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Israeli Health Ministry officials are considering reimposing a mask mandate, following a rise in COVID infection rates.

Coronavirus czar Dr. Salman Zarka spoke at the Knesset’s Health Committee Wednesday morning to discuss the spread of the BA.5 strain of the virus in Israel.

BA.5, a subvariant of the Omicron variant, is believed to have originated in South Africa, where it was first identified in early May.

Zarka estimated that there are some 15,000-20,000 new COVID infections per day in Israel, and that BA.5 now accounts for roughly half of all new cases.

“The infection statistics are, it seems, the tip of the iceberg,” Zarka said. “I estimate that there are between 15,000 to 20,000 people infected each day.”

“The BA.5 variant has taken Omicron’s place, and it will be the dominant variant.”

“The new BA.5 variant is close to 50% of infections now. This variant leads to relatively mild cases among young people, but we are seeing a rise in hospitalizations. It is important that we protect high-risk groups and people over 60.”

Zarka warned there is “clear evidence of a rise in infection rates,” adding that the Health Ministry may reinstitute the indoor mask mandate.

“We’re considering restoring the mask mandate in closed areas.”

The Pfizer – BioNTech vaccine used in Israel is less effective at preventing infections with the new variant, Zarka said, but claimed that the vaccine does still help reduce the risk of serious illness.

“With the new variant the vaccine now helps less to prevent infection, but it does protect against serious illness.”

Zarka’s announcement marks a reversal by the Health Ministry, which less than a month ago dropped the mask mandate on flights.

If the government does reimpose the indoor mask mandate, it will be the second time during the pandemic that the requirement was first removed then restored.

In June 2021, the Health Ministry ended the indoor mask mandate – only to reimpose the mandate later that month.

The indoor mask requirement was dropped a second time this April.