Israel's coronavirus czar on Sunday said although he doesn't expect another COVID-19 wave to hit the country, a mask mandate will continue for the foreseeable future.
During a weekly press briefing, Prof. Ash touched on the state’s utilization of COVID-19 Antigen rapid test kits, the recent reopening of Ben Gurion Airport and the fourth stage of the lockdown exit, which came into effect Sunday.
“We are pleased by the improvements we are seeing, be it the decrease in the daily infection rate, the lower virus' reproduction number, or the fewer number of patients in serious condition. The numbers are declining but they are still not so low as to allow us to change the policy on masks and self-isolation," Prof. Nachman Ash said during the briefing.
"The masks are most effective among crowds in confined spaces. However, we are not discussing any change [in the mask mandate] and currently wearing masks is required both outdoors and indoors."
He said he believes the government will forge the necessary deals with other states to allow only vaccinated travelers into the country in order to avoid an import of new virus variants.
"We know there are negotiations with different countries. These agreements should be based on the principle that whoever comes here is vaccinated or recovered. I estimate that this summer there will not be a mass influx of tourists here. If we do it safely - I believe it will not bring in new variants."
Ash added that despite promising data, the health system is not ruling out a possibility of additional virus outbreaks occurring after the upcoming holidays.
“Over the next two weeks we will monitor the data closely to see where we are headed. These next two weeks will be very challenging because we have Election Day, Passover as well as other holidays in April, including Ramadan. At this time, everyone should act responsibly and adhere to existing guidelines.
“Unfortunately, from what I have seen, people often fail to follow the regulations… and it's a shame. If we see an increase in infections, we will just have to go backwards."
Nevertheless, the professor added that he does not "anticipate another virus wave and I hope we act responsibly so that it does not happen."
Finally, he said Israel has started to use fast diagnostic kits, with special testing stations expected to be set up across the country at entrances to various events reserved for Green Pass holders. The tests will allow those who for various reasons cannot get vaccinated, especially children, to enter these facilities.
"The tests are not cheap. Around NIS 50-60, which will either be added to the employer or customer's bill. I very much hope that over time there will be cheap rapid tests, the more this technology evolves."