Israeli students at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, on May 17, 2020. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90. – Israel’s Health Ministry on Tuesday temporarily lifted the requirement to wear protective masks in schools and open spaces due to an extreme heatwave in the country.

According to the Health Ministry, the exemption, which will last until the end of the week when the heat is expected to abate, states that “there is no obligation to wear a mask for students in schools, and also those who are in open areas and buildings without air conditioning, except during gatherings.”

The news came as Israel’s coronavirus infection tally jumped by another 22 cases, just a day after a 12-hour lull in new cases not seen since the coronavirus pandemic first hit the country.

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein issued a statement saying the decision to waive mask requirements was made after consulting with medical authorities.

Schools in Israel were reopened to all students this week, with regulations including a requirement for students in grades 4 and up to wear protective masks. Younger children are only required to wear masks on school premises while outside the classroom.

However, mask use was waived for students after Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav sent a letter to outgoing Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, expressing the difficulty students were having in wearing masks over their noses and mouths in hot classrooms. The Health Ministry had previously ordered classroom windows to be kept open as a precaution against the spread of the virus.

Some cities even canceled school classes on Monday and Tuesday due to the suffering of the students.

The Education Ministry’s request was bolstered by the Israel Pediatric Association on Monday, which issued its own statement saying, “During this current heatwave, requiring children to wear masks for long hours is impractical and a significant burden,” and requesting that children be exempt from wearing masks until temperatures come down.

The current heatwave is among the longest and most extreme ever recorded in Israel, with temperatures around 20 degrees hotter than normal for the season.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel has confirmed 16,643 cases of infection. However, only 3,114 active cases remain, with 152 of those currently receiving treatment in hospital.

Among the latest cases is a two-year-old toddler from Tel Aviv, who contracted COVID-19 from a family member.

An additional 16 toddlers at that child’s kindergarten were sent into home quarantine.