Virus czar predicts outdoor mask mandate will be dropped next week

National coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Monday predicted the the requirement to wear masks outdoors will likely be dropped next week, as morbidity continues to recede.

Nachman Ash said most experts backed the policy change at a Health Ministry meeting on Sunday and that further deliberations will be held this week before a decision is made.

“I assess this will happen next week, or the ordinance will pass next week and it will happen immediately after, but [anyway] in the near future,” Ash told the Ynet news site.

He stressed that masks will still be mandated indoors and at gatherings, saying it was “too early” to consider ending this requirement.

“We want to see how the first stage goes and then we’ll see from there,” he said.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, during a visit to the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ash has suggested several times recently that the requirement to don face coverings in public could soon be scrapped, saying there is no reason for individuals to wear one outside. His assessments, however, have been contradicted by Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, who last week cautioned against lifting the mandate, arguing the use of masks outdoors was effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

A television report last week said police have been instructed not to enforce the outdoor mask mandate, though it technically remains in effect, with the focus instead on enforcement against those who violate quarantine rules.

In the Ynet interview, Ash was asked about the basic reproduction number, which ticked up in the morning to 0.71 after falling to as low as 0.53 last month. The figure represents the average number of people each carrier infects, with any measure below 1 meaning the outbreak is abating.

Ash said the rise was expected following the Passover holiday.

“The positive infection rate was very low yesterday, 0.6 percent, so the morbidity rate is still low,” Ash said, referring to the percentage of tests that came back positive on Sunday.

Israelis at a restaurant in Tel Aviv on April 4, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

He also said his office’s operations could be scaled back and transferred to other government bodies if the pandemic continues to abate.

“These are things that we are beginning to plan for. They are definitely on the agenda,” he said.

Ash’s comments came as the pandemic continued to ebb following Israel’s successful vaccination campaign, which has seen a majority of its citizens get the shots.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 194 new coronavirus cases were confirmed Sunday, which along with another 95 since midnight, brought the number of infections since the pandemic began to 834,446.

The death toll stood at 6,243.

There were 5,232 active cases, with 327 people in serious condition, including 167 on ventilators.

The ministry said 5,269,052 Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose and 4,839,840 got both.

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