Hours after virus czar gave conflicting assessment

Health Ministry director cautions against lifting outdoor mask mandate

‘We still don’t think we’re ripe for this,’ Chezy Levy says, warning Israelis are still at risk from COVID despite successful vaccine drive, falling infections

Israelis in Jerusalem during the Passover holiday, March 31, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis in Jerusalem during the Passover holiday, March 31, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The director-general of the Health Ministry on Thursday expressed opposition to lifting the mandate requiring masks outdoors, warning Israelis were still at risk from the coronavirus pandemic despite the country’s world-leading vaccination drive and steadily declining infections.

“We still don’t think we’re ripe for this,” Chezy Levy told Kan public radio.

Levy said the matter was under deliberation and argued the use of face coverings outdoors was effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“Even outside, in conditions of [close] proximity between people, the mask has important preventive effectiveness,” he said.

He also urged Israelis to continue following coronavirus guidelines even if they are vaccinated.

“There is a feeling of joy that we succeeded in reaching low morbidity, but this is mixed with concern. I don’t think we’re out of the coronavirus and should still behave cautiously,” Levy said.

Chezy Levy, director-general of the the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on February 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The comments came hours after the national coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, said he believes it is unnecessary for individuals to don masks outside when they are alone, and that officials will discuss the matter after Passover.

Earlier this week it was reported that 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.

The focus will instead be on enforcement against those who violate quarantine rules, Channel 13 news reported.

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.

A medical worker prepares COVID-19 vaccine at a at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The pandemic has continued to ebb following Israel’s successful vaccination campaign, which has seen a majority of its citizens get the shots.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Israel in serious condition dropped to 374 as of Thursday, the lowest rate since December 12, 2020. The number has been on a steady decline for several weeks.

The death toll stood at 6,220.

New daily cases, the daily share of positive coronavirus test results, and the number of active cases have all been on a downward trend for several weeks.

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