Back to Masks Already?

YERUSHALAYIM -
Davening while wearing face masks in an open space at the Mahane Yehuda Market in March, 2021 in Yerushalayim. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

An outbreak of coronavirus in two cities in Israel has prompted the Health Ministry to consider reinstating the requirement to wear masks in closed spaces, only days after it was lifted.

The new cases—45 in Binyamina, 20 in Modi’in—were tentatively attributed to the Delta variant that originated in India, and is believed to be 1.5 times more infectious than the British variant, which accounted for most of Israel’s last outbreak. It is not yet known whether it is more virulent.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly met with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz for a situation assessment on Sunday evening.

The outbreak is still on a small scale at this point, and the government advisory panel has said that it probably will be contained, making a return to stringent restrictions and lockdowns unnecessary.

Prof. Ran Balicer, who heads the panel, said on Sunday that with 85 percent of adult Israelis vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, which has tested effective against the Delta variant, Israel’s recovery is not seriously endangered.

“As long as the outbreaks remain local and contained, and Ben Gurion Airport is well managed and isolation instructions are observed, no change in policy will be required, Balicer wrote on Twitter.

In the event of a large outbreak, “the decisions will be complicated,” says Balicer, because of the change in the pattern of morbidity in a population that is mostly vaccinated, and because it is not yet clear what preventative measures should be introduced if the impact is mainly on children and teenagers, in the absence of full knowledge of the consequences of the disease for them.

“What is the price of morbidity in children and when will intervention be justified? At what stage will a blanket recommendation be required to vaccinate adolescents, aged 12-16?” Balicer asks, noting that epidemiologists are working to develop answers.