In biggest gathering since virus hit, 5,000 pack Tel Aviv beachfront concert

Show put on to support starving artists, reportedly with police okay, though attendees appear to fail to maintain social distancing regulations

Thousands at a concert in Tel Aviv on May 21, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter/Itay Blumenthal)
Thousands at a concert in Tel Aviv on May 21, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter/Itay Blumenthal)

Social distancing guidelines seemingly took a backseat to good vibes Thursday night as some 5,000 people packed a beachfront concert in Tel Aviv, in what appeared to be the largest gathering since the start of the coronavirus outbreak over two months ago.

The concert, billed as a solidarity event for musicians who have struggled during the lockdown, came as Israel has seen new infections dwindle, though dozens of new cases are still reported daily and fears have grown of secondary outbreaks in Tel Aviv and nearby cities.

Hebrew media reports put the size of the crowd at about 5,000 people who came out to see some of Israel’s best-known rock stars, including Aviv Gefen, Berry Sakharoff and Ehud Banai.

The concert, held at Charles Clore Park, was put on with a police permit and in line with coronavirus social distancing and hygiene regulations, according to Channel 12 news.

However, many concert-goers did not maintain distance between each other and few were seen wearing masks.

“At the start people kept distance, but it’s impossible to expect people to hear music and not dance or get close,” one concert-goer told the Ynet news site.

While Israel has largely emerged from its two-month lockdown, many regulations remain in place, including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people in open-air settings, according to guidelines posted by police.

Restaurants, bars, pools and hotels are only slated to open later this month and a ban on concerts and other live events is only set to be rolled back on June 14. Masks are still required in most settings, though that regulation was temporarily suspended this week due to a heat wave.

Israelis have picnics on Dizengoff square in Tel Aviv, as all restaurants, cafes and bars are still closed, except for take out and deliveries, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. May 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police on Thursday also allowed several hundred people to attend a Jerusalem Day march in the capital’s Old City, after organizers sued.

A sharp decline in new infections, credited to strict adherence to regulations, has seemingly given way to more lax attitudes toward maintaining social distancing guidelines, despite warnings that a secondary outbreak will lead to reimposition of many lockdown rules.

Young Jewish men celebrate Jerusalem day around the Old City walls of Jerusalem, May 21, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to Health Ministry figures released Thursday night, there have been 16,683 total infections, an increase of 18 over a day earlier. No new deaths were recorded since Wednesday night and fewer than 2,700 active cases remain.

However a string of cases in Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Rishon Lezion and some other areas, many of them linked to reopened schools and daycares, have sent dozens of people into quarantine in recent days.

In this April 25, 2020 photo, people keep social distancing amid concerns over the country’s coronavirus outbreak, during a ‘Black Flag’ protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government corruption, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

During the lockdown, Israeli activists drew international attention for holding large-scale protests while maintaining social distancing. At one point, Tel Aviv’s City Hall went as far as placing special markers throughout Rabin Square to help demonstrators keep two meters (6.5 feet) away from each other.

Artists have been among the hardest hit by lockdown regulations, which at one point pushed Israel’s unemployment rate above 27 percent.

With concerts, plays and other events still banned, calls in recent days have grown for more government for musicians, performers and others.

Street performers take part in a protest calling for financial support from the Israeli government at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, on May 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who has been at the forefront of a drive for Israel’s government to speed up its rollback of virus regulations, appeared at the concert and spoke out in favor of putting musicians back to work.

Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai seen at a lifeguard station as beaches reopened in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The coronavirus has left many musicians, actors, and those working behind the scenes, who bolster the culture and music industry, with no livelihoods. They are uncertain about when they can go back to making a living,” he said at the concert, according to Ynet. “This is a cry from an entire industry that is demanding answers.”

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