Israel Ends Indoor Mask Requirement, Marking End of COVID-19 Restrictions
The move comes after a robust vaccination campaign and few new cases
As the daily number of new cases remains mostly in the single digits, Israel has dropped one of its last remaining restrictions in the battle against COVID-19.
Hezi Levi, director general of Israel’s health ministry, announced the news as he removed his mask on a morning television show on Tuesday.
According to the health ministry, the daily totals of deaths from the coronavirus this month has not exceeded one and often logged in at none.
The ministry said masks would still be required for unvaccinated patients or staff in medical facilities, people en route to quarantine and passengers on commercial flights.
At the peak of the pandemic in early 2021, Israel saw 10,000 new cases a day and 88,000 active cases.
But there has been a steep drop in active infections, with only 212 recorded in the week before the end of the mask restriction, among them 29 people in serious condition.
The turnaround became possible after Israel purchased millions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine. More than 90% of people in Israel age 50 and over have been vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus. Israel began its vaccination campaign for adults in January, and has fully vaccinated more than half of its 9.3 million population.
Fifteen months after strict measures and several closures went into effect in order to contain the coronavirus, Israel’s health ministry has issued an order lifting all restrictions as of June 15. Masks are no longer required for people gathering in public places, workspaces, schools, restaurants or cafes.
Masks are very annoying and uncomfortable. Hopefully removing them will prove to be a good decision
Shlomit, a government employee, told The Media Line she is relieved by the decision, saying it could not have come soon enough.
“I’m very happy with the decision, it’s the right time. The vaccines were very effective, morbidity has declined, it’s time. Masks are very annoying and uncomfortable. Hopefully removing them will prove to be a good decision,” she said.
Public patience was pushed to the limit during the long siege.
Susan, who owns a luggage store near Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that her business was significantly hurt by the closure. She says she and her husband survived this period and they are ecstatic to see people out again.
“Yes of course, everything has to get back to normality. I have a good feeling we’ll proceed in good shape and good things to be done,” she said.
With the official beginning of summer only days away, stores are full of shoppers and outside in the market square musicians are back, on a high note, entertaining passersby. People are hungry to go out and socialize, and they are ready to travel.
Los Angeles native Mikhail Newman told The Media Line that, with air travel opened up, he plans to visit his family in Tinseltown soon.
“I’m happy! I am very much looking for things opening up for many reasons: number one, people will be able to travel more, which is great, families could come together; secondly, businesswise, people will be able to make more money,” he said.
Although children are still required to wear masks in school, last week the government began vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds.
Fourteen-year-old Sasha told The Media Line that she is keeping her mask on.
“It’s become a habit, and I’m pretty sure that it is still in some places; it scares me, too, to be sick; I still prefer to wear one,” she said.
The country remains largely closed to tourists, but the plan is to fully open up to travelers by July 1.