The Health Ministry announced Sunday that the requirement for masks to be worn indoors will be lifted on June 15, marking the end of one of the only major coronavirus restrictions remaining in Israel.
For the time being, schools will be excluded from the easing of limitations, with children still required to wear masks in class, since the majority of those under 16 have yet to be vaccinated.
The ministry said that if the declining trend in morbidity continues and the campaign to vaccinate 12- to-15-year-olds, which began Sunday, succeeds, there would be another discussion to consider dropping the mask requirement in schools as well.
The policy will extend to Ben Gurion Airport, though travelers will continue to face other restrictions and individual airlines may require masks on planes themselves. The Health Ministry will also continue updating its list of red countries from which travelers will be required to quarantine for 10 days upon return.
Announcing the decision at a Sunday government ceremony recognizing the efforts of health workers during the pandemic, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said, “At the peak of morbidity, five months ago, there were over 10,000 cases a day; yesterday, there were only four cases.”
All four of those cases were travelers who tested positive after returning from abroad and have been in quarantine since arrival.
“At the peak of the pandemic, the hospitals were insanely crowded with coronavirus patients, and we had 1,228 patients who were seriously ill,” Edelstein continued. “The morbidity rate has since dropped miraculously. At the pandemic’s peak, 10 percent of tests came back positive. Today, we are nearing around a tenth of a percent.”
Also speaking at the ceremony was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I look at the audience and can declare: This is what a victory picture looks like. Hundreds of Israelis sitting together, happy together and smiling together,” he said.
“Israel’s victory was achieved thanks to two fundamental reasons: the millions of vaccines we brought to Israel, and their rapid distribution to Israeli citizens,” the premier added.
Netanyahu acknowledged that such viruses could well return one day. “That is why we want to cooperate with the techno-democracies and establish a vaccine plant in Israel in the future.”
Earlier Sunday, Israel kicked off its vaccine drive for children aged 12 to 15, with 600,000 eligible for inoculation.
Thousands have already booked appointments through the country’s health maintenance organizations (HMOs), according to Saturday reports.
The move came six months after Israel began its vaccination drive for adults, and after the US Food and Drug Administration okayed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the age group.
Some HMOs have already vaccinated children under 16 in at-risk groups and have seen no significant side effects from the shot.