Israel is mulling implementing stricter restrictions on Purim, including a possible nighttime curfew, in an effort to prevent another coronavirus outbreak, senior health official said Monday.
The country on Sunday lifted a series of restrictions on trade and culture and although mass gatherings are still banned, health officials fear the public will brush off the curbs to stage traditional parties on the Jewish holiday this Thursday.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told Ynet the ministry is still in the process of drafting an outline but implementation of the nighttime curfew for the three days of festivities looks to be the preferred option.
"I suggest a nighttime curfew during Purim due to the current reality and a threat of parties [being thrown]," he said. "Purim cannot be celebrated as usual [this year] and we will have no other choice but to implement a curfew, those parties could become an enormous source of renewed infections."
Health officials worry that parties will lead to a renewed and harsher outbreak among young people, given the more infectious UK variant and the fact that the majority of them are not yet vaccinated.
"We still have thousands of new infections a day and among young people the percentage of vaccinated is low. We won't see parties until 2am full of 70-year-olds, so young people's parties should be avoided."
Kisch said the government is currently also discussing other potential measures that could be implemented, and a final decision will be made in the coming days.
Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash also voiced his concerns about the holiday and warned that people must avoid mass gatherings because the pandemic is still not behind us.
"Small prayer sessions and holiday dinners with close relatives can take place, but mass festivities and parties are strictly forbidden," he said during a press briefing Sunday.
"These gatherings endanger everybody's health. The result of such parties will be a renewed closure of the education system and an infection wave that might lead to the shuttering of parts of the economy, to the point of a lockdown."
On Sunday, long lines of shoppers lined up in front of newly reopened shopping centers across the country, with people waiting to buy costumes for the holiday. Shop owners say that despite the long lines, they are able to adhere to public health restrictions.
"We let people in two or three at a time," said Meir Cohen, owner of the Red Pirate toy store in Or Yehuda.
"People wait outside because they want to party. People want a way out of the sadness. Purim is a happy holiday."