Lessons from Israel's COVID-19 pandemic response

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — Israel is among the countries currently leading in terms of pandemic response. What lessons can our government learn from it?

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz shared Tuesday that two major elements are helping them recover from the virus ahead of other nations — a speedy vaccine rollout and a "very efficient" healthcare system tied to public health insurance.

"No private sector is involved, only the government and HMOs (health maintenance organizations). Technology helps us to access most of our population and almost 80% of those eligible to receive the vaccine are vaccinated," Harpaz shared.

As early as March, 5 million Israelis have already been fully vaccinated against the virus. Over 30,000 Filipinos, mostly caregivers, have also received their free COVID-19 shots to date, he added.

Now, Israel is preparing for the vaccination of its younger population after drugmaker Pfizer-BioNTech reported 100% efficacy of its vaccine to participants aged 12 to 15 years old based on its Phase 3 trial.

"We are just waiting for the decision of the Food and Drug Administration regarding the vaccination of children. And that’s the next step probably," Harpaz said.

Harpaz noted that Israel has secured long-term vaccine agreements with Pfizer and US manufacturer Moderna until 2022 to protect the public against the disease, as well as other COVID-19 variants. Once Israel gets a "green light" to share its vaccines, he said the Philippines will be among the priority countries to get a supply.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has also incentivized its vaccination efforts by allowing those who have completed their shots to attend public events and travel to some countries.

"People who receive the vaccine are wearing a green badge, allowing them to go to sports events, to rock concerts, and even travel abroad," Hapaz shared. "We also have travelling agreements with some countries like Greece and Cyprus and if you are vaccinated by vaccines which are approved by these countries, you can enter without any problem."

"An OFW who was vaccinated in Israel who returns to Manila for vacation and returns to Israel [does not need to undergo] quarantine," he added. "Only do a test and that’s it."

Hapaz added that Israel's economy is starting to recuperate, with its unemployment declining from 40% to 8%. The government has fully reopened schools, and people are not required to wear their masks anymore when going outdoors.

Foreign news organizations reported that Israel only registered 13 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the lowest number of daily cases in the country in more than a year.

But even Israel has learned crucial lessons to improve its pandemic response and fully go back to normalcy.

"We learned a lesson. We need to strengthen our healthcare system, our hospitals, our nurses, our doctors, and those who are working in the private and public sector," Harpaz said.

"We learned that you can do things from a distance," he added. "The government today knows better how to confront this challenge."