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Former chief rabbi Bakshi-Doron dies after contracting coronavirus

Sephardic religious leader, 79, had been admitted to Jerusalem hospital last week; death raises toll to 104

Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron attends a party for kids who received their first Torah book in Jerusalem, on January 28, 2018. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron attends a party for kids who received their first Torah book in Jerusalem, on January 28, 2018. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

63-year-old man in Galilee dies of coronavirus, raising death toll to 102

A 63-year-old man with preexisting medical conditions dies at Baruch Padeh Medical Center in the Galilee, raising the death toll in Israel from COVID-19 to 102.

Health official vows Israel to soon perform at least 20,000 virus tests daily

Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, vows in an interview with Army Radio that within the next 10 days, at least 20,000 coronavirus tests will be administered each day in Israel.

His comments come after last week saw a significant drop in the number of tests done daily, a decline the Health Ministry said was deliberate to allow for locally produced reagents to be used in testing.

Biden defeats Sanders to win Alaska Democratic primary

Joe Biden wins won the Alaska Democrats’ party-run presidential primary, beating Senator Bernie Sanders days after Sanders suspended his campaign.

Biden beats Sanders 55.3% to 44.7%. A total of 19,759 votes were cast.

Biden gets 11 delegates and Sanders gets 4. Sanders would have won more delegates but after ending his bid for the nomination last week, Sanders is no longer eligible to win delegates based on the statewide vote in primaries and caucuses, according to Democratic National Committee rules. Sanders is, however, still eligible to win delegates based on vote totals in individual congressional districts, which is why the AP allocated four delegates to Sanders in Alaska.

Overall, Biden has 1,228 delegates and Sanders has 918, according to the count by The Associated Press.

— AP

Israel said to express readiness to take steps toward prisoner deal with Hamas

Israel has relayed its willingness to Hamas, by way of Egyptian mediators, to take steps toward a prisoner exchange deal with the Gaza-ruling terror group, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reports.

The newspaper says the steps would be in accordance with the proposal by Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, which reports last week said would see Israel free a number of women, children and elderly Palestinian prisoners in exchange for information on slain IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose bodies have been held by the terror group since the 2014 Gaza war.

Virus restrictions limit priestly blessing at Western Wall to 10 worshipers

The traditional priestly blessing of the Passover holiday is performed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City with just 10 worshipers present, due to restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus.

Tens of thousands of worshipers usually take part in the prayers.

While Israel has barred group prayer as part of efforts to halt the spread of the virus, an exception was made for the Western Wall, where a quorum of 10 Jewish men pray three times a day.

David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, is among those taking part in today’s prayer service.

“Last year I was among 100,000; this year, unfortunately, far less. I will pray that the world is spared further illness or sorrow from COVID-19 or otherwise,” he writes on Twitter.

תפילת שחרית וברכת כוהנים

שידור חי של ברכת הכהנים המסורתית במתכונת מצומצמת ברחבת הכותל המערביLIVE broadcast of the Limited Traditional Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) at the Western Wall

פורסם על ידי ‏הקרן למורשת הכותל המערבי‏ ב- יום שבת, 11 באפריל 2020

Number of virus cases in Israel rises to 10,878, with 103 deaths

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 10,878, with 103 deaths.

The Health Ministry says 174 people are in serious condition, 123 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 155 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

There have been 1,388 Israelis who recovered from the virus, according to the ministry.

Jerusalem leads Israeli cities with most coronavirus deaths

Jerusalem leads as the city in Israel with the most coronavirus deaths, with 22 as of last night.

It also has the most confirmed virus cases of anywhere in Israel.

According to the Health Ministry figures from yesterday, 51 of the fatalities from COVID-19 are males, while 46 are female.

Most of those who have died have been elderly, with 26 people over 90 dying, 26 in their 80s and 25 in their 70s.

The youngest Israeli to die was 37 years old and the oldest was 98.

Graffiti calling health minister ‘Amalek’ spray-painted in Mea Shearim

Over 50 pieces of graffiti against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman are found spray-painted this morning in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood.

This includes graffiti calling Litzman a “murderer” and “Amalek,” the biblical archenemy of the Jewish people.

Municipal officials were to be sent to clean up the graffiti and police have opened an investigation, according to Channel 12 news.

The graffiti appeared after the government approved a lockdown of areas in Jerusalem with high rates of coronavirus infections, among them a number of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods such as Mea Shearim.

An ultra-Orthodox man walks past graffiti against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood on April 12, 2020. The graffiti reads “Litzman = murderer.” (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Ministry proposes criteria for declaring areas with virus outbreaks ‘restricted zones’

The Health Ministry is proposing a set of criteria for declaring areas “restricted zones” due to a high number of coronavirus cases there.

