Israel Renews Indoor COVID Mask Mandate as Delta Variant Spreads

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Haaretz
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People wearing masks in Jerusalem on Thursday.
People wearing masks in Jerusalem on Thursday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
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Haaretz

Israel's Health Ministry reinstated the indoor mask mandate beginning Friday at 12:00 P.M., following a recent rise in coronavirus infections attributed to the delta variant.

The Health Ministry also recommends that Israelis wear masks during mass public events, even if they are held in the open air, "like the Pride events that will take place this weekend across the country."

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Israel's coronavirus czar Dr. Nachman Ash said Friday that Israel is seeing a sharp rise in infections, as 227 new cases were diagnosed on Thursday, though he does not believe Israel is entering a fourth wave of the virus.

"About 0.6 percent of the tests are positive, indicating an increase in infection rate," he said. Ash explained that though the number of active cases is doubling every few days, "the rate is high because there are relatively few cases. As more cases are found, we don't expect it to continue at this [exponential] rate."

Ash noted that there is evidence that the outbreak has spread beyond the two cities it started in, but stopped short of warning of a nationwide outbreak.

"My guess is that we will not see a fourth wave," Ash said, though he did accede that there is the "potential" for the wider spread.

Ash said that he would be conducting a situational assessment and that they may reimpose mandatory masks as early as Friday. However, at the moment he said, there would be no further restrictions.

When asked why he wouldn't recommend another lockdown, Ash said that the previous lockdowns "failed to suppress the infection rate" and were not effective in halting the spread of the virus.

The northern city of Binyamina has been declared "red" on Israel's so-called traffic light system, reflecting a relatively high rate of coronavirus infection, amid a new uptick in cases.

The increased infection is attributed to the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus in the country – a strain first identified in India. The World Health Organization says it is becoming the globally dominant version of the virus.

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