In the latest sign of Israel’s recovery from the pandemic, the government this week lifted its nationwide mask mandate.
The news comes as the tiny nation continues to lead the world in vaccinations. Currently, 8.6 million out of its 9 million residents have received at least their first dose. Over 60% have received two doses. Those numbers beat all western nations including the U.S., Europe, Japan and New Zealand.
“Being without a mask for the first time in a long time is weird. But it’s a good weird,” stated college student Amatai Hallgarten.
Hallgarten is just one of Israel’s over 9 million residents who will not be free of the masks outdoors. They face coverings will still be required in certain indoor gatherings until all of the population is vaccinated.
“The masks are intended to protect us from the coronavirus,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said. “After professionals decided this was no longer required in open spaces, I decided to enable taking them off.”
READ: Palestinian boy from Gaza saved by Israeli surgeries
Masks are still required indoors and in large gatherings. Israel’s education system also reopened on Sunday, allowing primary and secondary school children to return to their classrooms.
“We are on a festive day of opening the education system,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Until now, students were in capsules, now they are reuniting for the first time. I just visited seventh-grade students, they are studying the Bible, the book of Samuel, and I told them that our link to the past and our leap into the future is what characterizes our people. We are currently leading the world in getting out of the corona(virus). Resumption of studies also in the middle schools is a clear indication of that.”
Netanyahu urged Israelis not to throw away their masks just yet.
“There are two things I want to emphasize,” he said. “First, we are not done with the masks. This means inside buildings and classrooms, we wear masks, you can take them off outside, with recommendation to wear it when people are gathering. Generally, masks inside, outside you can take them off. Second, we are not over with the coronavirus, because it can come back.”
Israel’s coronavirus cases have drastically decreased after Israel led one of the world’s fastest vaccination rollouts. Most of its population has been inoculated, and most virus restrictions have been lifted.
Israeli media reports that public service employees who refuse to get the green pass must get weekly coronavirus tests. If they refuse to present negative COVID tests to their office, the Civil Service Commission has the right to reassign the employee, ask them to work from home or fire them.
Israel is expected to open back up to tourism in June.
Contrary to many media reports, Israel is vaccinating all of its citizens including Arabs. It had offered to extend vaccinations to the Palestinian Territories but was rebuffed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA is responsible for the healthcare of residents in its territories, though Israel regularly treats Palestinians in Gaza, Judea and Samaria at no cost.
A 7-year-old boy from Gaza recently had life-saving surgery, funded by donations from Israelis. Gaza is controlled by the terrorist organization Hamas.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice