COVID19 mini-update, June 15, 2021: Israel drops indoor mask requirement, last vestige of COVID restrictions

As of today, Israel abolished its final remaining COVID restriction not related to international travel: the requirement to wear masks indoors in public/shared spaces. (The outdoor mask mandate was abolished about a month ago, after several weeks of non-enforcement.)

Incoming travelers from abroad still are subject to COVID test and quarantine: however, you can get an antibody test (for either vaccine or past recovery — Israel treats these as equivalent) and if you do have antibodies, get discharged from quarantine the same day. If you have a “green tag” from Israel (vaccination or recovery certificate), you can skip the quarantine altogether. (All other uses of the “green tag” have been abolished effective June 1.)

According to the Ministry of Health dashboard, we have 212 active cases in the country (presumably, as usual, half of them asymptomatic), 11 of them in isolation hotels, 53 in hospital, the rest in self-isolation at home. Of those 53, 29 are severe cases (19 on respirators, some of them hospitalized months ago), the 24 remaining ones mild cases hospitalized for something else.

Deaths are down to 1 every other day or so, from 80+ a day at the peak of the epidemic. The average over the past month is 1/day. Inside sources tell me almost everybody hospitalized now is from the Arab or Beduin sectors, which have been very vaccine-shy. The “general sector” (everybody not Arab, Beduin, or “ultra-Orthodox”) has over 90% vaccinated or documented recovery above the age of 16 — again, the working assumption of our public health authorities is that recovery imparts a level of protection comparable to the Pfizer vaccine we use here. Corona wards in the major cities in the center of the country have been shut down or mothballed for lack of patients, or repurposed as generic internal medicine wards.

One tail-end issue that came up, and has landed on the desk of the new Minister of Health, Nitzan Horowitz (a former journalist, and actually a fairly sharp cookie despite me disagreeing with pretty much everything he stands for): at the height of the crisis, emergency authorization for hiring several hundred additional doctors was given to the public hospitals during the height of the epidemic. Now the budget has dried up, and those doctors find themselves out of a job despite the public hospitals being chronically understaffed even in normal times (especially during the winter season)…

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