Masks Come Off As Israel Vaunts Virus Victory

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Israelis stepped into the streets without masks on Sunday for the first time in a year, a key milestone as the country vaccinates its way out of a coronavirus nightmare. With over half the population fully vaccinated in one of the world’s fastest anti-Covid 19 inoculation campaigns, Israel’s Health Ministry announced that masks would no longer be required in public outdoor spaces.

The vaccination of close to 5 million people has sent Israel’s coronavirus caseload tumbling from some 10,000 new infections per day as recently as mid-January, to around 200 cases a day. That has allowed the reopening of schools, bars, restaurants and other indoor gatherings — although masks are still required in indoor public spaces.

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Israel just months ago had the world’s highest infection rate, a coronavirus outbreak that left 6,300 people dead among 836,000 cases. But the country sent its coronavirus caseload tumbling after striking a deal for a vast stock of Pfizer/BioNTech jabs.

In exchange, it agreed to pay above market price and share data it gathers on the recipients, using one of the world’s most sophisticated medical data systems. Since December, some 53% of Israel’s 9.3 million people have received both doses of the jab, including around four-fifths of the population aged over 20.

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As recently as January it was registering 10,000 cases per day. But as the effects of mass vaccination kicked in, by March it was able to implement a gradual reopening. Another landmark in Israel’s exit from coronavirus restrictions was the full resumption of the country’s educational system, without restrictions on the numbers of pupils in classrooms.

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