Israel Reinstates Indoor Face Mask Rule Amid Delta Variant

Ralph Ellis

June 25, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Israeli government on Friday told residents they need to start wearing face masks indoors again because of an uptick in coronavirus infections that health authorities think is caused by the Delta variant.

The government dropped the indoor mask mandate 10 days ago except for people on airplanes and unvaccinated people in long-term health care facilities. But infections quadrupled this week to 138 after outbreaks at two schools, Reuters reported, and the government put the mask mandate back in place.

The Israeli Health Ministry says people should wear masks in all indoor settings except the home. Masks should also be worn in large outdoor gatherings, the government said, such as the gay pride events taking place this weekend.

In another step taken to limit the Delta variant, the government has delayed allowing foreign nationals to enter Israel for tourism from July 1-Aug.1, the Wall Street Journal said.

"Our goal at the moment, first and foremost, is to safeguard the citizens of Israel from the Delta variant that is running amok in the world," Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

The Journal said Israeli health officials think about 90% of the new infections can be attributed to the Delta variant. 

Israel is a highly vaccinated nation, with about 55% of the population having received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Reuters said. The government is urging parents to have children 12-15 vaccinated.

The highly transmissible Delta variant is thought to be responsible for an uptick in cases around the world, including a third wave sweeping Africa, The New York Times reported.

More than 5 million COVID cases and 140,000 deaths have been recorded in Africa, the Times said. Earlier waves of infections were not so severe in Africa, but a third wave "has come with a severity that many countries were not prepared for," Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa C.D.C., said in a news conference on Thursday.

The World Health Organization has found the Delta variant in most of the samples sequenced in the last month, The Times said.

The Times cited the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention as saying the Delta variant has been detected in 13 African countries stretching medical resources in nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Zambia, the Times said.

Only about 1% of Africa's population of 1.3 billion people have been fully immunized, the Times said.

"We have to vaccinate at speed and at scale," Nkengasong said. "We are racing against time."

Sources:

Israeli Ministry of Health. "Starting today (25.6) at 12:00: Obligation to wear a mask in any place other than an open space"

https://www.gov.il/he/departments/news/25062021-01

Reuters. "Israel requires masks indoors again as Delta variant drives up cases"

https://news.yahoo.com/israel-requires-masks-indoors-again-080351516.html

WSJ. "Delta Variant Outbreak in Israel Infects Vaccinated Adults"

https://www.wsj.com/articles/vaccinated-people-account-for-half-of-new-covid-19-delta-cases-in-israeli-outbreak-11624624326?mod=e2tw

NYT. "Across Africa, the Delta variant is driving a third wave of the virus, experts say"

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/06/25/world/covid-vaccine-coronavirus-mask#across-africa-the-delta-variant-is-driving-a-third-wave-of-the-virus-experts-say

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