No more COVID-19 'red zones' for first time in 10 months

Worst-ever Passover traffic chaos as reopened Israel enjoys vaccinated vacation

Terrific weather, limited international travel, general reopening for week-long festival spell highway congestion; beaches closed as tens of thousands camp out at Sea of Galilee

Traffic jams on the Ayalon highway during the Passover holiday, March 30, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Traffic jams on the Ayalon highway during the Passover holiday, March 30, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Israel’s central highways were clogged on Monday and Tuesday as many people took to the roads and went on Passover celebrations and outings following the Jewish state’s rapid vaccination drive.

Monday’s traffic was reported to be the worst ever recorded on the Passover holiday, according to Channel 12.

Hundreds of traffic police and volunteers were deployed at major junctions and intercity routes across Israel, and were set to stay out in force until the holiday ends on Saturday night.

One of the largest hotspots was the Sea of Galilee, where tens of thousands of Israelis went camping, leading authorities to close access to most beaches due to overcrowding.

Some 200,000 Israelis, meanwhile, thronged national parks and nature reserves, according to an official estimate.

The leading sites were Masada, Caesarea Park, Yarkon Park, Tel Ashkelon, Ein Gedi Reserve, the Hermon Stream Reserve, and HaBsor Park, according to the Nature and Parks Authority.

The holiday is normally marked by mobs of families enjoying the outdoors, but this year the crowding was expected to be heavier due to the inability to go abroad, and the major easing of COVID-19 restrictions as morbidity rates have continued to steadily decline in the country.

Israel has been rolling back virus restrictions, which at their peak shuttered the entire education system, public venues, and most non-essential businesses. Most of the education system has since reopened, along with much of the economy.

Underlining the growing conviction that the worst of the pandemic is over now that most of the population is vaccinated, for the first time since May 2020, no locales were designated “red” under the Health Ministry’s color-coded “traffic-light” system for morbidity rates.

Hudreds of Israelis enjoyed Passover’s first day of Hol Hamoed while kayaking at Kfar Bloom’s Kayaks on the Hatzbani and Jordan rivers. March 29, 2021. (Michael Giladi/FLASH90)

The Health Ministry said on Tuesday that only 356 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus the day before and an additional 147 people were diagnosed since midnight, bringing to 832,467 the total number of cases in Israel since the outset of the pandemic.

The number of active cases further fell to 8,268. Monday’s results, which came from 42,328 tests, represented a positive test rate of 0.9 percent — the lowest rate recorded in almost ten months.

The number of serious cases stood at 423, the lowest since December, after climbing to an all-time high of 1,201 in mid-January.

In a further indication of shrinking morbidity, the virus’s basic reproduction number was at 0.53. Any figure under 1 means the outbreak is abating. The figure represents the situation as of 10 days ago due, to the virus’s incubation period.

The death toll stood at 6,188 on Tuesday.

Over 5.2 million Israelis have received their first vaccine shot and over 4.7 million have gotten the second shot, out of a population of 9.3 million. Around 3 million Israelis are not currently eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and some of those who have recovered from COVID-19, among others.

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