Israel drops outdoor COVID mask order

It's like a glimpse in to the past - one Israeli called it "a very good weird."

In the latest steps towards a return to relative normality, Israelis ditched the mandatory wearing of protective masks outdoors.

Boosted by a successful mass-vaccination campaign against the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is becoming the envy of many other countries still struggling to get infections under control.

Dudi Kepler lives in Tel Aviv.

"For me to get out without mask it's like a holiday, it's like the future. And I want that this day will be good news for all the world and all the world will be go after Israel."

About 81% of citizens or residents over 16 have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and it appears to be working: infections and hospitalizations are down sharply.

But entry by foreigners is still limited and non-immune Israelis who return from abroad must self-isolate.

That's due to concerns over virus variants challenging the vaccine.

The Health Ministry says it has detected seven cases of a new Indian variant in Israel, one whose potency is being assessed.

The country's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that coronavirus could still return. Recommending Israelis still wear masks indoors and at crowded events.

Pupils of all school ages are also now back in the classroom.

The mood summed up on the front cover of one Israeli newspaper read "Breathing free."