image Photo: Flash90

Israel ends outdoor mask order

Israel has dropped its mask requirement for outdoor spaces and fully reopened all schools, as the nation edges nearer to total immunization of its adult population against the coronavirus.

Around 81% of Israelis over the eligible age of 16 have received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as part of Israel’s world-leading campaign, following 3 nationwide closures.

The police-enforced wearing of protective masks outdoors has been in effect for all non-exercise activities since last January. The Health Ministry stressed, however, that the mandate still applies to indoor public spaces.

The lifting of the latest COVID-19 restriction marks a return to relative normality as infection rates continue to plummet. Hospitalizations and deaths have dropped to almost nonexistent levels.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the latest developments during a visit to new high school in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, accompanied by Education Minister Yoav Galant and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

According to a statement TV7 obtained from the Prime Minister’s Media Advisor, Netanyahu conversely hailed the re-opening of the national educational system as “a holiday.”

“Until now, pupils were in capsules, now they are together for the first time. I just visited with 7th grade pupils. They are studying the Tanakh, the Book of Samuel, and I told them that our connection to the past and our jump toward the future are what characterize our people,” said the Israeli leader.

“We are currently leading the world in exiting from the coronavirus. The full resumption of studies in middle schools as well is an outstanding example of this,” he underscored, while going on to warn that “we are not rid of the masks yet – they must be worn inside buildings and classrooms; outside you can take them off, but it is recommended that they be worn in gatherings.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu also cautioned against that “we are not finished yet with the coronavirus because it could come back.” He then pledged to continue work toward the acquisition of “millions more vaccines” for booster shots that will be needed 6 to 9 months after the initial 2-dose inoculation.

Education Minister Galant pointed out that, “for the first time in many long months, 2.5 million pupils from around the country have returned to full learning in educational institutions.” He added that, “Thanks to the vaccines, morbidity has declined, and this has enabled the return to full activity of the beating heart of the country – the institutions of education in Israel. At a time when many countries are still under lockdowns, in the State of Israel we have returned to life thanks to the Prime Minister’s vaccination campaign.”

Minister Galant also emphasized that “the education system has succeeded in reducing digital gaps of generations” during remote learning this past year, “thanks to 150,000 laptop computers that we distributed to pupils across the country.”

With the return to pre-pandemic schedules, teachers have been instructed to maintain ventilated classrooms and enforce social distancing during lessons and recess. Extra-curricular activities such as children’s theaters also remain suspended for the time-being.

“This is still a non-vaccinated population (children under 16) who we need to safeguard,” Health Ministry official Sharon Alroy-Preis told Israel’s Army Radio.

Entry into the country for non-citizens also remains limited and non-immune Israelis who return from abroad must still self-isolate, due to concern virus variants could challenge the vaccine.

The Health Ministry has reported the detection of 7 cases of the new Indian variant in Israel, the potency of which is still being assessed.

Israel also offered free inoculations to about 105,000 Palestinians authorized to work in the Jewish State, and donated vaccines to the Palestinian Authority.