Israelis pack malls, parks ahead of 2-week lockdown; hundreds party in Tel Aviv

With shops and nature reserves set to close again on Sunday, people use last chance to shop, visit; police hand out fines to revelers ignoring health rules

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

Large numbers of Israelis packed shopping malls and markets Saturday to get their last shopping done before the beginning of the country’s latest national lockdown at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Television reports showed throngs hit shopping centers — some of them open during the Jewish Sabbath and some opening as it ended Saturday evening — to make use of what is likely to be their last opportunity to peruse stores for several weeks.

Though shoppers largely adhered to health guidelines, in some cases people were seen to crowd and fail to maintain social distancing.

People also flocked to parks throughout the country Saturday, cramming green spaces and nature reserves and leading parks authorities to at one point urge the public to stay away due to overcrowding.

Channel 12 News aired footage of two mass parties held in Tel Aviv over the weekend in contravention of health rules.

The first, which took place Friday, saw some around 1,000 people dance at HaYarkon Park, maskless and at close quarters.

In the second, on Saturday, police raided an apartment where dozens were partying. Some of the party-goers were supposed to be in quarantine a the time. Police handed out 65 fines of NIS 1,000 ($300) to attendants and a NIS 5,000 ($1,550) fine to the host.

Thousands of people also flooded shopping centers on Friday, gathering in large numbers with limited social distancing.

Exceptionally long lines were reported at Ikea in Rishon Lezion, with one customer telling the Ynet news site that the store felt like the check-in line at Ben Gurion Airport during peak travel season. Many customers left the line, giving up after waiting so long.

At Tel Aviv’s open-air Carmel Market, which will also be forced to shut down on Sunday, similar scenes were reported with frustrated customers seeking to buy their Friday groceries for the last time for at least two weeks.

Thousands were also seen packed at Jerusalem’s open-air Mahane Yehuda market, which even featured tour groups. Store owner Gabi Hasin told Ynet that while he understands the purpose of such lockdowns, the fact that Israelis then rush shopping centers both before and after somewhat defeats that purpose.

Ministers on Friday approved the regulations of Israel’s third national lockdown, beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday, as the Bank of Israel issued an assessment that the closure would cost the nation’s economy NIS 2.5 billion ($776 million) for every week it lasts.

The lockdown is set to be at least two weeks long and may extend to four, so the final cost could be NIS 5-10 billion ($1.5-$3 billion).

During Israel’s third national lockdown aimed at curbing the resurgence of COVID-19, rules will bar Israelis from entering another person’s home; restrict movement to 1 kilometer from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce, leisure and entertainment (except for essentials); limit public transportation to 50% capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity.

Fines for those breaking rules stand at NIS 500 ($155).

Kindergartens and school grades 1-4 and 11-12 will study as usual during the lockdown, while grades 5-10 will study remotely.

Israel’s two previous lockdowns, in April and September, succeeded in bringing down infection numbers, but morbidity ballooned again as the closures were rolled back.

Despite the setbacks, health officials have expressed optimism that the latest closure will be the nation’s last as it steps up its vaccination drive. According to Channel 12 News, by Saturday night some 266,000 Israelis had been given their first shots.

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