Israelis no longer required to wear masks outside starting Sunday, as COVID ebbs

In a further sign that Israel is beating back the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein declared Thursday that starting on Sunday, Israelis will no longer be required to wear masks while outside.

In a statement as the country’s Independence Day celebrations were coming to an end, Edelstein said he had instructed ministry director-general Chezy Levy to sign a decree ending the health regulation as of Sunday, after consulting with ministry professionals

Masks will still be required in closed public spaces.

“The masks are intended to protect us from the coronavirus,” Edelstein said. “After professionals decided this was no longer required in open spaces, I decided to enable taking them off.”

He credited Israel’s successful vaccination campaign but called for ongoing vigilance inside.

Health professionals had for weeks been saying the mask mandate outside would likely end soon, but actually reaching the milestone will doubtless be a moving moment for many Israelis, who over the past year have become accustomed to seeing little more than each others’ eyes while out on the streets.

Earlier this month, Levy was still skeptical and cautioned against lifting the mandate, arguing the use of masks outdoors was effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Media reports in recent weeks indicated that police had at any rate been instructed to stop enforcing the outdoor mask mandate, with the focus instead on enforcement against those who violate quarantine rules.

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 the virus, 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 significantly rolled back coronavirus restrictions by opening businesses, event venues and other activities.

A top expert on the pandemic said on Sunday that Israel may have reached “a sort of herd immunity” and could safely ease further restrictions. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, told Channel 12 that with most Israelis immunized, even the reopening of swaths of the economy and gatherings over the Purim and Passover holidays had not contributed to a spike in cases.

Also this week cabinet ministers voted to fully reopen Israeli schools starting Sunday, ending the requirement that some grades 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.

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