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Israel lets soccer fans back into stadiums for 1st time since start of pandemic

Spectators bubble with excitement as 1,500 allowed into professional matches after year of closure

Hapoel Jerusalem soccer fans cheer during a Liga Leumit match between Hapoel Nir Ramat HaSharon and Hapoel Jerusalem at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, March 12, 2021. (Flash90)
Hapoel Jerusalem soccer fans cheer during a Liga Leumit match between Hapoel Nir Ramat HaSharon and Hapoel Jerusalem at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, March 12, 2021. (Flash90)

Soccer fans were allowed back into stadiums over the weekend for the first time since spectators were barred from attending games early in the pandemic about a year ago.

Authorities allowed 1,500 fans into stadiums, but children under the age of 16, who are not eligible for vaccinations, were not let in.

Professional sports had continued during the pandemic, but without a live audience.

Games were held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Netanya and Kiryat Shmona.

Fans were only allowed in with a “green pass” showing they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.

“I counted the days. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves at home,” one fan told Channel 12.

“I couldn’t even sleep last night. Really, it’s crazy. To not be at the field for a year. Someone who’s a stranger to the game can’t understand it,” said another. “Even during big wars we would go to games.”

Some fans criticized the decision to only allow 1,500 fans into stadiums built to hold tens of thousands, and against letting children into the games.

“When my grandson can’t come in to celebrate with me, it’s very… I just left him at home in tears,” one man said.

Hapoel Jerusalem plays against Hapoel Nir Ramat HaSharon during Liga Leumit soccer match at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, March 12, 2021. (Flash90)

Israel has been rolling back virus restrictions as morbidity rates steadily decline.

Recent infection figures represent a dramatic improvement over the past two months, credited chiefly to the successful vaccination campaign. The success comes despite the more infectious virus variants proliferating and the gradual lifting of restrictions.

Theaters were allowed to start reopening a few weeks ago in partial capacity, though the process has been slow and most large theaters have yet to return to business.

Officials quoted by Channel 13 news Thursday said the national situation was “the most hopeful it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic” last year. The officials said that if the positive trajectory continues, Israelis will be able to celebrate Passover without limitations at the end of March.

Much of the economy reopened last Sunday, as the lockdown was further rolled back, including restaurants, cafes, school grades 7-10 in low- to medium-infection areas, event venues, attractions and hotels.

People eat at the Azura restaurant in Jerusalem, on March 7, 2021, after Israel reopened restaurants, bars and cafes to vaccinated “green pass” holders (Menaham Kahana / AFP)

Higher education institutions and religious seminaries were opened to vaccinated or recovered people, and rules on gatherings and worship were relaxed.

The cabinet also decided to ease restrictions on international travel and sidelined a highly controversial committee that was deciding who could enter or leave the country while the airport remained largely shuttered.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 5,128,212 Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose.

The number of people who have received both shots stood at 4,128,807.

The Health Ministry said on Saturday evening that 2,386 new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Friday, and 409 on Saturday, bringing the number of infections in Israel since the pandemic began to 817,680.

The death toll climbed to 5,988, with 12 fatalities recorded Friday.

The number of active cases stood 35,593, with 626 people in serious condition, including 214 on ventilators.

Of the 84,286 tests performed Friday, 2.9% came back positive.

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