The Health Ministry chief said Tuesday it would be "wise" for Israelis to consider wearing face masks in crowded places amid a worrying surge in coronavirus cases in the country.
Two coronavirus outbreaks were detected over the past few days in schools in the cities of Modi'in and Binyamina. As a result of the outbreaks, the number of new daily coronavirus cases on Monday stood at 125, the highest since April of this year.
Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levi in an interview with Ynet recommended the public adheres to the mask mandate, which was officially dropped last week, in "crowded places, including public transportation."
He added the ministry will soon issue a directive stating that everyone will be required to wear a face mask at all schools and academic institutions in areas where outbreaks have been detected. "This directive will also apply to places where there is a direct physical contact between people and certainly in virus hotspots," he said.
Levi also expressed support for Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz's proposal to fine those who travel to countries with high coronavirus infection rates, including Russia, India, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.
"The sums we are talking about will deter people," he said. "We see a disease that a large part of it comes from abroad, and the infection chains are getting mixed up and tangled ... I am definitely afraid that it could spread further."
He added the strain first located in India is likely responsible for recent outbreaks in the country. "We strongly suspect, although it is still not definite, that this is the Delta variant."
Levi's comments came shortly after a top virus expert said that Israel should consider bringing back the mask mandate for populated areas.
Prof. Galia Rahav, the head of the Infectious Disease Unit and Laboratories at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, told Ynet that she is "definitely in favor" of using face masks in public spaces, such as airports and hospitals.
She added that it's "painful" to watch the lack of enforcement at Ben Gurion Airport, where thousands of travelers returned to Israel from countries with high COVID infection rates over the past month.
"Enforcement should have been done a long time ago. There is no reason to travel to places like Russia and all the 'blacklisted' countries. You should avoid traveling to areas where infection is high, especially with children."