Israel under night curfew again to curb Purim festivities amid fresh virus fears

Dozens of illicit gatherings take place indoors and outdoors, with health officials concerned crowds will lead to new spike in infections that could delay reopening economy

People wearing costumes celebrate the jewish holiday of Purim at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on February 26, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
People wearing costumes celebrate the jewish holiday of Purim at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on February 26, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The second of three nighttime curfews went into effect across the entire country Friday evening as police struggled to clamp down on dozens of Purim parties that drew mass crowds and risked driving yet another spike in coronavirus infections, which the holiday-time restrictions had been designed to prevent.

Despite the nightly curfew and repeated calls on people to celebrate in a responsible manner, the were dozens of mass parties across the country.

Video from Tel Aviv’s Kerem HaTeimanim neighborhood surrounding the Carmel Market showed hundreds of revelers, many not wearing masks, dancing and drinking in the streets.

Police officers on loudspeakers urged participants to disperse before they began issuing fines.

Similar parties were expected to take place across the country on Friday night despite the curfew.

But revelers seemed unconcerned.

“I’m vaccinated, young and wearing a mask,” one participant told Channel 12, when asked why he wasn’t afraid of getting the virus.

Police said officers have and would continue to issue fines, but called on the public to avoid such gatherings. Law enforcement was also concerned about “tisch” gatherings slated to take place Saturday night throughout Haredi communities, which have been virus hotspots all year, with many repeatedly flaunting government guidelines.

Health officials told Hebrew media that the scenes of parties over the Purim holiday on Thursday night and Friday — and which is held on Sunday night and Monday in Jerusalem — were deeply concerning and have them worrying whether they will lead to another wave of infections that could lead to the delay in the economy’s reopening.

The next stage of restriction-easing is slated to take place on March 7 and include the reopening of restaurants for seating. But if case numbers remain high and the healthcare system is once again overwhelmed, reopening plans will have to be delayed, health officials said.

The 8:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. curfew is part of a broader list of restrictions that have been in place since Thursday evening and will last until Sunday morning. Only essential businesses may open during those overnight hours. Under the curfew rules, Israelis are barred from traveling more than a kilometer. Bans on parties and hosting guests at home are also in effect during the curfew.

People wearing costumes celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim in Jerusalem on February 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Police on Thursday night dispersed over 100 Purim parties and events around the country that saw dozens or hundreds of people congregate against health regulations and in violation of a nationwide curfew.

Holiday celebrations were broken up in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Rehovot, among other locations, officials said. Dozens of people were arrested or detained. Fines were handed out to both participants and organizers of events.

Police said Friday morning that some 2,500 fines had been handed out on the first night of the curfew for violations.

Law enforcement has deployed checkpoints in 24 locations around the country to enforce the curfew, and hundreds of police cars patrol the roads.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tweeted Friday morning: “I am appealing to the handful of people who can harm us all: Stop. Leave the parties until after the coronavirus. Forego the tisches (Hassidic parties) this time. The religious edict of merriment during the [Purim] holiday must not come at the expense of the public.”

Government ministers are expected to halt public transportation to Jerusalem on Saturday night and Sunday to prevent revelers from traveling to the city for Shushan Purim celebrations — a final day of the holiday traditionally celebrated in walled cities such as Jerusalem and Safed.

Edelstein on Thursday warned of possible restrictions over Passover if celebratory gatherings are held during Purim.

“If there are mass violations and infections, then on Passover we’ll all sit at home,” he told Kan public radio.

Following festive gatherings during Purim last year, which came at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a jump in coronavirus cases in Israel.

Purim is usually marked with costume parties as well as large communal meals and drinking, in events bringing together family and friends. Since the start of the outbreak in the country last year, the government has occasionally ordered curfews, specifically during major holidays, in an effort to prevent gatherings and an inevitable spread of the virus.

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