These include having a total of more than 50 people in a community with the virus, or “another number that will be determined dynamically in accordance with the development of the morbidity [rate]”; an infection rate per 100,000 people higher than the national average; and a rate of increase in new cases over the last three days that is higher than the national average.

“Clear and equal criteria need to be determined for all the cities, areas and neighborhoods in Israel without any connection or affinity to the nature of the population,” Health Ministry Yaakov Litzman says in a statement.

He adds: “The specifications by which movement needs to only be limited in [areas with high] ultra-Orthodox concentrations is misguided and slander an entire public that adheres to the legal instructions and the rabbis.”

Litzman appears to be referring to calls for some areas with a high number of virus cases, many of them ultra-Orthodox, to be subject to stricter restrictions on movement, though it is unclear what specifications he is referring to that explicitly single out Haredi communities.

HMO won’t work with Chinese firm on virus testing over privacy fears — report

Israel’s largest HMO will not work with Chinese firm BGI Group on coronavirus testing to prevent it from accessing its information database, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, Clalit CEO Johanan Locker made the decision over concerns BGI could gain access to sensitive information on its patients.

The decision came after Israel announced last week that it signed a NIS 90 million ($25 million) deal with BGI to supply equipment that will allow 10,000 tests a day.

Easter Mass held at shuttered Church of the Holy Sepulchre

At Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and entombed, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa urges the faithful to not be discouraged.

“Despite the sign of death and fear that we are seeing everywhere all over the world, we have to look at the good all those that are giving their lives for the others,” he says.

Only a handful of clergy are on hand for the Mass, and the streets of the Old City surrounding the church are empty of pilgrims and vendors who would normally be doing brisk business.

“The message of Easter is that life, despite all will prevail,” says Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land.

— AP

A Christian worshiper prays in front of the closed door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, before the start of the Easter Sunday service, on April 12, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Cabinet approves mandatory quarantine at hotels for all arrivals

The cabinet approves emergency ordinances requiring all people coming from overseas to be housed at state-run quarantine hotels upon arriving in the country.

The director-general of the Health Ministry can make exemptions allowing people to quarantine elsewhere for “health and humanitarian reasons or other special circumstances,” after consulting with the head of the IDF’s Home Front Command.

Erdan said to abstain on vote for requiring all arrivals to quarantine at hotels

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan abstained during the cabinet vote on requiring all overseas arrivals to be quarantined at a state-run hotel, according to Hebrew media reports.

Erdan argued the policy was illogical and that there would be a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 if people sick with the virus are not required to leave their homes for a hotel, the Kan public broadcaster says.

He also reportedly asserted that the government was dealing with minor matters and not addressing the heart of the problem.

Lockdown of virus-hit Jerusalem neighborhoods takes effect

Police deploy across Jerusalem to enforce a government order to lock down neighborhoods in the city with a high rate of coronavirus infections, many of them ultra-Orthodox.

The lockdown, which took effect at noon and will last until Wednesday at 7 a.m., applies to four of seven zones in the city that were delineated last week.

Dozens of police checkpoints will be set up at the entrances to these “restricted zones” and officers will use drones and observation posts to enforce the lockdown and prevent people from entering or leaving these areas, though there are some exemptions.

The following are the neighborhoods included in the four zones: Ramot, Ramat Shlomo, Neve Yaakov, Har Nof, Givat Shaul, Kiryat Moshe, Rehavia (between Keren Kayemet LeIsrael and Ramban streets), Nahlaot, Makor Baruch, Romema, Ezrat Torah, Geula, Mea Shearim, Beit Israel, Musrara, Bayit Vegan and Givat Mordechai.

Levy-Abekasis calls for Netanyahu to be tasked with forming government, joins right-wing bloc

Gesher MK Orly Levy-Abekasis calls for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be tasked with forming a government and includes herself in the premier’s bloc of right-wing religious parties.

Levy-Abekasis broke off last month from the now defunct Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, citing her opposition to a potential government led by Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz that was supported by the predominantly Arab Joint List.

She initially refrained from recommending either Netanyahu or Gantz to form the next government. Gantz was ultimately tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with doing so and yesterday asked for a two-week extension to assemble a government amid stalled coalition talks with Netanyahu’s Likud.

“Gantz’s request to the president of the state for an extension of the mandate is an announcement of his lack of ability to form a government,” Levy-Abekasis writes in a Facebook post.

She cites three reasons for why Netanyahu should now receive the mandate to form a coalition: Likud is the largest party in the Knesset; the prime minister’s bloc is the largest with 59 seats; and the transition government is continuing to function and not come apart.

The parties that make up Netanyahu’s bloc — Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina — together have 58 seats, with Levy-Abekasis apparently including herself as the 59th.

