Israel Officially Ends Indoor Mask Mandate Amid COVID Decline

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

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Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, this week.
Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, this week.Credit: Hadas Parush

Israel's cancellation of the indoor mask mandate came into effect on Saturday evening, as coronavirus continues to wane in the country.

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.

The policy shift was announced on Wednesday in a joint statement by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, citing a marked decline in coronavirus cases.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry recorded 4,054 daily COVID cases, one of the lowest figures in four months, while serious cases fell to 221. 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 0.78, 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.

Despite the decline, other COVID-related restrictions will remain in place, such as isolation for those who test positive for coronavirus and mandatory testing for arrivals at Ben-Gurion International Airport, regardless of vaccination status.

The decision still needs to be discussed by the Knesset's Health Committee, chaired by MK Idit Silman, which has the authority to reverse the government's decision.

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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