta dims outlook
A drubbing in world equity markets and a huge flight to safety into US Treasuries this week suggests investors now doubt that a much-anticipated return to post-COVID normality is feasible any time soon, write Saikat Chatterjee and Ritvik Carvalho.
Data from the United States and China, which account for more than half of world growth, suggests a slowdown in the recent blistering pace of the global economy alongside rising prices for all manner of goods and raw materials.
Coinciding with a resurgence in the Delta variant of COVID-19, markets may be sending alarm signals about the global economic outlook, Deutsche Bank chief FX strategist George Saravelos told clients.
"As prices have risen, the consumer has been cutting back demand rather than bringing forward consumption. This is the opposite of what one would expect if the environment was genuinely inflationary and it shows the global economy has a very low speed limit," Saravelos wrote.
That sentiment was evident in the latest flow data too. Bank of America Merill Lynch flagged "stagflation" concerns for the second half of 2021, noting slowing inflows into stocks and outflows from high-yield assets.
Data on hedge funds' weekly currency positioning is the closest available real-time indicator of investors' thinking about the $6.6 trillion a day foreign exchange markets.
With the dollar at its highest since end-March, latest Commodity Futures Trading Commission data shows net long positions on the dollar against a basket of major currencies is the biggest since March 2020. Positioning had dropped to a net short bet as recently as early June.
Dollar appreciation against the euro and emerging market currencies is unsurprising given economic uncertainty, said Ludovic Colin, senior portfolio manager at Vontobel Asset Management.
"Whenever Americans get worried about growth at home or globally, they repatriate money and buy dollars," he added.
In recent months, investors optimistic about an economic recovery sent a flood of cash into so-called cyclical sectors such as banks, leisure and energy. These are, in short, companies that benefit from an economic recovery.
The tide may now be going out.
Instead "growth" stocks, especially technology, has outperformed its value counterparts by more than 3 percentage points since the start of July. Many clients of Goldman Sachs believe the cyclical rotation was a short-lived phenomenon driven by recovery from an unusual recession, the bank said.
Defensive stocks such as utilities are back in favour too. A basket of value stocks compiled by MSCI is testing its lowest levels for this year against defensive peers, having risen 11% in the first six months of 2021.
Early this year, the dollar's trajectory was determined by the interest rate differentials enjoyed by U.S. debt over its rivals, with correlations peaking in May.
While real or inflation-adjusted US yields are still higher than their German counterparts, the drop in nominal US yields below 1.2% this week has raised concern over the global growth outlook.
Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX at Commerzbank, said that if global production and consumption did not return to 2019 levels soon, then a permanently lower GDP path has to be assumed. This is reflected to some extent in bond markets.
Investor sentiment has become more cautious, according to weekly polls by the American Association of Individual Investors. BlackRock, the world's biggest investment manager, cut U.S. equities to neutral in its mid-year outlook.
Stephen Jen, who runs hedge fund Eurizon SLJ Capital, noted that because China's business cycle was ahead of that of the United States or Europe, weaker data there is filtering through to investor sentiment in the West.
Popular reflation trades in the commodity markets have also gone into reverse. A ratio of gold/copper prices has fallen 10% after rising to more than 6-1/2 year highs in May.
Push to get wary Russians vaccinated leaves some COVID clinics short
Alexander tried three times over 10 days to get his first dose of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in his home town of Vladimir. Twice, supplies ran out as he was standing in the queue, writes Polina Nikolskaya.
"People line up from 4 a.m. although the centre opens at 10 a.m.," the 33-year-old said, as he finally entered the walk-in vaccination room in the town, where gold-domed medieval churches attract crowds of tourists in normal years.
A third wave of COVID-19 infections has lifted reported daily deaths in Russia to record highs in recent weeks and sluggish demand for vaccines from a wary population has finally begun to grow with a big official push to boost uptake.
The switch poses a challenge for Russia, which has signed contracts to supply Sputnik V to countries around the world.
With vaccination now compulsory in some Russian regions for people working in jobs involving close contact with the public such as waiters and taxi drivers, shortages have appeared.
"At the last minute we all decided to get vaccinated at the same time," Maria Koltunova, a representative of the Vladimir regional health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor told reporters on July 16. "This has caused a problem."
Late last month, after several Russian regions reported shortages of the vaccine, the Kremlin blamed them on growing demand and storage difficulties which it said would be resolved in the coming days. Read more.
At the appointment desks of four clinics in different towns in the wider Vladimir region last week, Reuters was told that no shots were available at this time. The earliest appointments available were next month, all said they could not give a date.
The industry ministry said it was working with the health ministry to close the demand gap in places where it had jumped. The health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Russia is producing 30 million sets of doses per month, the industry ministry said, and can gradually scale that up to a monthly figure of 45-40 million doses over the next few months.
Overall, almost 44 million full doses of all vaccines have been released for the vaccination of Russia's 144 million people, the industry minister said last week.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered the government on Monday to check what vaccines were available.
The country does not provide data for vaccine exports and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, declined to comment.
A laboratory in India said last week the country's full rollout would have to be put on hold until the Russia producer provides equal quantities of its two doses, which are different sizes. Read more.
Argentina and Guatemala have also reported delays to promised supplies. Read more.
Despite launching its vaccine rollout in January and approving four homegrown vaccines for domestic use, Russia had given only around 21% of its entire population one shot by July 9, according to data provided by health minister Mikhail Murashko, although counting only adults, that would be higher.
The Kremlin earlier cited ‘nihilism’ among the population; some Russians have cited distrust, both of new drugs and government programmes.
Around 12% of the 1.4 million people in the Vladimir region 200 km (125 miles) east of Moscow had been vaccinated by July 12, data provided by local officials showed. Some people said the sudden uptick in demand for shots was due to a spate of government policies.
These included a week-long regional requirement to prove vaccination against, or recent recovery from, COVID-19 with QR codes to enter cafes and other venues. The policy was cancelled amid an outcry from business and shortages of vaccine. read more
The region also ordered some public sector and service sector businesses to inoculate at least 60% of their employees with one dose by August 15. Cafe owners Dmitry Bolshakov and Alexander Yuriev said oral recommendations came earlier.
Third-time lucky vaccine recipient Alexander, who gave only his first name due to the sensitivity of the issue, said he had queued for the shot of his own accord after his local clinic said it could not offer one until late August.
But nine out of 12 people approached by Reuters at the city’s vaccination centres said they did not want to be vaccinated but had been pressured by their employers. The local governor's office and the health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In one Vladimir café called ZZZed, owner Yuriev had, along with officials, set up a centre for vaccinations, starting with the city’s restaurant workers. People filled out their consent forms sitting at the bar, under a disco ball.
"We have a queue now of about 1,000 people," Yuriev said. With demand up, shortages of shots are the next obstacle. "We are limited by the lack of vaccines in the region," he said.
The acting head of the local health watchdog, Yulia Potselueva, told reporters on July 16 that the problem of vaccine supply would be solved in the near future.
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