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Israel lifts outdoor mask mandate, fully reopens schools

Face coverings still required indoors; Health Ministry recommends wearing masks at large outdoor gatherings

Illustrative: Israelis at a No-Masks outdoor dance party for COVID-19 vaccinated guests only, at the Tel Shifon Winery, in Kibbutz Ortal, northern Golan Heights, March 19, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israelis at a No-Masks outdoor dance party for COVID-19 vaccinated guests only, at the Tel Shifon Winery, in Kibbutz Ortal, northern Golan Heights, March 19, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

With most of its population vaccinated against COVID-19, Israel on Sunday dropped the requirement to wear masks outdoors and fully reopened schools for the first time in over a year.

Although the nationwide mandate on mask-wearing outdoors was officially lifted, masks must still be worn in public places indoors and the Health Ministry recommends they continue to be worn outdoors as well in large gatherings.

Meanwhile, all students from daycare to 12th grade will return to regular in-person classes on Sunday, ending the requirement that some children still learn in smaller class sizes.

Children in grades 5-9 had been the only remaining students required to study in socially distanced “capsules” or pods. Students will still be required to wear masks indoors but will be allowed to take them off during gym class, when they eat, and in between classes.

Israeli students return to school in Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

After suffering a severe third wave of the pandemic, Israel’s situation has rapidly improved in recent months as it has carried out the world’s fastest per capita vaccination drive. Over half of the population is fully inoculated against COVID-19, and the results have been evident, with the number of daily new cases and serious cases dropping to levels not seen in months.

As the caseload has dropped, Israel has gradually rolled back coronavirus restrictions by opening businesses, event venues and other activities. The national virus czar Nachman Asch has said the entire economy will be able to fully reopen next month if there is no new rise in contagion.

Just 105 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed Friday, and just 202 Israelis were in serious condition with the virus. The latest Health Ministry figures show there are 2,586 active cases. The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 6,315.

The ministry also said 5,343,001 Israelis have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose and 4,969,767 have received two shots.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy acknowledged the declining case numbers in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster on Saturday, but urged Israelis not to act as if the country were entirely in the clear.

A young Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection, at a Clalit vaccination center in Holon, February 4, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

“There is a huge drop in morbidity, but my advice is that where people congregate very closely together they should wear a mask,” he said. “We must behave correctly in order not to scuttle the progress made.”

Levy lamented that 20 percent of teachers in the country are still not vaccinated, adding that with children below the age of 16 unable to inoculate, “we’re taking risks here as well.” Levy has predicted that vaccination for 12- to 15-year-olds will begin next month.

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