A government-mandated curfew took effect in Israel on Wednesday afternoon, confining Israelis to their homes for the first night of the Passover holiday.
Under the curfew, which began at 3 p.m. and will end Thursday at 7 a.m., Israelis are barred from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes and all businesses must close.
As 3 p.m. approached, some supermarkets began closing their doors before the curfew took effect to allow their employees to get home in time. Television footage showed other stores continued to have long lines, as Israelis sought to make last-minute purchases.
Despite the curfew taking effect, there was a long line of cars on Route 1 as police questioned drivers heading toward Jerusalem.
To enforce the curfew, thousands of police officers were deployed throughout the country, along with some 1,400 IDF soldiers to help assure Israelis were adhering to the restrictions.
“In practice, the police will nearly be deployed to its largest possible extent,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told the Ynet news site.
He said police would deploy helicopters and drones to ensure Israelis remain at home and that more controversial technologies such as tracking people’s phones to ensure crowds aren’t gathering would also be used.
Erdan rejected the characterization of the stricter lockdown as a curfew, saying instead they were “significant” restrictions meant to save people’s lives.
“The main thing that we’re trying to prevent is the holding of seders or joint events,” he said. “We paid the price of high morbidity after the Purim meals.”
The curfew comes after a general lockdown took effect Tuesday evening, confining Israelis to the communities in which they live.
From Thursday morning until Friday, Israelis will again be permitted to move within their cities and towns for essential needs, but will not be allowed to leave city limits. Exceptions will be made for those who do not have supermarkets and pharmacies in their towns, but they may go only to the nearest town with those services.
Jerusalem residents will be confined throughout the lockdown and curfew within the city zone they live in, after government officials sketched out a division of the city — which has the largest number of virus cases in the country — into seven portions.
Public transportation throughout the country ceased on Tuesday evening and will not resume until Sunday morning. The government also canceled all international flights from Tuesday night through Sunday, unless the airlines receive special permission from the transportation and interior ministries.
The curfew measure will not extend to Arab towns, where Passover is not celebrated.
The measures are designed to keep Israelis from attempting to spend the festive Passover Seder meal on Wednesday night with relatives or others, which officials fear could lead to a fresh wave of infections and push Israel backwards just as initial signs of recovery have started to emerge.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 72 Israelis have died from the virus, which has infected over 9,400 people.