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Israel said set to scrap in-flight mask mandate

Move would follow in the footsteps of EU decision; Israel also nears end of mandatory COVID tests upon landing

Crew members wearing masks stand at the door for the first direct flight between Tel Aviv and Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, on April 17, 2022. (Flash90)
Crew members wearing masks stand at the door for the first direct flight between Tel Aviv and Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, on April 17, 2022. (Flash90)

Israel is reportedly set to end its mandate for passengers to wear masks aboard international flights.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz is seeking to end the requirement for in-flight COVID masks in the near future, following in the footsteps of the European Union, Channel 12 news reported Thursday evening.

Israel lifted its indoor mask mandate on April 24, leaving the requirement for face coverings extant only in hospitals, old age homes and aboard planes.

Scrapping in-board masking would lift one of the few remaining COVID restrictions still in place in Israel. But flights from Tel Aviv to certain destinations could still require face masks, depending on other international regulations.

Beginning May 20, passengers who land at Ben Gurion Airport will no longer be required to undergo a COVID PCR test before exiting the airport. Israelis who fly to Israel have not had to submit any test before boarding for several months now; foreigners must still show a negative test result, but it can be either a PCR or an antigen test.

On Wednesday, the European Union said that it will no longer recommend medical masks be worn at airports and on planes starting next week, though member states can still require them.

Departing travelers at Ben Gurion Airport ahead of Passover, April 14, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said it hoped the joint decision, made with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, would mark “a big step forward in the normalization of air travel” for passengers and crews.

COVID cases have remained fairly low in Israel in the three weeks since the country lifted its indoor mask mandate, but testing has also become less available.

As of Thursday evening, 17,797 Israelis had COVID, with 2,088 of them diagnosed on Wednesday. There were 341 people with COVID hospitalized and 109 of them were in serious condition, down from 142 a week ago.

Since the start of the COVID outbreak, 10,749 people in Israel have died of the virus, including two in the past week — a 90 percent drop from the number of COVID-linked deaths a week earlier.

AP contributed to this report.

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