Health Ministry readying orders requiring masks be worn in public
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Health Ministry readying orders requiring masks be worn in public

Director-general says citizens can make do with strips of fabric across their faces, as surgical masks needed for medical teams tackling coronavirus outbreak

People wear face masks as they stroll along the beach promenade of the city of Ashkelon, March 29, 2020. (Flash90)
People wear face masks as they stroll along the beach promenade of the city of Ashkelon, March 29, 2020. (Flash90)

The Heath Ministry is preparing to issue orders that Israelis mask their noses and mouths when in public places in a further bid to stem the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus in the country, the Health Ministry director-general said Tuesday

At a press conference about the virus outbreak, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said that even an improvised mask can be used, under the circumstances, rather than surgical masks.

He cited a World Health Organization statement over the weekend that the virus is spread in droplets such as mucus and saliva, rather than being airborne.

“We are checking with a number of experts how improvised masks can be used,” Bar Siman-Tov said. “The regular ones we need for medical teams; the public can make do with strips of cloth on their faces.”

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov is seen at a coronavirus drive-through testing site in Tel Aviv on March 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

He said the ministry was formulating instructions about the use of masks that will be announced later in the day and urged the public to not rush out and binge-buy face masks from stores, where they have become a commonly stocked item in light of the virus spread.

Many Israelis have already taken to wearing surgical masks as well as latex gloves as a precaution when they go out in public.

Israel’s health system has struggled to maintain adequate supplies of essential protective equipment for medical staff treating patients with the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, including respirators and masks.

On Tuesday morning, the Health Ministry reported 4,831 cases of the novel coronavirus, a rise of 136 since the previous evening and 484 in the 24 hours since Monday morning.

That included 83 people in serious condition, of whom 69 were attached to ventilators, the ministry said. Another 95 people were in moderate condition, 163 patients had recovered, and the rest had mild symptoms. Eighteen people have died.

In a tweet Saturday the WHO wrote: “FACT: COVID19 is NOT airborne.”

“The coronavirus is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks,” it wrote.

Israelis were ordered starting last Wednesday to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine or taking a short walk no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from their home. Those found violating those regulations are subject to fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) or imprisonment.

The cabinet overnight Monday night approved a set of new measures further tightening restrictions on the public amid efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, including a ban on prayer quorums and limits on funerals and Jewish circumcision ceremonies.

The new regulations also place further limitations on work places, seeking to lower the workforce outside homes from 30 percent to 15% of its full capacity, and instructing all those working outside their homes to take their temperature daily before coming in to work.

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