Meretz MKs savage Levy-Abekasis for joining Netanyahu’s bloc

Lawmakers from the left-wing Meretz party are going after their former electoral ally Gesher MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, after she joined Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing religious parties.

“She doesn’t represent a single voter who voted for our list. This is a despicable move of stealing votes from the left to obtain personal benefit. The political bribery agreement between her and Netanyahu needs to be uncovered immediately,” Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz says in a statement.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg also hits out at Levy-Abekasis, who split off from the now nonexistent Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance over its willingness to join a government led by Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz with support from the Joint List.

“In her previous move I wondered how Orly Levy-Abekasis can sleep at night. Now I understand she has no conscience and no morals and not even a minimum [amount] of shame,” Zandberg tweets.

Netanyahu, unsurprisingly, takes a far different tone.

“Orly, welcome,” he writes on Twitter.

Orly Levy-Abekasis gives a speech during a Labor-Gesher-Meretz campaign event in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

After 3 days of decline, virus death toll in Spain again rises

MADRID — Spain’s daily death toll from the coronavirus rises to 619, after falling for three straight days, the government said.

The country, one of the worst hit by the pandemic, has now recorded 16,972 deaths from COVID-19. The daily toll is up from 510 yesterday.


Spanish paramedics in full protective gear wheel a homeless man suspected of having the coronavirus coronavirus in Madrid on April 11, 2020. (Oscar Del Pozo/AFP)

Coronavirus death toll in Europe passes 75,000

PARIS — More than 75,000 people have died from the coronavirus in Europe, with 80 percent of the fatalities occurring in Italy, Spain, France and Britain, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources.

With a total of 75,011 deaths from 909,673 infections, Europe is the hardest-hit continent in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 109,133 people worldwide.

Europe’s most affected country is Italy with 19,468 deaths, followed by Spain with 16,972, France with 13,832 and Britain with 9,875.


Pope Francis offers Easter prayer for those sick with coronavirus

ROME — Pope Francis offers an Easter Sunday prayer for those killed and suffering from a novel coronavirus that has killed more than 100,000 people worldwide.

“Today my thoughts turn in the first place to the many who have been directly affected by the coronavirus: the sick, those who have died and family members who mourn the loss of their loved ones, to whom, in some cases, they were unable even to bid a final farewell,” the pope says in a livestreamed message from an empty Saint Peter’s Basilica.


Pope Francis holds the Holy Bread as he celebrates the Eucharist during Easter Sunday Mass on April 12, 2020, behind closed doors at St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican. (Andreas Solaro/Pool/AFP)

Iran reports 117 new virus deaths as it begins easing some restrictions

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran announces 117 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the overall official toll to 4,474, even as it eases some restrictions that had been imposed to slow the spread of the virus.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour also tells a news conference that 1,657 new infections had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 71,686.

Iran has carried out 263,388 tests for the virus so far, he adds.

Of those confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 and admitted to hospitals, 43,894 have recovered and been discharged, while 3,930 are in a critical condition.

Iran announced its first coronavirus cases on February 19 and has so far become the worst-hit country in the Middle East.

The new tolls come as Iran has started a gradual reopening of its sanctions-hit economy.

Yesterday, it allowed small businesses to reopen outside the capital and this will be extended to the capital Tehran on April 18.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani also announces in a cabinet meeting that an intercity travel ban in place since last month would be lifted on April 20.

But he repeats calls on Iranians to limit movements outside to “necessary” tasks and remain vigilant, as it remains difficult to “comment on the future” of Iran’s battle with the virus.


Iranians walk past shops in the southeastern city of Kerman on April 11, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (ISNA/AFP)

Rivlin won’t extend Gantz’s mandate to form new government

President Reuven Rivlin won’t grant Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz a 14-day extension to form a government when his deadline to do so expires tomorrow night, his office announces.

Rivlin makes the decision after speaking with Gantz and Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, who according to a statement from the President’s Residence said the parties were not close to signing a coalition agreement.

“If the two do not sign an agreement by midnight tomorrow, and if the number of recommendations for each candidate does not change, the task of forming the government will return to the Knesset and a period of 21 days will begin during which Knesset members can form a majority to recommend an agreed-on candidate to form a government, who would have 14 days to do so,” the statement says.

It adds: “If, during the remaining initial time given to Gantz to form a government, the circumstances change and the two sides come to the president with a request for an extension in order to help them come to an agreement, the president will reconsider his decision.”

Blue and White says coalition talks with Likud continuing

After President Reuven Rivlin says he won’t grant Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz additional time to put together a government, the latter’s party says it is continuing to work with Likud on finalizing a coalition agreement.

“We clarified to Likud that we won’t allow any harm to the rule of law or the foundational principles we presented,” Blue and White says in a statement.

The statement adds that Gantz told Netanyahu he is committed to the understandings they reached.

