Israelis discard masks outdoors from Sunday

Masks may be discarded in the open air as of Sunday, April 18, but retained in indoor spaces, said Public Health Services Director Dr. Sharon Elroy-Preis on Tuesday. The normally stern health official enthused uncharacteristically: “95pc of the country is now green, an extraordinary feat.” She noted the all-clear for masks exactly two weeks – as required for the coronavirus pandemic – since most of the economy had returned to normal and Passover was celebrated according to custom. However, masks will still be mandatory for the crowds attending Israel’s two national events this week:  Remembrance Day for the Fallen starting Tuesday night, followed directly by Independence Day. Dr. Elroy-Preis was optimistic about the impact of the Muslim Ramadan festival beginning this week on the Arab communities.

She warned, however, that the virus is still present and urged the avoidance of indoor crowding. Foreign travel and tourism were still problematic, she said, because covid-19 variants are still around and, moreover, the list of countries that may be safely visited is short.

As of Sunday, too, regular schoolroom classes will be back, ending the small “capsule” system and remote learning that plagued some two and a half million pupils and teaching staff at high points during the year-long virus pandemic. This decision was announced by the coronavirus cabinet on Monday. The Health Ministry will continue to subject the school system to “expansive testing and monitoring” and quarantine rules will be applied in cases when teachers or pupils test positive.

The Israel Pediatric Society and the Infectious Diseases Unit of the Health Ministry support vaccinations for children aged 12 to 15, after Pfizer applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval following successful clinical studies of the vaccine on this age group.

The number of new covid-19 cases recorded on Tuesday had dropped to 217 (0.4pc positive tests), and the seriously ill to 240, with 121 on respirators. More than 5,330 million Israelis have been vaccinated, of whom 4,950 million have received their second shots.

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