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Return of the Mask Mandate

Israel’s indoor mask mandate will be reinstated starting Sunday due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, coronavirus czar Dr. Nachman Ash said in a press conference on Thursday.

Israel’s Health Ministry recorded 169 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest increase in the last two months and the fourth consecutive day in which new cases exceeded 100.

Ash said that while the government had no plans to bar Israelis from leaving or re-entering the country, “I call on the public to consider whether going abroad at this time is essential. It is advisable to avoid nonessential travel abroad.”

Testing and the isolation of those who return from abroad would make a travel ban unnecessary, Ash said, but observing proper isolation procedures was “our Achilles’ heel.”

“Isolation violators are everybody’s problem – that’s the way the disease is spreading now,” Ash said.

Health Ministry statistics show that the virus is now spreading most rapidly in Israel among young people, ages 10 to 19. On Monday, the ministry recommended that children ages 12 to 15 be vaccinated.

Nevertheless, Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Chezy Levy told Kan public radio earlier this week that 40-50% of the new cases were among people already vaccinated.

This worrying statistic could be a sign that vaccination is less effective against the aggressive delta variant, which is quickly taking over as the dominant variant around the world. Levy said that 70% of new infections were from the delta variant.

But Ash explained that because most Israelis are already vaccinated, the percentage of vaccinated people among those now testing positive was also likely to increase. “It does not say anything about the effectiveness of the vaccine. We are trying to analyze the data to really see if there is a sign of declining vaccine efficacy.”

On Thursday, Pfizer Israel’s medical director, Alon Rappaport, told Army Radio that the Pfizer vaccine was 90% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 cases, and 95% effective in preventing severe cases that require hospitalization. These statistics, he said, were based on studies that included places where the delta variant was dominant.

Ash cautioned at his Thursday presser that, due to the delta strain, a higher rate of vaccination would be necessary to reach the herd immunity threshold. “We will need at least 80% – and maybe even more than that – to reach herd immunity. We are still far from that number.”

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 8 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

CountryConfirmed CasesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Afghanistan111,5924,51966,79940,274
Algeria137,0493,66095,33138,058
Bahrain264,1071,330256,9335,844
Cyprus73,99937472,1991,426
Djibouti11,59715511,4366
Egypt278,76115,967207,41155,383
Iran3,140,12983,4732,797,105259,551
Iraq1,311,09316,9991,217,98276,112
Israel840,4306,429833,212789
Jordan748,6859,703732,4756,507
Kuwait344,7991,894324,57818,327
Lebanon543,8657,832530,6895,344
Libya191,6603,185177,10611,369
Mauritania20,47348319,514476
Morocco528,1809,265515,0303,885
Oman256,5422,848224,07729,617
Pakistan951,86522,108896,82132,936
Palestinian Territories313,0153,555306,5322,928
Qatar221,378587218,9281,863
Saudi Arabia479,3907,730460,33811,322
Somalia14,8687757,2166,877
Sudan36,5582,75030,4043,404
Syria25,2481,85521,7661,627
Tunisia395,36214,406342,59838,358
Turkey5,393,24849,4175,254,70889,123
United Arab Emirates618,1481,773597,00819,367
Yemen6,8981,3553,9901,553
Total17,258,939274,42716,222,186762,326