Health Ministry said preparing to end outdoor mask mandate by April

Government also considering expanding international flights; top official says indoor and outdoor gathering size limits could be increased before Passover

Israelis wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, on March 12, 2021. (Yahav Gamliel/Flash90)
Israelis wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, on March 12, 2021. (Yahav Gamliel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is preparing to end rules requiring Israelis to wear face masks while outdoors and considering allowing increased flights to operate from Ben Gurion Airport, Channel 12 News reported Sunday.

The move to end outdoor mask-wearing could come as soon as April, the report said, following the continued drop in morbidity rates in Israel. Officials recently said Israel has no plans to follow US guidelines that allow vaccinated people to hold small gatherings indoors without masks.

The renewed flight activity will be to countries that accept Israel’s Green Pass. These so far include Cyprus, Georgia and Greece, who have announced that they intend on allowing in Israeli tourists who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID.

The ministry is considering relaxing other COVID-19 regulations as well – including increasing allowed crowd sizes at culture and sports venues, the report said.

Speaking to Channel 12 later Sunday, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy declined to comment on the mask mandate report, but said that it is possible the current limits on private gatherings – 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors – will be expanded, perhaps even before the start of Passover.

The holiday begins this year on the evening of Saturday, March 27.

An Israeli family celebrate the Passover “Seder” with family through a video-calling app, in Tzur Hadassah, April 8, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“We have two more weeks, it’s possible we’ll change the restrictions for the better ahead of the evening of the Seder; we may allow more people to be together. I can’t make promises, but I very much hope so. It’s up to us.”

Regarding air travel, Levy emphasized his ministry’s cautious approach to opening the airport by once again warning against the possible entry of coronavirus variants, saying it was important to minimize the chances of new, possibly dangerous strains of the virus from arriving and spreading through Israel.

When asked about why some children in Israel are still not allowed back to school, despite the fact that many other restrictions are being pulled back, Levy explained: “We are talking about children who are not vaccinated, and who are together all day.

“We see how many classrooms have been closed, how many kindergartens have been closed, because of a confirmed [coronavirus] carrier among the children or the teachers. So it’s true that they [generally] don’t get severely ill, and that most of them don’t need to be hospitalized, but still it creates morbidity.”

Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Chezy Levy speaks during a press conference about the Coronavirus, in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel has recently been experiencing a trend of declining daily new coronavirus cases, declining active cases, a decline in the share of positive daily tests and in the basic reproduction number; and a decline in the highly important number of serious COVID-19 cases in the country.

Figures released Sunday showed active cases dropping below 30,000 for the first time since September, hitting 27,974.

Figures also showed that the basic reproduction number, or R0, representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects, had fallen to 0.78 — the lowest point since October.

These declines are largely attributed to Israel’s successful vaccination program. Over 4.1 million Israelis have been fully vaccinated, the Health Ministry said, and over 5.1 have received the first dose. Just 1,128,000 Israelis over the age of 16 still need to be vaccinated, 256,000 of whom are above the age of 50.

However, Israel on Sunday also passed a bleak milestone of 6,000 dead.

According to the Health Ministry, 6,008 have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak of the virus last March — an increase of 16 since the figure was last updated on Sunday morning.

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