“Each show which we have announced in the last 14 days was sold out in like four or five hours, which is not regular in Israel,” Weiss told CNN. “In Israel, when people see an ad, see that a show is coming, they don’t normally storm the box office … Now, though, the situation is completely different. Every show which is announced, you see people rushing, blocking our internet site … All the shows are sold out within hours. People are desperate to see shows here.”
There are still restrictions and rules in place, such as masks in closed spaces and capacity limits for any indoor and outdoor space. A vaccination certificate or “green pass” — showing a person is either inoculated or can prove they have coronavirus antibodies from a previous infection — is required for most indoor social activities or large-scale events. And the country is still mostly closed to outside visitors — even first-degree relatives of Israeli residents must receive special permission to enter, although the government announced that vaccinated tour groups will be allowed to visit the country after May 23.
But for Israelis, there is a sense that their country is one of the first to experience what life may be like on the other side of the pandemic.
“I am happy to say that we are indeed progressing [into] our post-Covid days,” Weiss said, adding that by June organizers expect to return to normal capacity events in big stadiums. “Local shows are doing great … It’s happening, it’s a big celebration.”
It’s not that most Israelis think coronavirus is completely over. Even though masks are not required outdoors, many people can still be seen wearing them walking down the street.
Shopping for clothes near the central market in Jerusalem, Dror Langer said he’s not sure Israel has moved past the pandemic.
“People are still afraid, I wear a mask, I can see other people are wearing a mask, but we hope everything is finished,” Langer told CNN. “We have the feeling everything is finished, everything is open, people are happy, going to hotels, going on weekend trips, every restaurant, every hotel is fully booked.”
Sitting outside at a restaurant in Jerusalem, Michal Ahmbadi cradled her newborn baby while finally enjoying a food tasting session she and her husband had booked before the pandemic.
“There’s still some leftover feeling of coronavirus, like needing a mask in an indoor place. But there really is a feeling like we’ve returned to normalcy,” she said. “I’m less worried (about new mutations coming in), but in my opinion it needs to happen gradually, all of the issues around reopening the skies and the return of tourists from abroad, it has to be totally gradual.”
According to Israel’s Ministry of Health, a large majority of those eligible for the vaccine have received at least one dose — every age group from 20 upwards is at least 75% vaccinated with one shot — although there are still hundreds of thousands left to inoculate. But one of the country’s top coronavirus experts, Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science, said he believes that the vaccines have nearly eradicated Covid-19 from Israel.
“[H]erd immunity is not binary, but I do think that we reached a high level of immunity such that outbreaks are now highly unlikely (unless a variant that bypasses vaccines arrives),” Segal told CNN.
According to Segal’s calculations, since Israel’s last infection peak in mid-January there are 98% fewer cases, and 87% fewer deaths. Around 85% of the population that is over 16 years old has already been vaccinated or has some form of immunity from a previous infection, his data shows.
The economic situation is reflecting that optimism. According to the Bank of Israel, the Israeli economy is “recovering at a rapid pace,” and the monthly unemployment rate for March dropped below 10%, compared to 14% in February.
For Israelis like Langer, happiness at the improving situation is tempered by the constant worry that more vaccines will be needed or further restrictive measures will return.
“Who knows what will happen,” he said. “But life is too short and we have to live.”