Israel scrapped rules on wearing face masks indoors on Tuesday, having abandoned its domestic vaccine passes, as the coronavirus infection rate fell to single digits.
As Britain’s hopes of a Covid "Freedom Day" were dashed this week, a very different picture has emerged in Israel, where citizens no longer need to face masks in closed spaces such as supermarkets and banks. Rules on wearing face masks outdoors have already been lifted.
The green pass, a vaccine passport which allowed entry to bars, restaurants and cultural venues, was abandoned on June 1 after it was deemed redundant by Israeli health officials.
It means that Israelis over the past fortnight have also enjoyed unrestricted access to weddings, cinema trips and concerts.
The announcement came just four months after Israel set up the green pass system at the height of its vaccination drive, the fastest in the world.
To date, around 60 per cent of Israelis have been fully vaccinated including 90 per cent of over 50s. However, in the occupied Palestinian territories, fewer than five per cent have been fully vaccinated.
In the United Kingdom, where the population is seven times larger than Israel, only 40 per cent so far have received two jabs.
However, tough restrictions on leaving and entering the country remain in place, and Israeli health experts say this is a key factor which has reduced the infection rate to as few as five or six cases per day – though there was a slight uptick of 24 cases recorded on Monday.
"It’s very clear now that in Israel there is virtually no circulation of Covid, but one thing we mustn’t forget is that Israel still has some of the strictest travel policies in the world," said Prof Michael Edelstein, an epidemiologist at Bar-Ilan University.
Israelis who wish to visit countries deemed a high risk, such as India and Brazil, must apply for a special exemption before they are allowed to travel. In many cases this amounts to a de facto ban on overseas travel, unless the passenger is in special circumstances.
An Israeli youth receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the central Israeli city of Rishon LeZion, Sunday
All incoming visitors from "highest-risk" countries must also go into quarantine for 14 days, even if they have been fully vaccinated, and have government permission. In the United Kingdom, the quarantine period lasts for only ten days.
Israel has removed all countries from its green list, and instead differentiates between "highest risk", "warning" and "notice" and "red" countries. In all cases, the countries are marked out with a thumbs down logo on the Israeli health ministry’s website.
Travellers from countries in the "warning," "notice" and "red" countries can avoid quarantine if they present "valid Israeli vaccination or recovery certificates."
"It’s not really a sustainable model as you cannot forbid people from travelling from years on end, so there will need to be further measures," Prof Edelstein said.
Israel is expected to reopen its tourism programme on July 1 but has not yet disclosed further details, such as whether tourists would need to take Covid tests or present vaccination certificates.
Share of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (Israel Vs UK)
Israelis who had recovered from Covid were not immediately eligible for a vaccine, allowing officials to focus on those at risk of falling seriously ill. There has also been some resistance to the jabs in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities.
There are early indications that the Pfizer vaccine, which is predominant in Israel, is more effective at reducing the spread of coronavirus compared to the UK’s Astra-Zeneca vaccine, Prof Edlestein added.
Then there is the question of the delta variant of Covid, which originated in India and is spreading rapidly through the United Kingdom.
There are no such concerns for Israel, as there is substantially less travel between the Jewish state and India.
"We have had a handful of delta variant cases but due to very strict travel restrictions, we haven’t really seen the spread of the data variant," Prof Edelstein said.
Israel has extended its vaccine drive to those aged 12-15, but as the policy only came into effect on June 6 it is too early to tell if this will have a major impact on infections.