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Israel Makes Masks in Public Compulsory

A family in Bnei Brak, which Israel declared a "restricted zone" due to its high rate of infections / Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli government issued orders on Tuesday making the wearing of masks in public compulsory to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

It also approved a timeline for tightened travel restrictions for the Passover holiday, which begins on Wednesday when Jewish families gather for the festive "seder" meal commemorating the Biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that this year, the dinner should be a small affair, limited to household members, in a bid to keep infection rates in check.

Netanyahu last week urged Israelis to wear masks while in public, a measure the government said would become compulsory as of Sunday. Children under the age of six, the mentally disabled or those alone in vehicles or workplaces are exempted. The government said masks could be homemade.

From Tuesday evening until Friday morning, a ban on unnecessary out-of-town travel will be in place, effectively preventing large gatherings of family and friends for the seder meals.

From 3 p.m. on Wednesday, a few hours before the meal gets underway, until 7 a.m. on Thursday, food shopping within towns will also be forbidden, in a tightened lockdown. Israelis are already banned from moving more than 100 metres (yards) for home except for visits to grocery stores and pharmacies, and travel to work.

Announcing an exemption in the Passover restrictions, a government statement said the seder night shopping ban would not apply to "non-Jewish minorities", a reference to Arab citizens who are mostly Muslims with a Christian minority.

Public transportation, including flights in and out of Israel, will be suspended from 8 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Tuesday and 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) on Sunday, the statement said.

Israel has more than 9,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Sixty people have died.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky