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Independence Day events to be called off amid scramble to contain coronavirus

Authorities said to order cancellation of traditional mass concerts, ceremonies as gatherings of more than 100 banned; Memorial Day, Holocaust Remembrance Day events also nixed

Israelis take part in celebrations marking 71st Independence Day, in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israelis take part in celebrations marking 71st Independence Day, in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Festive events organized annually by municipalities for Independence Day will be canceled due to the spreading coronavirus, authorities said Thursday, a day after gatherings of more than a hundred people were banned by the Health Ministry.

The head of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas, sent a letter to mayors and council heads instructing them to call off all their planned events where an audience of 100 people can gather, Channel 13 reported.

The report said the directive was relevant to commemoration events for next month’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers and terror victims, as well as Independence Day celebrations, when municipalities traditionally hold mass concerts and parties.

The report came as the government was reportedly preparing to order the closure of elementary, middle and high schools throughout the country to contain the virus.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu announced the 100-person limit on gatherings as part of increasingly strict measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in the country. The ban includes synagogue services and weddings, Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov elaborated.

The Habima and Cameri theaters in Tel Aviv said they were closing their doors — the first time in Habima’s 103-year history that it has closed, according to Channel 12.

The Jerusalem Theater also announced it would be closing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

The new restrictions were announced as the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic.

There have so far been 104 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Israel, many of them contracted by travelers who recently returned from abroad.

Worldwide, there have been over 118,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nearly 4,300 deaths.

Prior to the new restrictions, public gatherings in Israel had been limited to 2,000 people, including for religious events.

To curb the spread of the virus in the country, all Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals will be allowed into the country until Thursday at 8 p.m., but after that they will be barred from entry unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The quarantine measures are among the most dramatic to be introduced by any nation in the intensifying battle against the coronavirus. On February 26, Israel had become the first country in the world to advise its citizens against all non-essential overseas travel.

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