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Israel and Bahrain on Thursday reached what Israel calls the world’s first bilateral agreement for the mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccine passports for non-quarantine travel between two countries, an Israeli diplomat who helped forge the deal told NPR. .
“This is the most effective way to allow the movement of people between countries,” says Ilan Fluss, head of the economic division of the Israeli foreign ministry. “Many countries are evaluating the tests, but they are not enough.”
Israel, one of the most vaccinated per capita populations in the world, is a major proponent of vaccine passports – digital documents or forms confirming that a person is vaccinated against COVID-19 – arguing that they are key to reopening economies for tourism and business trips. In some countries there is opposition to the concept, seen as a violation of privacy and civil liberties.
In Israel and Bahrain, vaccine passports will be entirely digital – a QR code on your phone, recognized at both countries’ passport control, Fluss says. Passports will contain information on COVID-19 vaccination only. Personal medical records will not be included.
Israel will recognize Bahraini vaccine passports not only for entry, but also for gaining access to an internal Israeli vaccine pass, called the Green Pass, which allows those who are vaccinated against COVID-19 or cured of the virus to access restaurants, gyms, theaters and other places.
Israel also grants these passes to citizens who do not wish to be vaccinated, but only for 48 hours and only after they test negative for the virus.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a statement that Israel will reach similar agreements with other countries in the coming days. Israel is in talks with the US, UK and other countries for mutual recognition of vaccine documents. The United States poses a challenge to Israel because its vaccination certificates are often handwritten and not centrally stored digitally.
The pact with Bahrain, a country that established diplomatic ties with Israel last year, paves the way for new Gulf Arab travel to Israel after Israel gradually reopened to foreign visitors in late May, starting with tourist groups.
Israel currently recognizes Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines, but no other vaccines available in Bahrain, and is looking for a solution to allow all Bahrainis to enter once the country reopens.
Several countries have already unilaterally recognized Israeli vaccination certificates in an effort to attract Israeli tourists without quarantine requirements, including Greece and Cyprus. Those countries have also announced efforts to forge bilateral travel deals, as the European Union is working to unveil vaccine passports for travel across the EU in mid-June.