Petition filed at High Court against tasking Netanyahu with forming government

A petition is filed with the High Court of Justice against tasking Prime Minister Netanyahu with forming a new government due to his indictment on corruption charges, Channel 13 news reports.

The petition is filed minutes after President Reuven Rivlin announced he would not extend Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government, though he also suggested he would not task Netanyahu with doing so either.

The High Court dismissed a similar petition in January, saying it was “premature” to rule on the matter as the March 2 elections hadn’t yet been held and it was unclear who would be tasked with assembling the next government.

Likud urges Rivlin to task Netanyahu with assembling government

The Likud party is calling on President Rivlin to task Prime Minister Netanyahu with forming a government after he announced he would not extend Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz’s mandate to assemble a coalition.

“The Likud movement again asks President Rivlin to transfer the mandate to Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the largest party in the Knesset with 59 recommendations, just as President Rivlin acted after the previous elections in September, when he transferred the mandate from Prime Minister Netanyahu to MK Gantz,” the party says in a statement.

Light rail to skip 4 stops in central Jerusalem due to lockdown of neighborhoods

The company that operates the light rail line in Jerusalem said the train will not stop at four stations due to the lockdown of parts of the city as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The stations are Jaffa-Center, Hadavidka, Mahane Yehuda and Haturim, all of which are in central Jerusalem.

UK’s Boris Johnson discharged from hospital after being treated for COVID-19

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been discharged from a London hospital where he was treated in intensive care for the new coronavirus.

Johnson’s office says he left St. Thomas’ Hospital and will continue his recovery at Chequers, the prime minister’s country house.

He will not immediately return to work.

Johnson had been in the hospital for a week and spent three nights in the ICU.

— AP

Helmsley Trust donates millions to help hospitals set up coronavirus wards

The Helmsley Charitable Trust is donating NIS 40 million ($11 million) to Israeli hospitals to help them build special isolation wings for coronavirus patients.

The grant includes NIS 7.5 million to turn Sharon hospital north of Tel Aviv into the country’s first coronavirus only hospital, and another NIS 10.5 million for six other hospitals to set up coronavirus wards.

Money will also go to buying medical equipment for health workers across the country.

“Helping Israel in times of crisis is the heart of the mission of the Helmsley Trust’s Israel program,” trustee Sandor Frankel says in a statement.

According to the foundation’s website, the grants were awarded late last month.

Yamina attempts to call ‘illogical’ Gantz to heel

The nationalist Yamina Party, which found itself at odds with Blue and White during now-stagnating coalition talks, is urging the potential partner to give up on any coalition demands and just sign on the dotted line.

In a statement, Yamina says Blue and White should drop its demands for the Justice Ministry, which it already reportedly had wrapped up, drop its demand for say over how judges are appointed, and “allow annexation of all settlements to begin immediately.”

“Gantz, there’s no shame in giving in. As someone who heads a faction of 17 seats against a bloc of 59, your demands are illogical and illegitimate according to any democratic logic,” the six-seat Yamina party says.

Likud backers urge Rivlin to give Netanyahu mandate to form government

The right-wing religious bloc backing interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging President Reuven Rivlin to give the Likud leader a shot at forming a government, after Blue and White head Benny Gantz’s request for an extension to form a government was rejected.

In a statement, the heads of Likud, Shas, UTJ and Yamina call on Rivlin to “transfer the mandate to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has 59 recommendations — exactly like after the previous elections in September when you transferred the mandate to MK Benny Gantz when he had only 54 recommendations.”

Earlier Sunday, Rivlin said he would leave it to the Knesset to pick a candidate for prime minister should the sides fail to come together by Monday night, when Gantz’s mandate expires.

It’s unclear if Rivlin can legally transfer the mandate to Netanyahu, given his indictments in three criminal cases. Netanyahu was given the mandate first in the two previous rounds of elections, but was unable to cobble together a government. After the first attempt, he engineered the dissolution of the Knesset to keep Rivlin from being able to give the mandate to Gantz.

MDA seeking blood plasma from recovered virus patients

The Magen David Adom rescue organization says it is looking to collect blood from people who had COVID-19 and recovered, mirroring other efforts around the world.

Researchers believe seriously ill coronavirus patients could be helped by an infusion of blood plasma that has COVID-19 antibodies, though the treatment remains experimental and unproven.

Illustrative: Rabbi Daniel Nevins donating blood plasma at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, March 27, 2020. (Courtesy/Daniel Nevins via JTA)

MDA official Asher Mozer tells Channel 12 news that there is optimism surrounding the procedure, pointing to other countries where it has been tried and showed promising results.

On Saturday, health workers raced to extract blood plasma from a recovered patient in Jerusalem and infuse it in a 29-year-old man who is fighting for his life in an Ashdod hospital. It’s not yet known if the transfusion was a success.

