Coronavirus: Israeli gov't approves Purim night curfew

Purim begins Thursday at sundown. The curfew will run Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Jerusalem's usually busy Old City is seen virtually empty during Israel's third coronavirus lockdown. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem's usually busy Old City is seen virtually empty during Israel's third coronavirus lockdown.
The government voted on Tuesday night to approve a night curfew on Purim to help stop the spread of infection.  
The curfew will run for three nights – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – from 8:30 p.m. until 5 a.m.
Purim begins Thursday evening at sundown and ends in Jerusalem with Shushan Purim on Sunday at sundown.
The night curfew means that people cannot travel more than 1,000 meters from their home except for essential needs. There is also a ban on being in another’s person’s home. 
Public transportation will also be limited.  Intercity bus service from Thursday at 8 p.m. until Friday at 5 a.m. and from Saturday night after Shabbat until Sunday at 5 a.m. Other than that, public transportation will operate as usual. The Transportation Ministry had not yet made an announcement about intercity service into Jerusalem on Sunday.
“We are still in competition with the virus,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday afternoon during a visit to a vaccination complex in Acre. “The mutation is running rampant.”
Health officials warned that a Purim of mass gatherings, parties and feasts could lead to a resurgence of the virus at a time when Israel was finally opening up. It could even put the next stage of the exit strategy at risk, they said, or push the country backward and require it to close some of what has already opened.
“This happy holiday comes this year with a great fear that it will cause another outbreak of disease,” coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said during a briefing. “We remember what happened in the previous Purim holiday, and we are aware of the fragile situation today, and it is our duty to stop the increase in disease that may cause.”
“If the guidelines are not observed, we may find ourselves again facing the closure of educational institutions,” he said. “I am not saying that one should give up the commandment of joy, but one can rejoice according to guidelines and responsibilities. It is important to remember that all our efforts to maintain restraint on Purim will help us to happily celebrate Passover.”
In the past, health officials have said night curfews were largely ineffective. But it seems that for Purim, when specific nighttime gatherings are expected, experts feel differently.
“The curfew is supposed to restrict activity both inside homes and at parties,” Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said Monday night during an interview with Channel 12. “We know of a marked increase in alcohol purchases ahead of parties.”
Aside from the curfew, the Health Ministry said the country would operate according to the current green-passport routine. For example, synagogues that have agreed to operate under the green-passport program can hold megillah readings.
“Regarding Purim meals, our guidelines are to have meals within a nuclear family or the addition of first-degree family members if they are vaccinated,” Ash said, though he noted that no police officer would enter a private home. “There is a personal responsibility, and it is important that people understand what is allowed and what is forbidden.”
The curfew comes while Israel is having a decline in infection and an increase in the number of people being vaccinated.
Ahead of the cabinet meeting, Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers shared infection data and predictions.
“There has been a significant decrease in hospital load, which is reflected in the decrease in the number of serious patients in the hospital, resulting from immunization of the main population prone to hospitalization,” meaning people 50 and older, they said.
They predicted that Israel could have as few as 500 to 700 people being treated for coronavirus by next week. But they warned that the decline in the reproduction rate (R) could stop with the opening up of the economy and could lead to an increase in severe morbidity in March.
The R was 0.86 on Monday, a slight rise from 0.79 on Friday, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday. Moreover, it seems to be particularly on the rise among the Arab sector, where it was 0.99, compared with 0.82 in the general sector and 0.67 among the haredim (ultra-Orthodox).
Some 4,763 people were diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday, the ministry said. At press time, there were 793 people in serious condition. The death toll stood at 5,631.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 70% of all Israeli citizens over the age of 16 had been vaccinated, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein reported.
In total, 4,507,325 people had been vaccinated, of whom 3,123,136 had received their second dose.
Included in the numbers are members of the IDF.
The IDF on Tuesday said it is nearing the end of its vaccination campaign and expects around 85% of all military personnel to be inoculated within the next weeks, media outlets reported.
There are now 77% fewer cases of coronavirus among people 60 years and older, including 65% fewer severely ill and 63% fewer deaths, Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot tweeted Tuesday.
Moreover, there are 68% fewer cases among people aged 55-59 and 54% fewer cases among those under 54, he said.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu also shared good vaccine news on Tuesday: Israel will have no shortage of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines.
Earlier in the week, it appeared that Israel might complete the 10 million doses it received from Pfizer before all citizens who want to be vaccinated got the jab. The country was expected to be about two million doses short.
“I have some important news,” Netanyahu said during a state memorial ceremony for Yosef Trumpeldor and his comrades who fell in defense of Tel Hai. “I spoke last night with my friend, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, and we agreed that there would be a supply chain of Pfizer vaccines without any shortage – no shortage, no interruption, no break. Go get vaccinated.”
The cabinet had been expected to discuss the opening of classrooms for students in grades 7-10. However, due to the urgency to make a decision about Purim, that discussion was pushed off.•