Concerts, sporting events and parades for the upcoming Purim holiday were canceled on Wednesday as the Health Ministry banned gatherings of over 5,000 people to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The ministry’s announcement came days before the Purim holiday, when many cities hold carnival-type parades, and at the end of the winter, when races are often held before the weather turns too warm.
The cancellations included concerts by singers Ishay Ribo and Natan Goshen at the Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv on Thursday, a soccer state cup quarter-final match game between Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba in Haifa Wednesday night, and a run in Rishon Lezion.
According to Channel 12, the entire Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team was ordered into home quarantine after visiting Spain.
The central city of Holon announced it would scrap its annual Purim parade, which draws thousands each year and was scheduled for next Tuesday.
The cities of Ramat HaSharon, Givatayim, Herzliya, Modiin-Maccabim Reut and Carmiel also said they would cancel their Purim events.
Jerusalem’s City Hall signaled it could also cancel or curb the city’s marathon, with tens of thousands of people due to participate, including some 5,000 runners from abroad, in the March 20 race.
It said it was studying the new directives.
The cancellations came after authorities announced dramatic new measures aimed at stemming the spread of the , COVID-19 virus, sending arrivals from five Western European nations into immediate quarantine and limiting mass gatherings throughout the country.
All Israelis returning from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland were instructed to enter self-quarantine for a period of 14 days following their return, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a Health Ministry press conference alongside Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and other top officials.
In addition, gatherings of over 5,000 people will henceforth not be permitted, and Netanyahu advised Israelis to avoid personal contact, including shaking hands.
Anyone who was abroad over the last two weeks was also banned from any gathering of 100 people or more.
Netanyahu told the press conference that the virus was “a global epidemic,” possibly “one of the most dangerous in the past century.”
But he insisted that Israel “is in the best state of all nations” in containing the disease, which has so far been diagnosed in 15 Israelis and has sent thousands into quarantine.
“We are in control of the situation, thanks to the great caution we have adopted,” he said. “We have been forced to take very severe steps to slow the spread of the virus in Israel and that is what has happened. We have ordered quarantines and mass checkups that many other countries haven’t done.”
Earlier Wednesday the Health Ministry ordered hundreds of soccer fans to isolate themselves at home after it was discovered that a teenager who has been diagnosed with the disease attended a major game last week in Tel Aviv. It said anyone in his section of the stadium could be infected.
In a series of sweeping measures the ministry also instructed all 1,150 students at a high school attended by the teen, plus an elementary class in a different school where a fifth-grade teacher was diagnosed with the virus, to self-quarantine at home.
Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, previously banning entry to foreigners who were in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelling all Israelis recently in those areas to self-quarantine for 14 days.
In a statement last month, the Health Ministry urged Israelis to seriously consider refraining from traveling abroad. Israel was the first country to urge its citizens to refrain from international travel entirely because of the outbreak, which started in China in December and has since infected over 93,000 worldwide and claimed over 3,200 lives, almost all of them in China.
The Health Ministry has faced criticism for its extreme measures, with some saying it is unnecessarily panicking people and causing economic and diplomatic damage to the country. Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.