Israel may soon lift the requirement to wear masks outdoors, as the number of active local coronavirus cases has dropped to below 4,900.
On Tuesday, Channel 12 reported that the Health Ministry had already approved the move – as long as the trend remains positive – and the regulation will change starting from April 18. The authorities have reportedly decided to wait until after Independence Day, which falls on April 15, to reduce the chance for increased outbreaks due to holiday celebrations.
Public Health Services head Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis acknowledged that ministry officials were discussing the move.
“Public health interventions always require finding a balance between effectiveness and public safety,” Dr. Eyal Leshem, the director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center, told The Jerusalem Post. “We know that wearing masks outdoors is not as effective as doing it indoors. Moreover, we see that many people don’t actually wear masks anymore anyway. Therefore, at this point, with a low number of cases and a majority of the population vaccinated or recovered, it would make sense from epidemiologic and public health perspectives to lift the requirement.”
Some 303 cases were identified on Tuesday, according to the ministry’s report on Wednesday. Only 0.5% of about 60,000 tests administered returned a positive result, a rate similar to the one of previous days and as low as May 2020. At no point in the past week did the number of new daily cases surpass 420.
The number of patients in serious condition and on ventilators has continued to decline, and it stood at 309 and 157, respectively, on Wednesday. A week ago they were, respectively, 391 and 202.
The total death toll stood at 6,261 with five people succumbing to the virus in the last 24 hours.
According to Leshem, a priority for health authorities should be to issue clear, simple and well-explained guidelines, to avoid confusion among the public.
Asked whether he believes mask requirement could be also canceled indoors, provided that all people in the room are vaccinated or recovered, the expert answered that it is important to ease restrictions gradually.
“Our rule is to assess one intervention at a time; otherwise, it is very difficult to put your finger on what went wrong,” Leshem explained, but he added that, “scientifically speaking, fully vaccinated people pose a very low risk to one another. Probably, in the near future, we will see more restrictions being relaxed.”
The coronavirus cabinet was expected to meet on Wednesday night to raise the limit to outdoor gatherings from 50 to 100 people and to ease up some restrictions in the education system.