A nationwide nightly curfew for the Purim holiday went into effect Thursday evening and will continue until Sunday morning, in a bid to prevent gatherings during the festival that could fuel a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
Under the curfew rules, Israelis are barred from traveling more than a kilometer from home between 8:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. and only essential businesses may open during those hours.
Bans on parties and hosting guests at home are also in effect during the curfew.
Fines of NIS 500 ($150) will be issued to anyone caught breaking the curfew, which a joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry said will not apply to areas with a majority of non-Jewish residents or East Jerusalem.
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, according to Hebrew media reports.
Pictures aired by Channel 12 News showed what appear to be preparations for a mass Purim gathering Thursday evening in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. The network said it wasn’t clear if the event had since been called off due to the curfew rules.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein 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 earlier Thursday.
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.
Police said checkpoints will be deployed in 24 locations around the country to enforce the curfew. Hundreds of police cars will also patrol roads during the curfew.
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Tuesday that officials are concerned violations during Purim could push infection rates up, forcing the country back into a larger lockdown once more.
While the night curfew will likely prevent parties, many of Purim’s traditions — from the megillah reading in synagogues in the evening and morning, or the traditional meal — take place during the day. For those gatherings, the current pandemic restrictions, limiting groups to 10 indoors and 20 outdoors, are in effect.
The rules come as Israel has eased its third nationwide lockdown after a successful vaccination campaign that has thus far seen one-third of its population receive both doses of the vaccine. Infection rates, however, continue to be high, topping 4,000 per day.