The Health Ministry on Tuesday has temporarily lifted the requirement for citizens to wear protective masks in open public spaces and in classrooms until Friday, March 22, due to the extreme heatwave.
Israel is beset by what may be one of the longest and most extreme heatwave ever recorded this week, with temperatures expected to reach around 40°C for at least the next six days.
“We need to take protecting ourselves from coronavirus seriously. But the heatwave can be as dangerous,” newly appointed Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in a statement. “Following the advice of health authorities, I have decided to lift the requirement to wear masks as long as there are no large gatherings.”
The Health Ministry said that students will not be required to wear masks at school, while staying in open areas, or in buildings without air conditioning, except for during gatherings.
Several cities around the country have either canceled or threatened to cancel classes on Monday and Tuesday due to the requirement from students to wear protective face masks during the scorching heat.
Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav earlier sent a letter to outgoing Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, saying that the obligation to wear face masks had made studying impossible and demanding to revoke the order.
The Israel Pediatric Association on Monday said that school children should not be forced to wear face masks during the hot days of summer despite health regulations meant to prevent coronavirus infections.
In the statement, the pediatrics association urged the health and education ministries to revoke the Health Ministry order in the wake of the unusual heatwave that hit the country on Sunday.
"During this current heatwave, requiring children to wear masks for long hours is impractical and a significant burden, masks that get wet from sweat will become ineffective," read the statement. "Therefore, we believe children should be exempt from wearing masks until this heatwave ends."
According to the association's experts, the effectiveness of face masks in preventing coronavirus spread among children is unclear and there is no evidence in the scientific literature to support the Health Ministry's claims.