Health Ministry reportedly to seek nighttime curfew on Purim festival

Officials are concerned parties will be held in violation of limitations on public gatherings, driving up COVID-19 cases

Israelis dressed up in costumes, as is customary during the Jewish holiday of Purim, seen in Tel Aviv, on March 10, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis dressed up in costumes, as is customary during the Jewish holiday of Purim, seen in Tel Aviv, on March 10, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Health Ministry reportedly intends to push for nighttime curfew restrictions over the coming Purim festival to clamp down on revelry and prevent violations of limits on public gatherings that could cause a rise in coronavirus infections.

At a meeting attended by Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy and other senior ministry figures on Sunday, a decision was made to seek the measure, given fears that many people are planning on organizing parties and other celebrations, despite rules against such events, Channel 12 reported.

Since the start of the outbreak in the country last year, the government has occasionally ordered curfews, specifically over major religious holidays, in an effort to prevent gatherings and an inevitable spread of the virus.

Earlier in the day, national coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said at a virus briefing that officials are concerned violations could push infection rates up, forcing the country back into a lockdown after limitations were significantly eased on Sunday.

He said celebrations can be held in a family framework, and urged against large communal meals or parties that are “completely forbidden.”

“I urge all celebrants to refrain from parties,” Ash said. “The outcome is predictable — more confirmed cases and seriously ill and a shutdown of the economy and education.”

National coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, during a video briefing for reporters from the ultra-Orthodox community, February 9, 2021. (Screen capture, Israel Hayom)

He warned that if there is another wave of infections after the holiday, there will be a need for another round of restrictions on commercial activities and education, including even a full lockdown.

Ash also cautioned against relying on inoculations to prevent the virus spread, saying “the vaccinations won’t help alone, you can’t rely on them. We all need to behave responsibly.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who visited the Ben Gurion Airport, also urged against large gatherings on Purim and indicated that he would back applying some restrictions, Channel 12 reported.

“Care must be taken to prevent gatherings on Purim. We will have to tighten [the lockdown] to protect the health of us all.”

Purim this year starts on Thursday night with events to continue through Sunday. The festival, which celebrates Jewish deliverance, is usually marked with costume parties as well as large communal meals, attended by family and friends.

Last year, there was a jump in virus infections after many ignored rules against holding events with large numbers of participants.

Synagogues and other houses of worship have been permitted to reopen on Friday morning, with attendance limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outside, ahead of Purim. The rules for other gatherings were similarly relaxed, with outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people, and indoor groups of up to 10 allowed. The previous rules restricted outdoor gatherings to 10 people and indoors to five.

However, organizers of one planned large party told Channel 12 that they believe around 100-150 people will attend.

Another person who intends to hold a party over the weekend said, “We have an escape plan if the police arrive,” without elaborating.

Many organizers were said to be sharing invitations and details about parties on social media, while disguising the gatherings as other activities related to the festival. Others are planning on revealing the locations of parties only on the day itself.

Events are being planned in secular society, the report said, as well as in the ultra-Orthodox community ,which has faced criticism amid repeated reports of mass violations of virus rules, including holding weddings with large guest lists and funerals attended by thousands.

Israel has seen a continued decline in morbidity, particularly among high-risk groups, that is largely being credited to the country’s rapid vaccination campaign.

On Sunday, Israel began to roll back some of the major restrictions imposed as part of its third lockdown in late December to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Streetfront shops, malls, markets, museums, and libraries were opened, as were additional parts of the education system that had been almost totally shuttered at the start of the lockdown.

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