Israel drops outdoor mask mandate with 80% of adults vaccinated

Israel drops outdoor mask mandate with 80% of adults vaccinated

Israel has dropped its outdoor mask mandate as it closes in on total immunization of its adult population against the coronavirus, according to reports.

Instituted almost a year ago at the start of the pandemic, Israel required masks outdoors for non-exercise activities. The mandate has ended as of Sunday.

Israel hosts a population of 9.3 million, but the nation has aggressively pursued vaccination of its adult population: close to five million people – or around 80% of the adult population – has been vaccinated, according to Reuters.

People walk on a street in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021, after authorities announced that face masks for COVID-19 prevention were no longer needed outside. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

People walk on a street in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021, after authorities announced that face masks for COVID-19 prevention were no longer needed outside. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

The effort has driven down hospitalizations and deaths to near-nonexistent.

In January, Israel was struggling to handle around 10,000 new infections a day, but that rate has now dropped to about 200 cases a day, France 24 reported.

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“The rate of infection in Israel is very low thanks to the successful vaccine campaign in Israel, and therefore it is possible to ease (restrictions),” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in a statement Thursday.

Vaccinations may allow for a step towards normalcy, but Israel is still observing some strict measures: anyone entering the country – even a citizen returning from abroad – will need to self-isolate.

Youths gather on a street in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021, after authorities announced that face masks for COVID-19 prevention were no longer needed outside. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Youths gather on a street in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021, after authorities announced that face masks for COVID-19 prevention were no longer needed outside. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

The Health Ministry noted seven cases of a new Indian variant in Israel, with its potency still being assessed.

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The global death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 3 million over the weekend, marking a grim reminder that even as vaccination efforts progress, the pandemic is not over. 

“We are leading the world right now when it comes to emerging from the coronavirus,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters. “(But) we have still not finished with the coronavirus. It can return.”

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Foreign tourists may start to return in greater numbers starting May 23.