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Israel: Virus czar says masks outdoors largely unnecessary, enforcement may end

The government’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Sunday said the requirement to wear masks outdoors was largely unnecessary and suggested it would not be enforced by police.

He acknowledged in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster that wearing masks outside was “far less important” and “can be given up.” But Ash said that in order to avoid confusion, health guidelines will continue to require mask-wearing, both indoors and outdoors.

Israelis have been required to wear face masks outdoors since last April.

However, “in terms of enforcement, our emphasis to police is not to enforce [mask-wearing] in these places [outdoors], but rather indoors,” he said.

He said the Health Ministry has asked police to focus their attention on enforcing quarantine violations among those who have arrived in Israel from abroad.

The interview came as Israel allowed large parts of the economy to reopen Sunday, prompting a warning from Ash to exercise caution.

“It is not over. We must continue to be careful, keeping social distance and wearing masks. We have a way to go until it’s over,” he told the Ynet news site, adding that a fourth national lockdown was “a possibility.”

“This is clear to everyone and the prime minister knows this,” he added.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News that while Israelis will have to wear masks for the foreseeable future, the pandemic was largely behind it.

Ash, in the Ynet interview, said 2 million more Israelis must be vaccinated before Israel reaches herd immunity.

Israel has fully vaccinated 40 percent of its population, and over half of Israelis have received at least one shot. Millions of Israelis under 16 are not eligible to receive vaccines.

Israel on Sunday reopened much of the economy, including restaurants, cafes, school grades 7-10 in low- to medium-infection areas, event venues, tourist attractions and hotel dining.

It also eased restrictions on air travel to the country, enabling thousands of citizens to return home and doing away with the need to quarantine in state-run hotels.

The country in February began easing restrictions following a third lockdown, and has since gradually reopened stores and shopping malls (for everyone); as well as gyms, swimming pools, hotels and some cultural facilities for those vaccinated or who recovered from the virus.

Source: TOI