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Israel Renews Indoor Mask Requirement After Rise in New Coronavirus Cases 

Spice Shop in Jerusalem
Spice Shop in Jerusalem

UPDATE: Israel has brought back the requirement to wear masks indoors in public places due to the outbreak of the Delta variant of coronavirus. Despite an aggressive vaccination campaign, which has innoculated some 85% of the adult population, Israelis must cover their faces as of noon on Friday when inside in public, the Health Ministry said. Some 227 new cases were reported on Thursday, up from single and low double digit new cases in recent weeks.

Earlier, Israel decided to postpone the entrance of individual, vaccinated tourists (those who are not in groups) by a month — pushing the date back to August 1. 

Israel had said it would open its gates to vaccinated individual visitors as of July 1 after opening up to a limited number of tour groups starting in May.

But after a rise in COVID cases this month (more than 100 new cases each day for several days in a row), officials decided to postpone the plan.

Adi Aharoni, CEO of Israel Experts, the tour company that won the lottery to bring the first group of tourists to Israel after the pandemic, said he thought the decision would “further damage the tourism industry, that is already is in a critical state.”

“An average of ten thousand Israelis go abroad on daily basis, not all of them are vaccinated, and some go to red countries,” Aharoni told CBN News. They meet many more Israelis when they return than a tourist so their chances of spreading the virus are much highter, he said.

Aharoni said there were “zero new cases” from the pilot program to allow tourist groups back into the country. The uptick in cases, he said, was “caused by Israelis who broke the rules.”

“I think that with the terms of vaccinated tourists only + PCR tests we [are] very safe. They should not stop [letting] tourists in. I am sure that they will find out that they will not be COVID-spreaders," he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a discussion with government ministers and professionals on the reestablished coronavirus cabinet about the spread of the coronavirus, particularly the Delta variant.

“Our goal at the moment, first and foremost, is to safeguard the citizens of Israel from the Delta variant that is running amok in the world. Alongside this, we want to minimize harm to routine life in the country,” Bennett said.

“Therefore, we have decided to take action as soon as possible, even now, in order not to pay a heavier price later, by taking quick and responsible actions. This depends on us. If we strictly adhere to the rules and act responsibly, we will succeed in this together,” he said.

Bennett directed the professionals in the group to base their decisions on data and maintain maximum transparency.

Among their decisions are mounting a national operation to vaccinate all Israelis from age 12 and up; recommending the wearing of masks in closed spaces; mounting an information campaign to increase vaccination efforts; and increasing testing.

Regarding international travel it was decided all Israelis traveling abroad would be required to sign a declaration before leaving promising not to go to high-risk countries.

Bennett visited Israel’s international Ben Gurion airport earlier this week. He said Israel is treating the rise in cases as a new outbreak of the coronavirus, focusing on the Delta variant. He said the rate of infection for this variant has a 50% higher infection rate, including among those who are vaccinated.

“Our goal is to cut it off, to take a bucket of water and pour it over the fire while the fire is still small. To cut if off early and strongly, and be very transparent with you, the Israeli public, because you deserve to know everything,” he said then.

He said there had been massive violations of quarantine and he said they would mobilize some 270 inspectors to check up on Israelis, especially those returning from abroad.

Bennett encouraged Israelis not to travel abroad unless they must do so but rather vacation inside their own country this summer. (Many Israelis typically like to travel abroad for summer holidays.)

“Whoever does not need to go abroad, do not go abroad. If it is essential, that is OK but if it is not necessary – travel around Israel. We have a beautiful country. We will strengthen domestic tourism,” Bennett urged his countrymen.

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