Coronavirus ‘czar’: Israel might need a night curfew on Passover

Nachman Ash said that he believes that the requirement that people always wear a mask outdoors could be canceled

Shushan Purim celebrations amid ongoing coronavirus outbreak in Jerusalem, Feb. 28, 2021 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shushan Purim celebrations amid ongoing coronavirus outbreak in Jerusalem, Feb. 28, 2021
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There is a chance that Israel will need to impose a night curfew on Passover, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said Sunday, as the third phase of the exit strategy from lockdown began, and the country marked 800,000 cumulative cases of people infected.
Health officials are monitoring the consequences of the gatherings that took place on Purim and of the new round of openings, he told Army Radio.
This year, Passover begins on March 27, only four days after the election.
“I believe that if we clearly see that the openings endanger us, we might need to make a painful decision even before the election,” Ash said, adding that if necessary, the outline might be similar to the one implemented on Purim, which required Israelis to remain within 1,000 meters of their homes between 8.30 p.m. and 5 a.m. “My hope, though, is that we will be able to celebrate Passover with our families.”
Ash said he believes the requirement for people to always wear a mask outdoors could be canceled, as their effectiveness is limited. However, since there are other situations when wearing a mask remains important, there is not going to be a change in the regulation for now, he said.
“The goal here is not to produce further confusion – where yes and where no – so the rule remains,” he added. “But the point is for the police not to enforce it in such areas.”
Hopefully, the 3.5 million Israelis who are already fully vaccinated will help protect other people, and the reopening of commercial activities, schools and events will not lead to a new outbreak, Ash said.
The R, or reproduction rate, has been increasing over the past few days and stood at 1.02 on Sunday, the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center reported. That means every person infected with COVID infects on average slightly more than one other person.
The R rate has been raising concern among health officials, while others, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have emphasized that thanks to the vaccination campaign, what matters at this point is the number of vaccinated people and of patients in serious condition.
After several days of steady decline, the number of serious patients rose on Sunday to 712. Last week, Israel marked the first time since December that the number had dropped to 700.
Also on Sunday, only 1,923 people tested positive over the previous 24 hours, the Health Ministry reported. However, the number is only partially significant because a limited amount of tests are performed during Shabbat.
At last count, 5,861 people had died from coronavirus, including 30 over the weekend.
Regarding vaccination, about 4.94 million Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine, or some 53% of the population, and 3.75 million have had both doses.
Hashmonaim, located just over the Green Line near Modi’in, has the highest rate of vaccinations. According to the Health Ministry, 84% of the residents eligible for the vaccine have received the first dose, and nearly 70% have had the second dose.
In Jerusalem, 38% have received the first dose, and 25% have had both doses. Israel is vaccinating about 40,000 people with the first shot on a daily basis (excluding Friday and Saturday).
On Sunday, Netanyahu who is on the campaign trail, said Israel has almost emerged from its COVID-19 closures.
Due to the high vaccination rate, the government has been gradually reopening businesses, schools and Ben-Gurion Airport with caps on capacity.
“Restaurants are coming back to life,” Netanyahu said after he and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion clinked mugs and ate pastries outside a park cafe.
“We still have to watch ourselves,” he said. “We have to wear masks, keep distances that people require, social distances. But we’re coming out of it, and there’s not much more.”
Some leisure venues have limited access to customers who can prove COVID immunity with a so-called “Green Pass” issued by the Health Ministry, which hopes the policy will win over Israelis still reluctant to get vaccinated.
In an interview on Channel 12, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called on the public to continue to be careful and abide by the rules to avoid the necessity of reimposing restrictions, including during Passover.
Reuters contributed to this report.