Israel brings back mask rule as COVID-19 cases rise again
Israel, a country praised for its handling of COVID-19, reimposed its requirement for masks to be worn in enclosed public places 10 days after the rule was lifted. The country is now seeing a surge in COVID-19 despite its successful vaccination drive. Israeli officials have blamed the Delta variant of COVID-19—first identified in India—for the sudden surge in infections. Here are more details.
The Israeli Health Ministry reimposed the requirement for masks in enclosed public places on Friday. Nachman Ash—the head of Israel's pandemic response taskforce—told public radio that the rule was reimposed after Israel reported over 100 daily infections for four days. On Thursday, the country reported 227 new COVID-19 cases. New outbreaks have emerged at schools in two cities: Modiin and Binyamina.
"We are seeing a doubling every few days," Agence France-Presse quoted Ash as saying, "If we had two cities where most of the infections were, we have more cities where the numbers are rising and communities where the cases are going up." However, Ash said there was no parallel rise in hospitalizations or deaths since "not enough time has passed."
Israel's current death rate remains close to zero. Meanwhile, only 26 of 729 active patients were hospitalized as per data released by the Health Ministry. Despite the recent surge in infections, the daily cases are far from the mid-January peak, when cases climbed as high as 8,000 every day. The daily infection tally had fallen close to zero before the recent outbreak.
Israel is relying on two-dose mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Around 5.2 million people (57% of the population) have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccines in Israel. The country has been praised for its vaccine roll-out.
Ash attributed the recent outbreak to the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The Delta variant had been identified in 180 samples as of Sunday. It remains unclear how many new cases involved the Delta variant. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had also said on Tuesday that the latest surge could be due to incoming travelers carrying the variant.
Bennett has also reinstated a ministerial crisis committee, called the coronavirus cabinet. Israel's Tourism Ministry said on Wednesday that it would postpone the resumption of issuing individual tourist visas from July 1 to August 1. Ash also asked the public to avoid unnecessary international travel. Israeli officials fear that the nation may have rolled back too many restrictions too soon.