Thousands of police officers deployed to break up illegal New Year’s Eve parties

Checkpoints set up on highways, amid anticipation that Israelis will host gatherings in violation of lockdown rules despite high infection rates

Israel Police offices patrol on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on New Year's Eve, during the country's third lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, December 31, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel Police offices patrol on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on New Year's Eve, during the country's third lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, December 31, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thousands of police officers were deployed across Israel Thursday evening to break up New Year’s Eve parties, as health authorities fretted about rising infection numbers amid Israel’s third nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Some 2,000 police extra officers were on duty in Israel’s major cities, Hebrew-language media reported, tasked primarily with enforcing restrictions against travel and gatherings.

The Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, in the fall, is a major holiday in Israel and January 1 celebrations are typically more muted than in most Western countries.

But law enforcement officials were still expecting to break up house parties, “nature” parties held in open areas outdoors, gatherings at vacation homes that were rented for the holiday and crowds near stores that sell alcohol.

To prevent mass gatherings, police called on people to report their neighbors to the authorities if they’re hosting events against the rules.

Police at a temporary checkpoint at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on December 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police were also using helicopters and drones to locate prohibited gatherings, and set up checkpoints on roads to enforce restrictions on movement and check for drunk drivers.

Officers mapped out areas to patrol based on information from intelligence sources and indications on social media.

Lockdown rules that went into effect Sunday bar most movement and recreational activities.

The current lockdown rules bar Israelis from entering another person’s home; restrict movement to one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce (except for essentials), leisure and entertainment; limit public transportation to 50% capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity. Most schools, however, remain open.

Health authorities nonetheless believe there is too much movement and traffic several days into the new lockdown, and fear the high morbidity will outpace the efficacy of vaccinations.

Speaking in an online briefing to reporters, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said Thursday he believes that the current national lockdown is likely ineffective and that health officials plan to hold a reassessment on the current restrictions.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem, July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are monitoring the increase in all indices and we are planning further steps that we may need to take in order to reduce the morbidity, firstly by tightening [the lockdown],” Levy warned.

There are currently 43,615 active coronavirus cases in the country, of whom 679 patients are in serious condition, with 165 on ventilators, the Health Ministry said Thursday evening. Since the start of the virus outbreak in the country earlier this year, 423,262 Israelis have been diagnosed with the virus.

The Health Ministry figures showed that there were 5,809 new virus cases diagnosed on Wednesday, a slight drop from the two preceding days but still the third-highest daily count since early October.

Of the 95,125 virus test results returned during the day, 5.7% were positive.

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