Israel lifts outdoor mask requirement, fully opens schools Sunday, as COVID ebbs

Mandate for face coverings indoors to remain in place and Health Ministry recommends wearing masks at large outdoor gatherings; fewer than 100 people test positive Friday

Israelis barbecue during Israel's 73d Independence Day at Dalton Park in the north, on April 15, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Israelis barbecue during Israel's 73d Independence Day at Dalton Park in the north, on April 15, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

With fewer than a hundred new coronavirus cases diagnosed Friday, and just 201 Israelis in serious condition with the virus, Israel was set Sunday to lift the requirement for wearing masks outside, and to fully reopen all schools.

The latest Health Ministry figures showed 95 new cases were diagnosed on Friday, accounting for just 0.7% of the 14,182 samples tested. There were 2,680 active cases, and the death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 6,315.

The ministry also said 5,341,887 Israelis have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose and 4,965,696 have received two shots.

Although the nationwide mandate on mask wearing outdoors officially lifts on Sunday, masks must still be worn in public places indoors and the ministry recommends they continue to be worn outdoors as well in large gatherings.

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.

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 is 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 12-15-year-olds will begin next month.

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 shown, with daily new cases and serious cases dropping to levels not seen in long 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 Prof Nachman Asch has said the entire economy will be able to fully reopen next month if there is no new rise in contagion.

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