Health Minister Yuli Edelstein berated Tel Aviv party-goers Thursday morning, saying that those who had taken part in mass gatherings the night before, a day ahead of a nationwide nightly curfew over Purim, were responsible for future coronavirus infections and deaths in Israel.
With Purim parties banned this year due to severe limits on public gatherings and a curfew between 8:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, revelers reportedly took part in a number of large parties Wednesday night.
Footage of a party outside Tel Aviv’s 1943 Albert Bar made its way to social media, with hundreds of maskless people seen packed together, dancing in the street as the owners of the bar sold them alcohol.
“We sold alcohol as takeout, which is allowed,” the owner of the bar told Channel 12 news. “The police came and asked us to close everything, claiming that we were responsible for the crowd.”
When officers arrived, most of the party-goers fled without receiving fines.
“Those celebrating at these contagion parties should know — a spike in infection will be registered in your names, business closures will be because of you, loss of human life will be on your conscience,” a furious Edelstein told Army Radio.
“Come to your senses! It’s not too late,” he pleaded.
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash also criticized the “outrageous pictures of irresponsible mass celebrations and gatherings” in Tel Aviv.
“The responsibility is in the hands of the public, and it is very unfortunate that this is how they choose to behave these days, when the morbidity figures are still high,” Ash said in a statement.
Cabinet ministers on Wednesday approved a nationwide nightly curfew over Purim in a bid to prevent gatherings during the holiday that could fuel a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
Israelis will be barred from traveling more than a kilometer from their homes during the curfew hours. Bans on parties and hosting guests at home will also be in effect during the curfew.
NIS 500 ($150) fines will be issued to anyone caught breaking the curfew, which a joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry said will not apply to areas with a majority of non-Jewish residents or East Jerusalem.
The approval of the curfew came after Prime Minister Benjamin and other senior officials urged the public not to violate the tightened coronavirus restrictions in place for Purim.
Following festive gatherings during Purim last year, which came at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a jump in coronavirus cases in Israel.
“This can’t repeat itself,” Netanyahu said during a press conference, referring to the rise in infections after last year’s celebrations. “We can be happy, we can dress up, but we must observe the rules.”
Purim is usually marked with costume parties as well as large communal meals and drinking, in events bringing together family and friends. Since the start of the outbreak in the country last year, the government has occasionally ordered curfews, specifically during major holidays, in an effort to prevent gatherings and an inevitable spread of the virus.
Police said checkpoints will be deployed in 24 locations around the country to enforce the curfew. Hundreds of police cars will also patrol roads.
While the nighttime curfew will likely prevent parties, many of Purim’s traditions — the Megillah reading in synagogues in the early and morning, and the traditional meal — take place during the day. For those gatherings, the current pandemic restrictions, limiting groups to 10 indoors and 20 outdoors, are in effect.
The rules come as Israel has eased its third nationwide lockdown after a successful vaccination campaign that has thus far seen one-third of its population receive both doses of the vaccine. Infection rates, however, continue to be high, topping 4,000 new cases per day.