Passover reliefs could be at risk as thousands break Purim guidelines

More than 30 people die from COVID-19 over Shabbat | Just over half of Israel’s population has had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

A street party in January at the Simta Pub, on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street (photo credit: REUTERS)
A street party in January at the Simta Pub, on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Violations of Health Ministry guidelines were seen en masse over the Purim holiday, causing concern among health officials that there will be an increase in infection in the coming weeks that could place Israelis under Passover restrictions.
“We should expect a rise in infection,” Prof. Cyrille Cohen, who sits on the Advisory Committee for Clinical Trials of Coronavirus Vaccines through the Health Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.
“Purim is a holiday centered on saving lives,” tweeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “so it is exceedingly difficult to see these images of mass gatherings at life-threatening, illegal parties.
“There is no reason for these violations,” the prime minister continued. “We have a clear exit plan: a green passport, a gradual opening of education, vaccination of the rest of the population and the opening up of the economy.”
Police had feared that underground parties or haredi (ultra-Orthodox) tisches (festive gatherings around a rebbe’s table) would keep them busy over the holiday, and indeed there were reports of packed synagogues against violations and yeshiva events that broke restrictions on gathering. However, the greatest challenge for police turned out to be the Jaffa Flea Market.
Thousands of people gathered throughout the day on Saturday in the hours before the 8:30 p.m. curfew once again took effect.
“There is no coronavirus; coronavirus is over,” one woman was recorded chanting in the heart of the party. She was not wearing a mask.
“We want to make it clear that Jaffa police officers have been carrying out increased enforcement since the morning,” the Police said in a statement as images of the mass gathering began appearing on social networks and in the media, amid accusations that police took too long to break up events.
The Police said that it was making regular announcements for the public to social distance and wear masks and stressed that “the very presence of the public in the public space and the purchasing of food does not constitute an offense under the guidelines at this time.”
The Tel Aviv Police said they worked from early Saturday morning to crack down on parties. But police would disperse a crowd and the people would reconvene on another street a short distance away.
Police “move from one street to another and scatter the crowds of people spending time in the streets, most of them without masks,” the Police said.
The Tel Aviv municipality also criticized the events, but said it was the job of the police to disperse the crowds and that the city could not give out tickets to restaurants and cafes offering takeaway and delivery according to Health Ministry guidelines.
At the same time, police reported breaking up handfuls of raves or “nature parties,” some with as many as 200 people.
In total, police said they stopped 200 illegal large parties.
Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy warned over the weekend that Purim parties could delay the continuation of the next round of reliefs, slated for March 7, and could even lead to another closure.
His words, said in an interview with Channel 12, echoed those said by handfuls of health experts in the weeks building up to Purim.
Prof. Cohen told the Post that Israel is expected to see a rise in cases – but, likely due to the high level of vaccination, there will be fewer serious cases. Nonetheless, he surmised that after the level at which people broke the rules on Purim, Israel is likely to see regulations on Passover, too – perhaps a limit on the number of people who can gather, he said.
“Last year, people were afraid of the coronavirus because it was a new thing and most of us abided by the rules,” he said. “This year, I think that a lot of people may not be so inclined.” 
THE FIRST round of relief has already caused a rise in infection.
On Friday, the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center reported that Israel’s reproduction rate – the R rate or number of people each sick person infects – had hit 0.97, up from 0.93 the day before.
The declining trend in morbidity has nearly halted, the report said, likely due to the British variant.
On Saturday night, the ministry showed that out of some 3,690 people tested for the virus, 5.9% received a positive result. The day before, only 5.6% tested positive.
The number of serious patients rose to 760, including 244 who were intubated.
Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, predicted that Israel would see up to a 20% increase in new cases in the coming week, but a decline in serious cases to even as low as 550.
The death toll stood at 5,726 on Saturday night, with 32 people dying over the weekend. 
AT THE same time, Israel celebrated a vaccine milestone. More than half of Israel’s population of 9.29 million people have received at least one shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
The Health Ministry reported 4,682,737 Israelis have had their first shot as of Saturday night, including 3,314,381 who have also had their second.
Finally, the Knowledge Center warned of a New York variant, which it said has spread rapidly in recent weeks in the US and is known to be linked to COVID-19 reinfection. The Knowledge Center recommended taking immediate action to prevent its entry into Israel, given the extensive ties between Israel and the “City that Never Sleeps.”