Israel’s indoor mask mandate ends after two years

Israelis have been subject to requirement for all but 10 days since April 2020; masks will still be required at hospitals, senior living facilities, planes

People walk past a sign instructing them to wear face masks in closed places, outside the Cinema City in Jerusalem, on August 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People walk past a sign instructing them to wear face masks in closed places, outside the Cinema City in Jerusalem, on August 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s indoor mask mandate, one of the few remaining coronavirus restrictions still in place, was lifted at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz had agreed that the widely flouted masking requirement will be scrapped, citing the decline in morbidity.

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

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that masking will still be required “at places with high contagion potential,” among which it listed hospitals, senior living facilities, and during air travel.

“This year — Mimouna without masks,” Bennett later tweeted, referring to the popular Jewish Moroccan celebration that follows Passover. Mimouna celebrations, where people host large gatherings and travel from home to home, are expected nationwide Saturday evening. Bennett set to attend one such event in Shilat, a moshav near Modiin, later Saturday.

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 surging cases at the time.

The announcement Wednesday 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.

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 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 do away with 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 Thursday, there are currently 32,942 active coronavirus cases, including 221 people hospitalized in serious condition.

The death toll stood at 10,658, 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 0.78. Any reading over 1 means the pandemic is accelerating, while a figure below 1 means it’s in retreat.

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