Israel Drops Indoor Mask Mandate as COVID Wanes

The decision to scrap the mask mandate comes amid a marked drop in COVID cases in Israel and will not apply to high-risk places, such as hospitals

Masked woman in Jerusalem
Masked woman in JerusalemCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel will scrap its indoor mask mandate on Saturday evening, according to a joint statement by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, as coronavirus continues to recede.

The decision will not apply in high-risk places, such as hospitals, flights, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, while people on their way to quarantine will also be obliged to wear a mask.

Bennett and Horowitz said that the decision comes in light of a marked decline in coronavirus cases. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry recorded a four-month low of 4,583 daily COVID cases.

However, the Knesset's Health Committee, chaired by MK Idit Silman, needs to discuss the mandate before May 1. The committee has the authority to reverse the government's decision and reinstate the mandate.

Several Health Ministry sources also said that despite the decline in cases, the government does not plan to scrap COVID testing requirements upon arrival in Israel. All travelers who land at Ben-Gurion Airport, regardless of vaccination status, are currently required to undergo a test costing 80 shekels and quarantine for a maximum of 24 hours until a negative result is obtained.

At present, 220 people COVID patients are in a serious condition. Six weeks ago, the figure was almost six times as high.

The R number, representing the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects, has risen slightly to 0.75, but remains low. The R number is based on statistics from 10 days earlier. Any figure below 1 indicates that the virus is no longer spreading.

Indoor mask-wearing was dropped in June and restored two weeks later due to a surge in cases of the delta variant.

This time around, Israel had originally set April 1 as the date to cancel the mask mandate, but with the advent of the BA.2 variant, which is 30 percent more infectious than omicron, the decision was postponed.

Prof. Roni Gamzu, head of the Ichilov Hospital and former COVID czar, said on Tuesday that "most Israeli travelers abroad these days are surprised to see how COVID has vanished from most countries. It's time to do the right thing in Israel too and remove the restrictions, in
closed spaces too and naturally for schoolchildren – in fact everywhere, because the coronavirus today is not as dangerous as before."

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