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Israelis Go Mask-less For First Time in Over a Year, Students Head Back to the Classroom

People without face masks watch the sunset, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
People without face masks watch the sunset, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

JERUSALEM, Israel - Israelis can finally see more than each other’s eyes for the first time in more than a year after the government lifted its nationwide mask mandate on Sunday.

“The masks are intended to protect us from the coronavirus,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said. “After professionals decided this was no longer required in open spaces, I decided to enable taking them off.”

Masks are still required indoors and in large gatherings.

Israel’s education system also reopened on Sunday, allowing primary and secondary school children to return to their classrooms.

"We are on a festive day of opening the education system,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Until now, students were in capsules, now they are reuniting for the first time. I just visited 7th-grade students, they are studying the Bible, the Book of Samuel, and I told them that our link to the past and our leap into the future is what characterizes our people. We are currently leading the world in getting out of the corona(virus). Resumption of studies also in the middle schools is a clear indication of that."

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Netanyahu urged Israelis not to throw away their masks just yet.

"There are two things I want to emphasize. First, we are not done with the masks,” he said. “This means inside buildings and classrooms, we wear masks, you can take them off outside, with recommendation to wear it when people are gathering. Generally, masks inside, outside you can take them off. Second, we are not over with the corona(virus) because it can come back.”

Israel’s coronavirus cases have drastically decreased after Israel led one of the world’s fastest vaccination rollouts. Most of its population has been inoculated and most virus restrictions have been lifted.

Israelis who can prove they have the antibodies to the coronavirus – either by surviving COVID or by opting to get vaccinated – are granted a “Green Pass” that gives them access to restaurants, gyms, and other entertainment venues. Those who are not immune, do not.

Israeli media reports that public service employees who refuse to get the Green Pass must get weekly coronavirus PCR tests. If they refuse to present negative COVID tests to their office, the Civil Service Commission has the right to reassign the employee, ask them to work from home or fire them.

The rules are aimed at “preventing morbidity and reducing its damage, ensuring the continued operation of government ministries,” the commission said in a statement.

However, it is not up to the commission to decide which employees face potential consequences for refusing to get weekly tests. Government ministry directors will decide if they will enforce these rules based on their work environment and the threat of infection

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