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Top Health Ministry official pans mass student party in Eilat, calls for curbs

Sharon Alroy-Preis warns Funjoya, to be attended by thousands Thurs-Sat, could spread infections across the country; urges strict caps on public gatherings

Screen capture from video of a Funjoya event in 2018. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of a Funjoya event in 2018. (YouTube)

A senior Health Ministry official has raised the alarm over a planned huge student party festival in Eilat, saying it could become a hive of coronavirus infection that will spread across the country.

In a Wednesday letter to other ministry officials, Sharon Alroy-Preis, who is head of public health, also urged drastically slashing the number of participants permitted at any mass gathering in order to curb an ongoing wave of COVID-19.

Her warning came as thousands of students began converging on the southern resort city for the Funjoya event, which begins Thursday and runs until Saturday night. The festival draws higher education students from across the country and features a range of large parties.

With the start of the High Holidays approaching next week, the government is determined to avoid a lockdown amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

In her letter, Alroy-Preis noted the particular dangers of the Funjoya event.

Participants, she wrote, move from one party to another.

“Many thousands come in contact with one another at the different parties without wearing masks and maintaining social distancing,” she wrote.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, at a press conference in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As a result, there is a high risk of mass infection and with it the danger of “significant spread of the disease across the country.”

“This danger is very high from a health point of view and [Funjoya] cannot be held in a safe way,” she wrote.

Under the current Health Ministry virus-protection orders, a maximum of 1,000 people is permitted at indoor events and up to 5,000 out outdoor events, in accordance with the so-called Green Pass rules.

Under the Green Pass system, participants must have identification showing they are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or have recently tested negative for the virus.

Alroy-Preis urged that the Health Ministry introduce strict caps on mass-attended events, allowing just 400 indoors and 500 for outdoor events.

Funjoyda organizers responded in a statement, saying that the event meets Health Ministry requirements and was granted all the necessary permits.

The main party event has been divided into a number of smaller events at different locations around Eilat, “all while fully adhering to Health Ministry instructions,” the organizers said.

They noted that entry will only be granted only to those who have a Green Pass. A rapid virus testing station has also been set up for those who are not vaccinated or recovered, enabling them to enter the festival with a negative test result.

After dropping the daily caseload to barely more than a dozen in mid-June, Israel has seen a resurgence of COVID-19 infections that has prompted restrictions ordered on some aspects of public life and gatherings.

Daily virus cases topped 10,000 for the third day in a row on Tuesday, according to Health Ministry figures released Wednesday.

There were 10,384 new cases recorded, while 7,386 more were identified from midnight to early Wednesday evening.

The death toll leaped by 56 since the ministry last updated the figure on Tuesday evening, reaching 7,086.

Israel on Monday recorded its highest-ever number of cases in a single day, 11,133, amid a massive testing push ahead of the start of school, which began Wednesday.

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