Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash talks to Ynet about the new reduced restrictions and the future of the country's fight against COVID-19.
Israel today officially lifted the outdoors mask mandate; how concerned are you about a resurgence of the virus?
“We want to closely monitor every step we take to ensure it does not cause an increase in morbidity, but I think that this step is safe.
I am not concerned that there will be infections caused by people going without masks outdoors. But we do want to see people wearing masks when entering buildings or using public transportation. That I am concerned by.
If people do not wear masks inside buildings, then there could definitely be infections.
Were you pushed into the decision on removing the outdoor mask mandate? We have seen a decline in mask use outdoors in recent weeks.
The timing of the move was calculated. We wanted to get through Independence Day first, as there were a lot of gatherings outside.
I am aware of the reality and while I have also seen fewer and fewer masks being worn on the streets, I appreciate that a large proportion have been abiding by our directives.
I am happy with the timing and that we have actually reached this day, and I hope that we will continue to move forwards on this issue.
Is there a timeframe for removing the indoors mask mandate?
"At the moment we are not dealing with this issue. We will have to track the data on infections among vaccinated people in indoor areas as well. Perhaps we will reconsider when we can see all the data."
Are we talking weeks or months?
"I do not want to give a time frame because I also do not know what the time frame is. I do not want to raise false hopes. We are definitely looking at these things and the more we can lift restrictions, the more we will.
Every day new variants emerge. We are tracking what is happening in the world and especially which [variants] are arriving here. We want to identify the variants that are relevant as there are an endless number of them.
The relevant ones are those that are more contagious or can infect people who have been vaccinated. This is why this Indian variant, which has some characteristics that indicate that it could infect the vaccinated is worrying us.
We still do not know this for a fact. We will have to investigate and see what is happening in the rest of the world. Therefore, at this stage, we are occupied with preventing it from arriving here, tracing it people coming from abroad and tracking anyone those people have come into contact with in Israel.
Would you say that people can now go abroad on vacation, or should we be sticking to essential travel?
I still think traveling abroad is a risk. For some countries this is a bigger risk, such as Brazil, while for others it may be smaller.
Even so, traveling through airports and to other countries can lead to infection, so I would recommend to those who have no choice should do so very carefully.
When traveling abroad, care must be taken to maintain social distancing and wear masks in necessary places. People should postpone any unnecessary trips though.
When are we going to start vaccinating 12-15 year olds? We have still not had any FDA approval for this.
We are still waiting for approval and we will not take any steps on this issue until we have that approval. I understand that Pfizer has already submitted the data required for approval, so I do not believe there will be any great delay. But I think we still need to prepare to vaccinate children from May.
Should we be concerned that there may be a shortage of vaccines in Israel in a few months despite the current slow pace of vaccinations?
"We are talking about the next rounds of vaccinations and we believe it will be necessary. For our part, we must secure agreements with the companies for the next rounds of vaccinations.
I know the prime minister is working on this and hope it will be settled very soon. We will be in a very risky situation should we not secure those agreements.