[World-news] Israel, UAE see success in pace of Covid-19 vaccine roll-outs

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Israelis are attending pop concerts and football matches. Residents in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are lounging by swimming pools and dining at eateries at midnight. Both countries have set a blistering pace in their vaccine roll-outs.

Israel and the UAE’s small populations, of nine million and close to 10 million, respectively, account for the success in the speed of their vaccination drives, although experts also noted that both acted quickly to secure vaccines.

Israel launched its vaccination drive last Dec 19, and as at Sunday, over 55 per cent of its population have received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Almost 49 per cent have received the full two-dose regime, the country’s Health Ministry said.

As a result, the average number of new infections has fallen by more than 2,500 over the last three weeks. The country logged 974 new cases on Monday, the lowest since late November.

The roll-out of the vaccination campaign allowed the economy to reopen from last month, after three lockdowns, although curbs remain on capacity at venues, face masks are a must outdoors and social distancing is still in place.

Photos and videos posted on social media show cafes brimming with customers, crowded parks and parties spilling onto the streets.

“I am optimistic we will get the upper hand of Covid-19,” Mr Sagi Karni, Israel’s ambassador to Singapore, told The Straits Times.

“With the vaccination, we can further reopen our economy and allow people to go out.”

Israel’s success in taming the virus was made possible through its digitised public health system, repackaging of vaccines and a pro-vaccination society.

The country’s healthcare system requires everyone to sign up to one of four healthcare maintenance organisations. Vaccines were distributed to these organisations, which in turn deployed them to their respective members.

A Reuters report pointed out that the vaccines were repacked into smaller insulated boxes, which could take a small pizza. This allowed for distribution in smaller numbers and at more remote sites.

The drive to encourage people to get vaccinated worked so well there were reports of young people queueing at vaccination centres hoping to get leftover doses.

Assistant Professor Eran Toch, 45, who got his shots in January, said it was an emotional moment. “After a year of uncertainty, there was finally hope,” the Tel Aviv University academician told ST.

Meanwhile, the UAE has inoculated about 7.3 million people.

Having vaccinated its most vulnerable residents, the Gulf emirate is now allowing all residents above the age of 16 to get their shots at any of its 205 vaccination centres.

The UAE became the first country in the world to approve China’s Sinopharm vaccine for widespread use, in early December last year.

The move came after it vaccinated front-line health workers and government officials from September, when the vaccine was still in Phase 3 clinical trials.

The government has also approved the Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines – all of which are dispensed free to residents.

The vaccination drive could not have come at a better time. The number of new cases in the UAE spiked up to nearly 4,000 in late January, from about 600 last September, after visitors descended on the tiny desert kingdom during the peak winter tourism season.

The rate dipped after the authorities tightened restrictions at public venues. Some curbs have since been eased, but mask-wearing in public and social distancing are still required.

The country recorded 1,871 new cases on Monday.

“You get your temperature checked before going into shopping malls and sometimes they have spray booths set up and you walk through them before entering,” said Ms Karen, a resident who wanted to be known only by her first name.

“Although it’s certainly not like pre-Covid times, it’s great that we can still go to the gym, shop and work while carrying on with the safety measures,” said the 32-year-old business executive.

At a virtual discussion organised by the Atlantic Council think-tank last month, UAE health sector spokesman Farida Al Hosani said the Gulf state’s vaccination drive benefited from coordinated government action, strong leadership, public awareness campaigns and simple vaccination registration procedures using a Health Ministry app.

The health authorities also worked with the state’s religious leaders to drive home the message that the vaccines were permissible under Islam.

Some residents, though, are remaining cautious.

“My family and I avoid crowded places like big malls and open markets… almost every weekend, we will spend our time hiking at various mountains,” said Singaporean Rosebi Mohd Sah, 61, who has been living in Dubai for three years with his wife and son.

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