Government said mulling requiring masks only in indoor areas, buses, gatherings

Government said mulling requiring masks only in indoor areas, buses, gatherings

According to reported suggestion by Public Security Minister Ohana, people in outdoor spaces would only need to have face mask within reach

People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at the Mamilla mall in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at the Mamilla mall in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The government is considering easing the blanket requirement to wear face masks in all public spaces and limiting it to closed areas, public transportation and gatherings, a report said Thursday.

In other outdoor places, according to the proposal, the only requirement will be to have a face mask within reach.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana has made the suggestion after National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat asked ministers for original ways to deal with the surge in coronavirus infections, Channel 12 reported.

The police announced on Sunday a plan to step up enforcement of social distancing guidelines meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with thousands of officers drafted into a special task force to carry out inspections.

Ohana, who is in charge of the police, at the time ordered officers to focus its enforcement efforts on the most crowded buses lines and on the restaurants, businesses and event halls with the biggest indoor spaces.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana attends a ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thursday’s report said the apparent meaning of the new proposal was that Ohana was now intending to focus enforcement efforts in closed spaces such as shopping malls, supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, buses, trains and places where many people tend to gather.

The report comes after a series of headline-making cases where police have been castigated for heavy-handed enforcement of the requirement to wear masks in public.

One man told lawmakers on Wednesday that he was severely beaten by police and detained for four days for not wearing a face mask.

Addressing the Knesset’s State Control Committee via video conference, David Biton, a 24-year old from the central city of Holon, said that he was physically assaulted despite cooperating with police officers and presenting his identification when asked.

“They just wanted to brutally hit me,” he said, according to the Ynet news site. Biton described the beating as “unparalleled cruelty,” the report said.

During the incident, which was caught on video, officers repeatedly punched and tased Biton as he cried out. He required hospital treatment for cuts and bruises sustained during the incident.

Police said Biton refused to identify himself and resisted arrest. In the video, he appears to try to remove his identity card from his pocket before officers wrestle him to the ground.

On Monday, police came under fire after a video emerged showing officers in Jerusalem stopping a young ultra-Orthodox girl, bringing her to tears, for failing to wear a face mask properly.

The footage prompted complaints from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who said that police were targeting their community with strict enforcement of virus guidelines in public spaces.

However, police said in a statement that the claims made around the video are false and that the cops had simply told the girl to fix her mask and sent her on her way.

Ohana later published an open letter calling on officers to show discretion and urging the public to understand that officers are just doing a duty that was thrust upon them.

The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in Israel in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over a thousand a day, and the number of active cases has reached an all-time high.

The Health Ministry on Thursday evening reported 1,650 new virus cases since Wednesday evening, the highest 24-hour tally since the start of the pandemic, with the total number of infections in Israel up to 34,825.

The ministry also announced two new fatalities since Thursday morning, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 348.

According to ministry figures, there are 16,025 active virus cases – 1,509 more than there were on Wednesday. This included 122 people in serious condition, of whom 39 were on ventilators. Another 87 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

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