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Israel's Health Ministry knew masks had 'no strong scientific basis' before imposing mandate

Documents released under freedom of information act reveal Israel’s Health Ministry imposed policy to send 'educational' message to increase COVID compliance

December 09, 2021

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03:46 PM

Israel's Health Ministry knew masks had 'no strong scientific basis' before imposing mandate

By: David Heller

At the end of March 2020, governments across the world were imposing numerous restrictions due to the panic surrounding the COVID outbreak. Among those countries was Israel, which by March 30 was under lockdown with the government considering implementing a new requirement to wear a face mask in all public areas. Until recently, the public was kept in the dark regarding the basis for the decision to impose the mandate.

In response to a Freedom of Information request filed by lawyer Shiloh Gadi, the government disclosed the reports that were made to the Team for Treating Epidemics (which ultimately recommended a mask mandate). One of the reports, produced by Prof. Yehuda Carmeli, Director of the National Center for Infection Prevention and Antibiotic Resistance Integrative, mentioned that opinion in several countries was that masks helped reduce the spread of the virus, but also stated that “Studies on the subject are of a poor standard … there is no strong scientific basis for the new policy.” It also advised the Team to “provide an explanation as to why the recommendation was made, and to ensure that the public is made aware that there is no evidence that masking prevents infection.”

In addition to the admission that there is insufficient scientific basis for a mask mandate, the Team was made aware that masks can also have negative effects. “People with heart and lung impairments should consult their family doctor to ensure that breathing difficulties do not arise,” was another recommendation, noting that the public should “be made aware that the harm may outweigh the benefit.” This caution is perhaps the most disturbing of all, that some people should actually consult a doctor before masking up.

The dangers of mask-wearing weren’t part of the government public relations campaign, but they did make their way into the actual regulations, which exempted anyone who experienced “significant difficulties” wearing a mask from the mandate. While the government didn’t promote this exemption, a group of activists launched a webpage to raise awareness of the dangers, of the ineffectiveness of masking, and of conditions for exemptions.

The mask mandate came into effect just days after these meetings took place in April 2020 and it remains in force to this day (with the exception of a ten-day period in June 2021). The motivation for implementing a mask mandate when the government knew it had no satisfactory scientific basis is unclear. The report itself indicated that a mandate might have a “psychological effect” and that it could transmit an “educational” message to the population which could lead to greater compliance with other COVID restrictions.

In light of the revelations regarding what the government knew in the days before implementing the mask mandate, will members of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) or the media finally call the government to account? Will the public, whose trust in the public health establishment has been eroded, demand the government withdraw this mandate that has “no strong scientific basis”? The report itself raised this concern to the policymakers: “In the absence of a professional or factual basis, the Team will have difficulty in issuing a recommendation to walk around with masks.” Apparently not.

FOI Response translated into English 

En español aquí

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