A stampede early Friday at a mountainside religious celebration in Israel that drew tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews left at least 44 people dead and scores more injured.
By some estimates, about 100,000 people were crammed together late Thursday to celebrate a holiday on Mount Meron in northern Israel, despite warnings from the authorities about the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
The deadly crush began around 1 a.m. on Friday, as celebrants began to pour out of a section of a compound where festivities were being held.
The pilgrimage was held despite warnings from Israeli health officials that it could become a Covid-19 superspreader event. That is what appears to have happened in India in April when a vast Hindu celebration was permitted to take place.
Last year, the Israeli authorities arrested over 300 people at the Lag b’Omer celebration after large crowds gathered in defiance of coronavirus restrictions. Some were reported to have thrown stones and other objects at police officers who tried to control the crowd.
About 56 percent of the Israeli population had been fully vaccinated for Covid-19 as of Thursday, according to a New York Times database, and the country’s swift inoculation campaign and plummeting infection rates have allowed it to take rapid steps back toward normalcy. Earlier this month, Israel lifted its outdoor mask mandate and fully reopened schools for the first time since September.
But there are still restrictions in place, and the gathering at Mount Meron on Thursday, though smaller than similar ones in recent years, was described as the largest in Israel since the start of the pandemic.