UK death toll pushes past 10,000, though new cases plateau

Health officials say 657 more people in England have died from the new coronavirus, raising the total UK deaths over 10,000.

The National Health Service figure does not include deaths in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The number of recent deaths for the whole UK will be released later.

The 657 deaths come on top of the 9,875 deaths of people with COVID-19 in British hospitals announced Saturday.

Only a few people in Trafalgar Square, with Nelson’s Column at centre, in central London, on a normally busy long holiday weekend, April 10, 2020. (Jonathan Brady / PA via AP)

While the number of new cases and hospitalizations appears to have plateaued, deaths are still rising. Virus death tolls in Italy and Spain have been on a downward slope, and there are growing fears that the UK will end up being the country with the most virus deaths in Europe.

The global death toll has topped 110,000 with the new figures, and the number of cases are nearing 1.8 million.

— AP

Deri: More towns may be added to lockdown list

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri says the Health Ministry may place enclosures on additional cities, with an emphasis on towns with large ultra-Orthodox populations.

Deri says closures are being considered for Modiin Ilit, Elad, Jisr a-Zarqa, Ashkelon and certain neighborhoods of Bnei Brak as well as other areas.

“This hasn’t happened yet, but it does not mean it won’t happen today or tomorrow. The Health Ministry is preparing a proposal like this,” he says, according to the Walla news site.

He also criticizes closures placed on Jerusalem neighborhoods, saying more data is needed to gauge whether some neighborhoods were included when they should not have been.

He tells Haredi journalists that a heat map of Bnei Brak showing areas with higher infection rates is being prepared, which may allow authorities to free some 50 percent of the locked down ultra-Orthodox city to exit the citywide quarantine.


US virus czar says economy could open up by next month

The United States’ top infectious disease expert says the economy in parts of the country could be allowed to reopen as early as next month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says there’s no light switch that will be clicked to turn everything back on. He says a “rolling re-entry” will be required based on the status of the new coronavirus pandemic in various parts of the country.

Fauci says those factors include the region of the country, the nature of the outbreak it already has experienced and the possible threat of an outbreak to come.

A closed Dick’s Sporting Goods store, April 9, 2020, at a mall in Tacoma, Washington. (AP/Ted S. Warren)

Social distancing guidelines imposed by US President Donald Trump are set to expire April 30.

Trump is eager to restart the economy, which has stalled because most Americans are under orders to “stay at home” to help slow the virus’ spread.

— AP

Romanian priest criticized for comparing Jews to virus in Easter homily

A senior priest in the Catholic Church of Romania is under fire after appearing to liken Jews to a virus in a filmed Easter greeting.

The reference was made in an April 9 message, sent out to national television stations, by Father Francisc Dobos, the spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bucharest.

The disciples of Jesus, he said, reading from the Christian Bible, “feared the Jews, and here in the bracket we should read: feared the virus.”

In an open letter, the head of a Romanian group devoted to fighting anti-Semitism writes that Dobos’s apparent effort to make his message more relatable by connecting scripture to present-day concerns and fears fell short.

“Unfortunately, what many of the listeners of your message will [hear will] be the comparison between Jews and a killer virus,” says Maximillian Marco Katz, director of the MCA Romania Center for Monitoring and Combatting Antisemitism. “And so the traditional religious antisemitism is passed down from generation to generation: for over 2000 years.”


In video, Johnson thanks health workers for saving his life

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has posted a video on Twitter in which he hails the staff in the National Health Service for saving his life when it could have “gone either way.”

Johnson is dressed in a suit and looks and sounds assured in the video made after his discharge from St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. He says he does not have the words to properly thank the staff at NHS for “saving my life.”

He lists a number of the frontline staff who cared for him over a week at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London but singled out two nurses who stood by his bedside for 48 hours “when things could have gone either way.”

He says Jenny from New Zealand and Luis from Portugal were the reason “in the end my body did start to get enough oxygen.”

Johnson says there are “hundreds of thousands of NHS staff who are acting with the same care and thought and precision as Jenny and Luis.”

Johnson spent a week at St. Thomas’, three days of which were in intensive care. He was given oxygen but was not put on a ventilator.

— AP

Liberman latest to be accused of hosting kids for Passover

Channel 12 news reports Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman broke the law and hosted family at his home for the Passover Seder, the latest senior politician to apparently be caught flouting regulations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have both ben criticized for hosting their children during Passover despite strict regulations banning family visits during the festive meal. Earlier Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was found to have attended a prayer gathering, against regulations.

According to Channel 12 news, Liberman, a former foreign minister and defense minister, hosted his son and future daughter-in-law at his home in the settlement of Nokdim.

Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on December 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Asked about it, he tells the channel that the rules placing a closure on the whole country in order to clamp down on family visits were “ridiculous.”

“The decision by Netanyahu and Litzman to place a general closure on all citizens of Passover eve, as a solution to the ongoing shortage of tests and in the hopes of placating the ultra-Orthodox, was ridiculous. The clear conclusion from Passover night at [the Prime Minister’s Residence] is that Netanyahu himself doesn’t believe in the methods he is instituting,” he tells the channel.

A video released of the Netanyahu Passover Seder that included his son was roundly criticized. Although apparently filmed ahead of the holiday, it showed that Netanyahu was not keeping to quarantine measures that should have kept his son away. His office claimed contact was allowed because the son lived in a mysterious “apartment adjacent to the residence.”

22-year-old in serious condition sees improvement

Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv says a 22-year-old man with the coronavirus who was fighting for his life has begun to show signs of improvement.

The hospital says the man is awake and alert, but is still listed in serious condition and is still hooked up to a heart-lung machine.

Likud and Blue and White say they will buckle down for unity talks

A joint message from the Likud and Blue and White parties says the sides are still trying to forge ahead with an elusive agreement for an emergency government.

In identical messages sent out by both parties, they say they have decided to put a moratorium on giving media interviews — normally fecund ground for mud-slinging and blame-trading — to give the talks a chance to work.

The sides have a little over 24 hours until Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government expires.

New York records 758 more deaths

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the death toll in the state has gone up by 758 in the last 24 hours, bringing its total to 9,385.

The toll roughly matches what has been seen in the state over the last several days.

Cuomo says that the hospitalization rate continues to fall, a sign of hope.

Unemployment rate rockets above 25 percent

Israel’s unemployment rate has reached 25.8 percent after 6,693 new job-seekers registered in the last day, a jump over the 5,713 who registered Tuesday, the last business day before the Passover holiday.

Over 935,000 Israelis have registered as job-seekers since the start or March, the vast majority of them after being placed on unpaid leave due to the coronavirus crisis.

Earlier in the day, Joint List MK Aida Touma-Salomon petitioned the High Court against an emergency regulation that allows employers to place pregnant women on unpaid leave during the crisis, her party said in a statement.

Trump: Impeachment distracted everyone else from tackling virus

After being accused of dropping the ball and ignoring warnings about the severity of the coronavirus threat, US President Donald Trump is attempting to blame the media and Democrats instead.

“Congress was too distracted by the (phony) Impeachment Witch Hunt when they should have been investigating CoronaVirus when it first appeared in China. Media played a big roll also!” he tweets.

The tweet is seemingly referring to a Washington Examiner article quoting Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, who claimed Congress was too busy investigating Trump to pay attention to the coronavirus sweeping China at the time.

The impeachment trial ended on February 5, when the virus was still mostly centered in Wuhan, China.

Trump maintained that the virus was nothing to worry about until mid March, but a story in the New York Times on Saturday showed that the president ignored repeated warnings about the severity of the disease.

Quit your dangerous Passover cavorting, Health Ministry chief pleads

The country’s health czar is warning Israelis against backsliding away from practicing social distancing and observing quarantine restrictions, saying the coronavirus could come back with a vengeance.

“I understand it’s hard to stay at home for so long and the public has proven and is proving its ability to keep to the regulations and protect everyone’s families,” Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov says in a statement.

Sunday’s warm and sunny weather, coupled with the Passover holiday spirit, led many to venture outside, despite restrictions meant to keep people close to their homes and away from others. This writer saw several families taking nature hikes together near Jerusalem, in contravention of rules.

A man wear a protective face mask as he rides his bicycle in Lod on April 12, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Siman-Tov warned that “getting together over the holiday endangers all of our lives. We’ve seen what happened in other countries where discipline flagged and we need to be disciplined the whole time in order to get to those situations.”

Health Ministry officials had reportedly wanted to extend a ban on intercity travel until the end of Passover on Wednesday, but were shot down by Treasury officials.

Lower numbers of new infections and hospitalizations in recent days have sparked cautious optimism that some restrictions on the economy could be rolled back as early as next week.

Number of infections hits 11,103 — reports

The number of coronavirus infections nationwide now stands at 11,103, representing 360 new cases in the last 24 hours, according to media reports.

At least 174 people are in serious condition, according to the reports.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion tells Channel 12 news that at least 2,000 infections have been recorded in his city, which has led the country in number of infections.

Traffic on roads equals pre-crisis levels — report

The Netivei Israel roads company says it recorded a similar number of cars over Sunday as on a regular day before the crisis, another indicator that Israelis may be growing more lax in keeping to restrictions against movement, Channel 12 news reports.

Traffic cams show a steady flow of cars at intersections around the country, albeit no major backups.

