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Israelis throng supermarkets ahead of closure in Passover eve frenzy

Israelis have been flocking to supermarkets and other food stores nationwide in preparation for Passover, ahead of a closure due to take effect at 7 p.m. Tuesday due to the coronavirus.

Long lines of shoppers formed outside supermarkets, as the chains adhered to Health Ministry rules limiting the number of people inside at any given time to enforce social distancing, in addition to taking everyone’s temperature upon entry. In many cases it took hours just to get inside.

The development came as chains have increasingly struggled to provide timely service for online reservations, forcing people to physically come en masse to the stores.

Very heavy traffic was seen in many cities, primarily in Tel Aviv and its suburbs, as the closure — to remain in effect until Friday — will prevent all intercity travel.

The days before Passover are always marked by an increased presence in supermarkets, as observant Jews stock up on food that is kosher for Passover, without leavened wheat products.

Combined with the news of the imminent closure — as well as a curfew to be in effect from 3 p.m. Wednesday until the following morning at 7 — that was enough to get many out of their homes at a time when health authorities are trying to limit mass gatherings.

One specific product people were looking for was eggs, which have been very low on stock nationwide for days despite being one of the food items traditionally needed for the Seder on the first eve of Passover.

Even though the government was airlifting a million eggs from abroad and was intending to bring another 1.5 million, eggs were often out of stock Tuesday in supermarkets as shipments arrived and were quickly snatched by shoppers.

In one extreme example, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men were filmed crowding around a truck that parked near a street in the city of Beit Shemesh and started selling eggs to passersby, who gathered with no regard to social distancing rules.

Police later dispersed the crowd and fined the truck owner NIS 5,000 ($1,400) for endangering public health.

The cabinet on Tuesday approved the closure and curfew over the Passover holiday to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus. The sweeping orders will also require Israelis to start wearing face masks outdoors beginning Sunday.

Following a several-hour meeting, ministers green-lighted emergency regulations banning all intercity traffic from 7 p.m. on Tuesday until Friday at 6 a.m. Supermarkets, food deliveries and other essential services will, however, continue to operate until Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m., and then be allowed to resume Thursday morning.

In a tighter curfew, which coincides with the Passover Seder, from Wednesday at 3 p.m. until Thursday at 7 a.m., Israelis will be banned from venturing out further than 100 meters from their homes and all businesses in the country will be shut.

From Thursday morning until Friday, Israelis will again be permitted to move within their cities and towns for essential needs, but cannot leave city limits. Exceptions will be made for those who do not have supermarkets and pharmacies in their towns, but they may go only to the nearest town with the services.

Jerusalem residents will be confined throughout the lockdown and curfew within the city zone they live in, after government officials sketched out a division of the city — which has the largest number of virus cases in the country — into seven portions.

The curfew measure will not extend to Arab towns, where Passover is not celebrated.

The measures are designed to keep Israelis from attempting to spend the festive Passover Seder meal on Wednesday night with relatives or others, which officials fear could lead to a fresh wave of infections and push Israel backwards just as initial signs of recovery have started to emerge.

As of Tuesday, 60 people have died from the virus, which has infected just over 9,000 in Israel.

Note:

As importers rush to meet demand amid a shortage, three planeloads of eggs arrived Tuesday morning as part of an airlift to bring millions of eggs to the country before the coming Passover festival later this week.

The three planes, each carrying 45 tons of the fragile cargo, delivered some 1.8 million eggs from Europe. Another two planes are expected to arrive by next week, the Ynet website reported. In total, three million eggs will be flown to the country.

The five 787 Dreamliner jets involved are operated by national carrier El Al and in order to make best use of the available space, crates of eggs were strapped into seats usually filled by the hundreds of passengers the planes normally carry, including business class. Pallets of eggs were also loaded into the planes’ cargo bays.

Two of the planes that arrived Tuesday flew in from Lisbon, Portugal, and the third from Kyiv, Ukraine. The M. Lasser Company, which has sold eggs in Israel for over 70 years, shelled out for the deliveries, the report said.

Last Friday, Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi ordered an increase in imports from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ukraine to restock the supply in Israel.

In addition to the airlift, 100 containers of eggs with more than 30 million eggs are on their way to the country by sea and are expected to arrive by the end of the month.