Coronavirus in Israel: Purim 2021 v. 2020, what changed?

Written by on February 24, 2021

“Last year, Purim caused an outbreak that forced us to close the country. This year we will do the opposite,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a press conference on Wednesday, calling on the public to respect the restrictions for the holiday.

“No mask has ever been more important than this one,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein echoed, wielding his surgical mask, inviting the public to protect the children who have not been vaccinated yet.

The big difference between the two years, Edelstein pointed out, is in the vaccines, but also in the experience: “We know which guidelines to implement to allow celebrations but avoid dangers.”

The current set of restrictions includes a night curfew between 8:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. from Thursday to Saturday night. The authorities are considering extending the curfew to Sunday, when Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem.

During these hours, intercity public transportation will be reduced, all nonessential businesses will need to shut down and people will not be allowed more than 1,000 meters from their homes for nonessential reasons. Dozens of roadblocks will also be implemented.

Moreover, the traditional Purim meal is to be held with nuclear family members, even though the Health Ministry has quietly acknowledged the possibility of inviting first-degree relatives who are fully vaccinated.

Regarding synagogues, they will be able to welcome worshipers who want to listen to the reading of the Scroll of Esther, either with a limit of 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors, or under a green passport program at 50% of their capacity.

No other form of gatherings or parties will be allowed.

These measures present a level of restrictions much higher than last year, when the regulations – among the very first ones passed to fight the virus – included a ban on gatherings of over 5,000 people and a requirement for individuals who had traveled to certain countries in the previous 14 days to enter home isolation, while those who had returned from any other country had to avoid attending events with over 100 guests.

However, while last year Israel was moving in the direction of passing increasingly restrictive measures – just a few days after Purim, the authorities imposed a full national lockdown – this year the trajectory is supposed to be in the opposite direction.

For parties and street celebrations, the nation will need to wait another year. But as Edelstein stressed earlier in the day, it will be worthwhile.

“In order to cancel Haman’s decree, the people of Israel showed complete solidarity and fasted for three days with Esther,” he said. “I am not asking you to fast for three days; I am just asking you to follow the regulations.

“Do it for the business owners who just got back to work; for the culture world, hotels and education; for our health and life; for the children who cannot be vaccinated yet. Do not go to parties or celebrations; celebrate at home,” he concluded.

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