Traffic seen near Petah Tikva on April 12, 2020. (screen capture: Netivei Yisrael)

Report: Workforces could ramp back up to 50% next week

A Finance Ministry plan to get the economy back on its feet as the coronavirus recedes would see up to 50 percent of workforces allowed to hit the streets as early as April 19. Currently the workforce is supposed to be at 15%.

That day would also see small shopping centers, with up to 15 stores, allowed to re-open, and restaurants allowed to resume take-out service.

A month later on May 17, malls would be allowed to re-open, public transportation would ramp back up almost all the way to 100% and employers would be able to welcome 85% of their workers back, according to the report.

Italy, France record lower death tolls

Italy recorded the lowest number of new coronavirus deaths in three weeks, saying 431 people died in the past day to bring its total to 19,899.

It was the lowest day-to-day toll since March 19.

For the ninth day running, intensive care admissions were down and hospitalizations overall were down, relieving pressure on Italy’s over-stressed health care system.

Italian singer Andrea Bocelli walks stands outside the Duomo cathedral to perform, on Easter Sunday, in Milan, Italy, April 12, 2020. (AP/Luca Bruno)

More than 4,000 people tested positive, as Italy began its fifth week under nationwide lockdown, continuing a general flattening in its infection curve.

France also recorded a lower death toll than in recent days — 561 people — bringing the country’s total number of victims to 14,393.

— Agencies

High Court won’t hear petition against tasking Netanyahu as PM for now

The High Court says it will not consider a petition against President Reuven Rivlin tasking Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government, saying such a decision would be premature.

As it has in the past, the court says the case is still a theoretical as Netanyahu, indicted in three criminal cases, has not been handed the mandate.

The petition, filed by 117 high-tech, business, security and education professionals, came minutes after Rivlin announced he would not extend Gantz’s mandate to form a government. Rivlin also suggested he would not transfer the mandate to Netanyahu.

The court says if Rivlin does give the mandate to Netanyahu, the petitioners can refile.

Russia blasts US for snubbing Gagarin blast-off

In some non-coronavirus or coalition talks related news: Russia’s Foreign Ministry has accused the US State Department of spreading disinformation by not mentioning Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in a Facebook post about the International Day of Human Space Flight.

The United Nations General Assembly in 2011 proclaimed the annual observance held on the anniversary of the solo one-orbit mission that made Gagarin the first man in space on April 12, 1961.

A worker cleans the statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first person who flew to space, in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday April 10, 2019. (AP/Maxim Marmur)

A post on the State Department’s Russian-language page Sunday notes that the first manned spaceflight took place 59 years ago but does not name the person who who performed it.

“Not noting this is disinformation and a base trick of the post-truth epoch,” the Russian ministry said on its own page.

— AP

TV: PA PM warned to stop campaign blaming Israel for spread of virus in West Bank

The Palestinian Authority has for a week been mounting a “campaign of incitement,” accusing Israel of “spreading the virus” in Palestinian areas, Channel 12 reports.

It says Israeli defense officials are furious with the PA, and have sent warning messages to this effect to Ramallah.

The report notes that the source of contagion in 73% of cases that have tested positive for COVID-19 in the PA has been traced to Palestinian workers employed in Israel. It says that the PA has utilized this statistic to allege that Israel is “polluting” PA areas via both Palestinian workers and the IDF.

A clip broadcast by the PA in this context shows Palestinians spraying disinfectant on Israeli army vehicles entering Palestinian areas.

The report says the Israeli defense establishment blames senior PA figures, including Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, for what it quotes a senior defense official as calling “a racist incitement campaign against the IDF and Israel.”

Israel has sent “very strong messages” to top PA security officials and, indirectly, to Shtayyeh, warning that if the anti-Israel incitement does not stop, Israel “will take action,” including by reducing security cooperation and by limiting the freedom of action of PA security officials.

Ministry: 11,145 cases of coronavirus, death toll remains at 103

New figures released by the Health Ministry show 11,145 cases of the coronavirus in Israel, an increase of 402 cases over the last 24 hours.

A total of 183 people are in serious condition and 131 are on ventilators, according to the figures.

The death toll remains at 103, an increase of two over the last day.

The ministry says 1,627 people have recovered from the virus.


Officials looking to squelch lockdown exit talk

Ministers reportedly believe that caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning on delaying any plans to roll back coronavirus restrictions, after he said no decision on an exit strategy would be made until after the Passover-capping holiday of Mimouna.

The National Security Council, which has been coordinating Israel’s response to the pandemic, has instructed ministers not to make any public promises or even give the impression that a decision has been made to start returning to normal, the Ynet news site reports, quoting Health Ministry Deputy Director Itamar Grotto.

