Cops said instructed not to enforce mask-wearing outdoors

Mandatory mask rule remains in effect, but TV report suggests enforcement in public will be reduced ‘to zero’ as focus shifts to quarantine violations

Israelis wear protective face masks as they walk in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israelis wear protective face masks as they walk in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Police officers have been instructed not to enforce the mandate requiring Israelis to wear face masks outdoors, even though in principle it remains illegal to be without them in public, Hebrew-language media reports said Monday.

Officially, the mask-wearing rule is still in effect, but top police brass has unofficially instructed cops “not to focus on the issue, almost not to deal with it, to reduce enforcement to zero,” Channel 13 news reported.

The focus will instead be on enforcement against those who violate quarantine rules, according to the report.

The reported change in enforcement policy is not meant to signal that Israelis may go outside without masks, but if they do and run into law enforcement, they are unlikely to be fined.

Israeli police officers enforce the COVID-19 regulations in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

National coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Monday said a discussion about ending face mask usage would be held after the ongoing Passover festival, which ends on Saturday.

He said that from a professional point of view, the masks “are far less significant in open spaces. We still want people in groups and in closed spaces to wear masks.”

However, the director-general of the Health Ministry rejected the idea that face masks could soon be done away with.

“I don’t think so,” Chezy Levy responded during an interview with Army Radio, noting there are still 2.5 million children and another million people over age 16 who are not vaccinated.

Israel has recently been experiencing a dramatic trend of declining new coronavirus infections and active cases; a drop in the share of positive daily tests and in the virus’s basic reproduction number (or how many people every infected person passes it on to, on average); and a fall in the closely watched number of serious COVID-19 cases in the country.

The Health Ministry said on Monday evening that only 128 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 the day before and an additional 165 people were diagnosed since midnight, bringing to 832,125 the total number of cases in Israel since the outset of the pandemic.

The number of active cases further fell to 8,230. Sunday’s results, which came from 11,484 tests, represented a positive infection rate of 1.2 percent — the lowest rate recorded in nine months.

An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection, at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The number of serious cases stood at 441, the lowest since December, after climbing to an all-time high of 1,201 in mid-January.

In a further indication of shrinking morbidity, the virus’s basic reproduction number was at 0.55. Any figure under 1 means the outbreak is abating. The figure represents the situation as of 10 days ago due to the incubation period.

The death toll stood at 6,197 on Monday evening.

Over 5.2 million Israelis have received their first vaccine shot and over 4.7 million have gotten the second shot, out of a population of 9 million. Around 3 million Israelis are not currently eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and some of those who have recovered from COVID-19, among others.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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