Israel Lifts Outdoor Mask Mandate

JERUSALEM – Due to recent success in fighting the coronavirus, Israel lifted its mandate on outdoor masks on Sunday while schools fully reopened for the first time since September.

The country has taken swift steps towards normalcy following its world-leading vaccination campaign and the decline in infection rates. According to a database from the New York Times, about 56 percent of the Israeli population is fully vaccinated.

“I can finally breathe again!” Eli Bliach, 35, an entrepreneur, said while walking without a mask in downtown Jerusalem on Sunday morning.

As the sun rises and the temperature rises, some people joked about avoiding mask tan lines.

But other Israelis have been reluctant to remove the protective layer that initially felt so strange but that many have grown accustomed to.

“I’m not sure the pandemic is over,” said Ilana Danino, 59, a beautician and caregiver who was still wearing a mask as she walked down an almost empty street in the city center. “It’s still out there all over the world.”

She also said, “I feel good about it,” gesturing in the air around her, explaining that spring could still cause allergies and the spread of other viruses.

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein urged people to continue to carry masks with them in order to enter public indoor spaces where they are still needed.

The daily new infections with coronavirus in Israel have fallen from a high of 10,000 in January to around 100 on a few days. Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science said on Twitter last week that 85 percent of people aged 16 and over in Israel have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

As part of the transition, Israel has introduced a “Green Pass” system that allows vaccinated or rescued people to dine indoors in restaurants, stay in hotels and attend large cultural, sporting and religious gatherings.

However, there are some new concerns after several cases of a virus variant with a double mutation, B.1.617, first discovered in India, were identified in Israel last week. Prof. Nachman Ash, Israel’s coronavirus tsar, told Hebrew news site Ynet on Sunday that the variant could have some characteristics that could make vaccinated people susceptible to infection.

Israel is working to prevent the variant from entering again, it said as it tried to learn more about it and how it is doing in other parts of the world.