Israel will no longer require people to wear masks indoors, removing one of the country’s last remaining coronavirus restrictions as infections continue to decline there, Israel’s health ministry announced on Tuesday.
Hezi Levi, the ministry’s director general, delivered the news as he removed his mask on a morning television show.
Masks will still be required in some cases, including for passengers and crews on airplanes, and for unvaccinated people in care facilities. The decision comes only about two weeks after Israel lifted capacity restrictions and retired its Green Pass System, allowing vaccinated and unvaccinated people equal access to cultural and economic activities. The main limitations that remain concern travel into and out of Israel, which involves strict testing and quarantine rules.
Israel’s vaccine rollout began in December and was remarkably swift, spurred by an ample supply of doses and the Green Pass, which granted vaccinated Israelis more freedoms than people who did not get a shot.
The campaign resulted in a steep decline in confirmed cases from a peak of a seven-day average of more than 8,500 a day in January, to a dozen or so now, according to Our World in Data. More than 63 percent of the population had received at least one shot of the vaccine, Our World in Data said. (Vaccines are available to people 12 and older.)
In Rehovot, a city in central Israel, some residents had ignored the mask mandate, dangling masks under their chins, long before Mr. Levi’s announcement. Masks appeared even rarer after the mandate ended on Tuesday.
Israel is in a moment of political fragility after a coalition government narrowly replaced Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader, from the conservative Likud party, with Naftali Bennett, a hard-right prime minister.
A long-delayed march of far-right activists through Palestinian areas of Jerusalem took place on Tuesday evening. Videos showed that almost none of the marchers wore masks.
In other news around the world:
Portugal on Tuesday reopened its borders to American visitors, as long as they can provide proof of a PCR test taken within 72 hours of their flight, or an antigen test within 24 hours. Portugal is hoping to salvage a summer tourism season that is a pillar of its economy, but the announcement also coincided with Portugal’s registering its highest daily number of new Covid cases since March, with 973 cases reported on Tuesday.
Across the Asia-Pacific region, the countries that led the world in containing the coronavirus are languishing in the race to put it behind them. In southern China, the spread of the Delta variant led to a sudden lockdown last week in Guangzhou, a major industrial capital. Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia have also clamped down after recent outbreaks, while Japan is dealing with a fourth round of infections. In some places, like Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand, vaccinations are barely underway. Others, like China, Japan, South Korea and Australia, have seen a sharp rise in inoculations in recent weeks, while remaining far from offering vaccines to all
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.