The country's coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash said Sunday he believes that the Health Ministry will discuss removing the indoors mask mandate in the coming weeks.
"While I can say [an end to the mandate on masks indoors] is on the way, I still cannot specify timeframes,” Ash said. Israel lifted its rule for wearing face masks outdoors on April 18.
He said that despite the sharp decline in COVID-19 cases following Israel's massive vaccine campaign, the next step regarding masks depends on several factors, including the recent downturn in the national inoculation rate and the fact that 12- to 15-year-olds cannot yet receive a vaccine.
The vaccination of children "is sensitive and complex, but I remain calm as we have excellent professionals who can make the right decision," said Ash.
"I believe that the vaccines are safe and effective even among children, but this is a professional issue,” he said, adding that he hopes the FDA will approve vaccines for children this week.
“Vaccinating children is important in order to prevent serious illness. Even if long-term side effects do occur, it is still safer than being sick.”
Another factor, Ash said, was the impact on infection rates of the recent lifting of other health restrictions.
“On Thursday we ended restrictions on certain activities, including those involving food and drink. We need to see that this move did not lead to an increase in infection," he said.
"We also want to see the effects of the Lag BaOmer celebrations as well,” he said, referring to the Jewish festival that took place at the end of April.
“We are also still not sure about infection rates among people who are vaccinated. The more data we get, the easier we will be able to make the decision," he said.
Ash also voiced concern over the drop in numbers of people receiving the vaccine.
“We have reached five million [fully] inoculated, which while a significant number, I think is not enough. I want more but people are now coming to get vaccinated slowly," he said.
The coronavirus czar also expressed fear of COVID variants "that will prove somewhat impervious to the vaccine" spreading in Israel.
This he said was the reason for the Health Ministry advisory for only essential travel abroad and for the travel warnings to Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Turkey, where the infection rates are among the highest in the world.
“We have essentially banned trips to these countries," he said. "Those returning from these countries, whether they have previously recovered from COVID or have been vaccinated against it, will have to enter isolation upon their return.”
The Health Ministry reported just 17 new coronavirus cases on Saturday after some 11,000 tests, putting Israel's contagion rate at a little under 0.2%.
The country's number of active patients has now decreased to 985 following the massive vaccination campaign.
The number of patients in critical condition dropped to 84, of whom 50 are connected to ventilators. One person died of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the national death toll in the pandemic to 6,376.