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Israel Drops 'Green Pass' COVID-19 Passport Program


FILE - Then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, holds up a document, that is part of the "Green Pass" system, which grants certain privileges to citizens who have had both doses of the vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday the nation’s Green Pass digital proof-of-vaccination program is being discontinued as the numbers of new COVID-19 cases continue to decline.

Bennett announced the end of the program after a meeting with health officials. He said Israel’s omicron wave “has been broken” and that additional reductions in coronavirus restrictions would be coming soon.

The Green Pass program allowed entry to public venues to fully vaccinated people or those who had recovered from COVID-19. The program had been scaled back earlier this month to only be required for nightclubs and large halls.

Israel’s Health Ministry said while new COVID-19 infections remain high, there has been a steady decline in serious cases since the peak of the country’s omicron wave earlier in February.

Japan announced Thursday it will ease its tough COVID-19 border controls by increasing the number of people allowed to enter each day and reducing quarantine requirements following criticism that its current policy is unscientific and xenophobic.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo that beginning March 1, the daily entry cap will be raised to 5,000, including Japanese citizens and foreign residents, from the current 3,500.

Kishia said the change will not apply to tourists, who effectively remain shut out of the country. In a week, the period of mandatory quarantine will be reduced to three days in some conditions, he said, adding that in some cases there would be no requirement to quarantine.

Japan has effectively been sealed off to nonresidents for two years. It briefly eased its border controls late last year but tightened them again as the omicron variant emerged overseas.

A University of Washington researcher said the omicron variant-driven surge of COVID-19 infections in the United States, plus high vaccination rates, may have left as much as 73% of U.S. residents immune to the omicron variant.

During the White House Coronavirus Response team briefing Wednesday, coordinator Jeff Zients said 75% — three out of every four U.S. adults — are fully vaccinated, and two-thirds of eligible adults have gotten their booster shot.

Health metrics sciences professor Ali Mokdad told The Associated Press that along with that, at least 80 million U.S. residents have recovered from COVID-19, meaning their immune systems now recognize the virus and are primed to fight it off if they encounter omicron, or even another variant.

Mokdad said their model, using those factors and others, suggests as much 73% of U.S. residents are at least temporarily immune to omicron, the dominant variant of the virus that cause COVID-19, and that could rise to 80% in the next month.

This immunity could prevent or shorten new illnesses in protected people, reduce their severity and reduce the amount of virus circulating overall.

Mokdad cautioned the omicron variant — or future ones that are likely to pop up — remains dangerous and is still infecting more than 130,000 Americans and killing more than 2,000 every day. Tens of millions of people remain vulnerable.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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