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Western Wall curbs re-imposed amid COVID spike, but up to 10,000 still allowed

Holy site’s management to bring back section dividers, limit entrance at a time when tens of thousands expected for Selichot services ahead of High Holidays

Preparations at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the resumption of group prayers, October 15, 2020 (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
Preparations at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the resumption of group prayers, October 15, 2020 (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

Up to 10,000 people will be allowed to converge on the Western Wall for traditional penitent prayers later this week, despite skyrocketing COVID case numbers and calls for further limits on gatherings.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation announced Tuesday that it would reintroduce a series of measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus at the open-air holy site ahead of the High Holidays, which usually sees large crowds of worshippers visit.

Dividers will be put up to separate between crowds of worshippers, with total attendance set to be capped at 10,000 people.

The pods will be restricted according to Health Ministry guidelines, the Heritage Foundation said, without specifying further. It also did not specify how it would deal with crowding at entrances or exits to the plaza, where chokepoints are known to form.

Current Health Ministry guidelines forbid open-air gatherings of more than 5,000 people for mass events like concerts, with celebrations capped at 500 people each.

Thousands of Israelis are expected to converge on the site in the days and weeks ahead for nightly Selichot services, which begin Thursday, ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday which begins on the night of September 6.

Thousands attend forgiveness prayers (Selichot) at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem early on October 8, 2019, prior to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Heritage Foundation recommended that worshippers arrive early at the site in order to prevent crowding at the entrances.

Health Ministry figures updated earlier Tuesday showed that More than 9,800 Israelis tested positive for COVID-19 a day earlier, close to an all-time high of new daily cases since the start of the pandemic. The positivity rate of all those tested on Monday stood at 6.63%, a high not seen since February.

In a bid to bring the surge under control Israel has stepped up its vaccination campaign, including booster shots.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday announced that Israelis age 30 and over are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster, expanding the program days after lowering the minimum age to 40.

The new policy is effective immediately and those eligible should turn to their health providers to set up appointments, the ministry said.

“We made sure we have enough vaccines for everyone. The vaccination campaign works efficiently and quickly. Go get vaccinated,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz tweeted on Tuesday.

Only those who received the second vaccine dose at least five months earlier are eligible for the shot.

Israel is the first country in the world to offer a third vaccine to such a broad slice of its population, as it seeks to combat the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

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