After curfew bites dust, cabinet to seek Hanukkah ban on visits to others’ homes

Ministers to also consider closure of shops after 5:30 p.m. for duration of holiday in bid to cut down infections by keeping people from gathering

Sufganiyot donuts sold at a bakery ahead of Hanukkah, outside the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on December 7, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Sufganiyot donuts sold at a bakery ahead of Hanukkah, outside the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on December 7, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A day after scrapping a curfew and allowing malls to open, the government will instead attempt to impose a ban on visiting others’ homes in the evening during the holiday of Hanukkah to curb rising coronavirus infection rates, according to Hebrew media reports Wednesday.

Channel 12 says the Health Ministry proposes to start the plan Thursday, the first night of Hanukkah, and take effect each night from 5:30 p.m. until midnight, between December 10-17. The prohibition includes meetings of nuclear families who do not live together.

It’s not clear how such a ban would be enforced.

Stores and other walk-in businesses will also be ordered to shut during these hours, along with gatherings at synagogues.

The restrictions would not affect restaurants offering takeaways and deliveries or other sectors of the economy.

Thursday marks the first night of the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, which is often marked by extended family get-togethers in the evening for the lighting of traditional Hanukkah candles. The government has consistently attempted to impose restrictions over holidays throughout the pandemic, fearing that gatherings will bolster the spread of the coronavirus.

The limitations will only affect Jewish-majority towns, while communities with major Christian populations will go under similar limitations during the Christmas period.

Children seen lighting the menorah candles as they learn about the upcoming holiday of Hanukkah, at a kindergarten in Moshav Yashresh, on November 30, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The coronavirus cabinet, which must approve such measures, will only meet to decide on them on Thursday, hours before it would be slated to take effect.

“It’s possible we will need to tighten some of the restrictions in the coming days,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a press conference Wednesday.

The reported proposal comes after legal challenges sunk a planned nightly curfew that the cabinet had approved for December 9 to January 2.

Representatives of the attorney general cautioned that they would not be able to defend the government’s decision to impose a nightly curfew against possible legal challenges because senior Health Ministry officials were not on board with the move.

The curfew was challenged as ineffective by senior health officials including the coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.

On Tuesday ministers approved opening malls across the country starting Wednesday morning, along with all outdoor markets and museums.

The stores and malls are subject to social-distancing restrictions to limit crowding, with computerized registration systems tracking the number of people entering malls and guards limiting the number of shoppers in outdoor markets.

The government did not explain why it had decided to reverse course on tightening restrictions after pushing off the plan for nighttime curfews.

Fifteen malls, outdoor markets and some museums were opened late last month in a pilot plan meant to test the efficacy of virus safety restrictions. Israel’s daily new cases have been gradually rising as the economy and schools have opened up.

Shoppers at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan, November 29, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel imposed its second nationwide lockdown in mid-September over the High Holidays, and it remained fully in place until mid-October, when the government began to gradually lift the rules. It has yet to lift all of the restrictions imposed at that time.

The country has seen over 1,700 cases a day for the last two days, the highest daily tallies since October 10, as runaway infections have upended the country’s gains during its second national lockdown and threatened to bring a third crashing down.

Israel’s first batch of Pfizer vaccines was flown in on Wednesday as the country began to gear up for a mass vaccination effort to bring the pandemic under control.

A DHL plane landed from Brussels carrying a cargo of between 3,000 and 4,000 doses of the vaccine in an initial delivery, with hundreds of thousands more set to arrive on Thursday.

Netanyahu, in a speech at Ben Gurion Airport, said that he would be the first person in Israel to receive the coronavirus vaccine as part of a campaign to encourage inoculation.

According to Channel 12, the first shipment is something of a pilot program, to practice the transit and storage of the vaccines, which must be stored at -70°C (-94°F) and used within five days of their removal from cold storage.

The US Food and Drug Administration will review Pfizer’s trial data later this week. If it approves the vaccine for use, Israeli officials are expected to give it their okay.

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