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Virus czar: Soon, Israelis may not have to wear masks outdoors

TV report says decision may be made after Passover; Nachman Ash cheers falling morbidity numbers, urges 1 million remaining eligible people to get vaccinated

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

As COVID-19 cases continue to decline and the rate of positive tests reaches its lowest point since last June, the official in charge of the government’s pandemic response said Thursday that Israel may soon relax its strict rules requiring face masks in all public spaces, including outdoors.

Nachman Ash said that while Israel was doing very well, it still hadn’t vanquished the virus.

“We aren’t yet taking off the masks, neither outside nor inside,” he told the Ynet news site. “I hope that soon we will sit down and think and see how we can give the precise instruction. I assess we’ll do that in the near future. If we decide to cancel the mandatory mask-wearing, it will most likely only be outside.”

Ash said deliberations on the matter would be held soon, without specifying.

According to Channel 12 news, a decision could be made shortly after the Passover holiday.

The comments came just days after he indicated that mask requirement will stay in place for the time being.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash visits the coronavirus ward at Ziv Medical Center n Safed on December 24, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Ash cheered the continued decline in morbidity, with new daily infections steadily falling and the number of patients in serious condition dropping below 500. He also noted the fall in the virus’s basic reproduction number, representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects.

“I am definitely optimistic,” he said.

Recent infection figures represent a dramatic improvement over the past two months, and are credited chiefly to the successful vaccination campaign. This despite more-infectious virus variants proliferating and the gradual lifting of restrictions.

Earlier Thursday, Health Ministry figures showed the positive test rate had tumbled to its lowest level since June, as Israel hit the milestone of fully vaccinating over half the population.

An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on March 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“There are another 1 million people who still haven’t been vaccinated and we hope to reach the maximum possible among this population,” Ash said.

He called on all those who have not been immunized to do so. “This will allow for further opening the economy,” he said.

Israel’s morbidity rates have continued to decline steadily even as the country has been rolling back virus restrictions, which at their peak shuttered the entire education system, public venues, and most nonessential businesses.

Most of the education system has since reopened, along with much of the economy. Limited audiences have been allowed at sports and cultural venues, with the coronavirus cabinet recently approving increasing capacity at such events.

Gatherings on the Jewish holiday of Passover next week will be permitted to take place in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines — up to 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors, according to the ministry.

The ministry said Wednesday that it will authorize next month’s Independence Day and Memorial Day events to take place, although with fewer participants than usual.

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