After two years, Israel scrapping indoor mask mandate from Saturday night

Move must still be okayed by Knesset; comes after US judge struck down mask rule on public transit; Israelis have been subject to requirement for all but 10 days since April 2020

Face masks hang on a fence in Glilot, central Israel, on February 14, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Face masks hang on a fence in Glilot, central Israel, on February 14, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said Wednesday that Israel’s indoor mask mandate, one of the few remaining coronavirus restrictions still in place, will be lifted at the end of the week.

Citing the decline in morbidity, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz had agreed that the widely flouted masking requirement will be scrapped as of 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The mandate had officially been set to expire on May 1.

The statement said masking will still be required “at places with high contagion potential,” among which it listed hospitals, senior living facilities and air travel. Those headed to quarantine must also continue to don a mask.

The decision to end the mandate must still be approved by the Knesset Health Committee.

Since masking rules were first imposed in April 2020, Israelis have been required to wear face coverings indoors for all but 10 days in June last year, when the mandate was briefly lifted before being swiftly brought back amid burgeoning cases at the time.

“We got through Pharaoh and the Omicron [variant],” Bennett tweeted, paraphrasing a Passover-themed Hebrew phrase denoting sturdiness.

“This year — Mimuna without masks,” he said, referring to the popular Jewish Moroccan celebration that follows Passover.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett handles his mask during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on April 10, 2022..(Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)

The announcement by Bennett’s office came two days after a US judge struck down the federal masking requirements on public transportation, with numerous companies and government agencies subsequently announcing they would no longer enforce the mandate.

The US Justice Department has said it will only appeal the ruling if the Center for Disease Control and Prevention supports doing so.

The decision to junk the indoor mask mandate also came as Israel sees a continued decline in morbidity, with new infections, serious cases and deaths from COVID-19 all declining week by week.

According to Health Ministry figures Wednesday, there are currently 32,480 active coronavirus cases, including 222 people hospitalized in serious condition.

The death toll stood at 10,647, with a dozen fatalities recorded over the past week.

The ministry reported a slight uptick in the transmission rate, a key measure for gauging the extent of the virus’s spread, to 0.75. Any reading over 1 means the pandemic is accelerating, while a figure below 1 means it’s in retreat.

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