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Israel on frantic egg hunt ahead of Easter and Passover

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Jerusalem (AFP)

As Jews in Israel prepare for Passover and the country's Christian minority looks ahead to Easter, people are locked into a frantic egg-hunt forced by a nationwide shortage.

Demand for eggs always peaks ahead of the eight-day Passover holiday that opens on Wednesday, especially since many other key foods -- including pasta, bread and pastries -- are prohibited.

Israel, which has more than 8,500 confirmed coronavirus cases, has largely avoided the panic shopping that has affected other countries during the pandemic.

But in recent days, supermarket attendants have scoffed at people seeking a mere dozen eggs.

At one such outlet in the southern part of west Jerusalem, shoppers in a 40 minute queue at the entrance had only one question for those on their way out: "Are there any eggs?"

The answer was inaudible from beneath the ubiquitous face masks, but visible once inside.

"No eggs, the hens are in isolation," read a handwritten sign above shelves long since poached of hens' produce.

Israel's government has blamed the shortage on import disruptions from Italy and Spain, two countries devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Passover marks the Jewish people's biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Jews were said to have fled Egypt with such haste that their daily bread did not have time to rise, so Passover cuisine prohibits food with yeast or grains.

Eggs are essential in the flourless cakes typically made over the holiday.

Matzah, or unleavened bread, with scrambled eggs is also a Passover staple.

Chief executive of the Nizat Haduvdevan supermarket, Arbel Shiran, told AFP that demand for eggs, which usually rises 10-20 percent ahead of Passover, was up 60 percent this year.

- Treading on eggshells -

Some stores are limiting sales to one carton per person, while certain markets have allowed eggs to be bought only by customers whose overall purchase exceeds a minimum threshold.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in a case of rising demand and low supply, a black market has flourished and there have been reports of price gouging.

Israel's agriculture ministry issued a warning about eggs that had not passed sanitary inspections.

"The ministry of agriculture is calling on people to buy eggs from known and legal outlets, not those sold on the black market or door to door," it said in a statement.

The ministry noted that in one 24-hour period last week inspectors seized 12,000 unapproved eggs.

But keen to avoid treading on egg shells with the public, authorities have scrambled to boost legitimate supply lines by ordering the express import of millions of eggs from Europe.

The state has also agreed to offset part of the cost.

"The finance and agriculture ministries will subsidise the import of eggs via air from Europe to Israel in light of the shortage," a government statement said Friday.

Import quotas have been raised, according to an agriculture ministry directive.

The Jerusalem Post reported that millions of eggs arrived by sea on Saturday with more due on Tuesday.

It said the shippers agreed to shorten their delivery routes and raise their vessels' sailing speed to whisk eggs to Israel in time for Passover.

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