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Virus czar: 4th wave of infection unlikely, mask mandate to continue

Nachman Ash says next 2 weeks to be ‘very challenging’ in keeping morbidity down, due to the elections, Passover and Ramadan

Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash, during a visit to the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash, during a visit to the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s national coronavirus czar said on Sunday that he does not anticipate a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but indicated the requirement to wear masks will continue for the time being.

Nachman Ash cheered the continued decline in morbidity, even as Israel has rolled back sweeping restrictions on commerce, gatherings, and schools. But he said health officials would keep a close eye on infection figures over the next two weeks, which he stressed would be “very challenging,” due to the March 23 elections, Passover and Ramadan.

“Everyone needs to behave responsibility and adhere to the guidelines at this time,” he said during a briefing to reporters. “If we need to, we’ll go backwards.”

Despite the encouraging drop in infections, Ash said it was too early to scrap the mandate requiring Israelis to wear masks outside, while acknowledging “their great efficiency” was preventing the spread of the disease indoors.

“We’ll deliberate the matter as morbidity appears to continue to decline over time, likely toward the summer, when it will be hot and when we know more about infection among the vaccinated,” he said.

Israelis walk in Jerusalem on March 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ash said he was concerned by the lower rates of vaccination among Russian-speaking Israelis, though he added that he did not have precise figures on inoculations among that demographic.

He also said Israel was in talks with other countries on mutual recognition of vaccination documents and commented on the easing of entry restrictions at Ben Gurion Airport, which took effect Sunday after the High Court of Justice ruled last week that the cap limiting entry to 3,000 Israeli citizens a day was unconstitutional.

“We are taking various actions to prevent the entry of verified [coronavirus carriers] and dangerous variants,” he said, adding that police have increased enforcement of quarantine requirements for returning travelers.

Soccer fans cheer during a match between Beitar Jerusalem FC and Ashdod FC at Teddy Kollek stadium in Jerusalem, on March 17, 2021. (Flash90)

Ash’s remarks came as coronavirus restrictions were further eased Sunday, with increased attendance allowed at cultural and sporting events. Other public activities were also permitted to resume, and businesses operating according to the Green Pass standard were allowed to permit entry for non-vaccinated people who take a rapid virus test at the entrance.

Earlier, the Health Ministry said 285 new coronavirus cases were confirmed Saturday, which, along with another 134 since midnight, brought the number of infections since the pandemic began to 827,428.

The death toll stood at 6,085.

The number of active cases further dropped to 18,309, with 561 people in serious condition, including 199 on ventilators.

The ministry said 17,438 tests were conducted Saturday, 1.7 percent of which came back positive. Testing rates typically drop off on weekends and holidays.

It also said more than 5.1 million of Israel’s 9.3 million population have received at least one vaccine dose, and over 4.5 million have gotten both shots.

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