Three million surgical face masks arrived in Israel from China in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and Israeli diplomatic delegations in China and the United States, it was announced Friday.
A special El Al flight from Shanghai landed overnight, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the project was funded by a foundation belonging to Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner.
The masks will be handed over to the Magen David Adom ambulance service which will distribute them to hospitals, government ministries and other national bodies that are fully operating amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, the Defense Ministry said it brought in eleven airplanes from China containing millions of pieces of medical equipment, including ventilators, face masks and protective suits.
The virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, first spread at the end of last year in China. The ground-zero city of Wuhan abruptly raised its death toll by 50 percent to a total of 3,869 on Friday, admitting that many cases were “mistakenly reported” or missed entirely.
The adjustment, detailed in a social media posting by the city government, added 1,290 deaths to the tally in Wuhan, where the global pandemic emerged and which has suffered the vast majority of China’s fatalities from COVID-19.
The air convoy is the latest in Israel’s efforts to bring much-needed supplies from abroad for use by medical staff in the campaign to treat patients infected with the virus, and prevent its further spread.
Israelis are required to wear faces masks when venturing outside in accordance with a new Health Ministry directive that came into effect on Sunday morning.
Under the new rules, masks must be worn when leaving home and should cover the nose and the mouth. This does not apply to children under age 6; or people with emotional, mental or medical conditions that would prevent them from wearing a mask; drivers in their cars; people alone in a building; and two workers who work regularly together, provided they maintain social distancing.
The masks can be homemade, makeshift, or bought, according to the authorities. The order had previously been issued as a recommendation.
The WHO released updated guidelines last week on face masks, saying there was “limited evidence” suggesting a mask worn by a person with the coronavirus would protect those around them, and “no evidence” it was effective for those who are healthy.
Moreover, it warned people to reserve medical masks for health care professionals and cautioned against a false sense of security by mask-wearers.
It added: “The use of masks made of other materials (e.g., cotton fabric), also known as non-medical masks, in the community setting, has not been well evaluated. There is no current evidence to make a recommendation for or against their use in this setting.”
Agencies contributed to this report.