“We need to explain to the public that they need to continue to keep to the regulations with no let-up, especially during the holiday and Mimouna. This is a basic condition for being able to start a gradual and cautious exit toward a different routine,” he says.

Government officials fear optimistic numbers and increasing talk of a possible exit from the crisis had led people to be more lax toward social distancing regulations, Channel 12 news reports.

The Kan news broadcaster quotes an unnamed minister also pouring cold water on the idea of a looming exit.

“There’s no clear exit strategy, there’s not enough tests, and no tools on the table other than decisions that put the country in a lockdown,” the minister is quoted saying.

Avi Simhon, the prime minister’s economics adviser, tells the station that the process of exiting will take several months at least: “I don’t think that in another two months we’ll be in a situation where it’s like nothing happened, that scenario is too optimistic.”

‘Stockpile’ of 39 million masks bound for LA exposed as fiction

A major California labor union that claimed to have discovered a stockpile of 39 million masks for healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus was duped in an elaborate scam uncovered by FBI investigators, according to a newspaper report Sunday.

Investigators stumbled onto the scheme while looking into whether they could intercept the masks for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under the Defense Production Act, the US attorney’s office says.

The federal government has been quietly seizing supplies across the country as the outbreak spreads. But in this case, there was no warehouse, and there were no masks to seize, the Los Angeles Times reported.

US Attorney Scott Brady told the Times that investigators tracked the tip back to a Pittsburgh businessman, who said he had been working with the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West to secure millions of masks.

The businessman had been using WhatsApp to connect with a broker in Australia and a supplier in Kuwait, who are both now the target of a federal investigation, Brady said.

Experts in the global supply chain say dubious brokers and suppliers have flooded the market with suspect offers, creating an atmosphere of confusion and distrust, just as hospitals are trying to stock up on the gear doctors and nurses need to protect themselves from the virus.

— AP

Bye-bye cheap gas: Oil producers agree to cut production

The OPEC oil cartel and other oil producers have agreed to boost oil prices by cutting nearly 10 million barrels a day in production, or a tenth of global supply, according to energy officials from several nations who participated in the talks.

Mexico’s energy minister said on Twitter that the group of nations agreed to cut 9.7 million barrels a day to begin May 1. Energy officials from other countries shared similar information after the officials met by video conference Sunday.

Iran’s oil ministry also confirmed the 9.7 million cut for May and June. It said the so-called OPEC+ countries agree to have Mexico reduce its output by 100,000 barrels only for those two months. That had been a sticking point for the accord meant to boost global energy prices.

The agreement would be an unprecedented global pact to stabilize the market.

Meanwhile, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told state television that Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would cut another 2 million barrels of oil a day between them atop the OPEC+ deal to help re-balance the markets. The three countries did not immediately acknowledge the cut themselves, though Zanganeh attended the video conference.

— AP

Chances of late July vote ‘dramatically increased,’ expert says

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, says President Reuven Rivlin’s refusal to give Blue and White leader Benny Gantz more time to form a coalition means the odds of a fourth election are “dramatically increased.”

He says that it is possible that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu tricked Gantz, a former military chief, but a political novice, into dismantling the opposition, or perhaps Netanyahu sensed the new circumstances, which gave him a chance to seek re-election from a position of strength.

“It looks like Netanyahu backed off, or he never intended to go for that deal and it was just a trick in order to erode Gantz’s mandate,” Plesner says.

A fourth round of elections would likely take place in late July or early August, according to Channel 12 news.

— with AP

Growing concern that stressed, stagnant Israelis ripe for quarantine-15

Israelis are not being spared the so-called quarantine 15 weight gain, according to the Health Ministry, which is warning that some 50 percent of the population could gain 5-7 kilograms (11-15 lbs), due to being less active and more worried, Kan reports.

People with shopping bags in Jerusalem on April 12, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In the US, as well, there is growing recognition about people putting on 15 pounds or so, as a result of forced stagnation and increased tensions, which often drives people to worry-gorge. (The 15 number is a reference to the Freshman 15 that college students are said to gain when they first get to campus.)

“When we’re worried or frightened, we’re more likely to seek out sugars, fats, and carbs for a quick energy boost. These comfort foods act like a natural tranquilizer that calms us down in times of peril,” reads a recent article in Psychology Today on the phenomenon.

The article counsels that “to break the stress cycle, we can find stress-reducing activities, such as exercise, meditation, and yoga. Coupling the activity with healthy, nutritional eating and a good night’s sleep gives us healthier ways of managing unpredictable times, like the pandemic.”

Former chief rabbi Bakshi-Doron dies after bout with coronavirus — report

Former Sephardic chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron has died, after contracting the coronavirus, according to Haredi media.

Former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron is suspected of issuing fraudulent rabbinic certifications to police and army officers. (photo credit: Flash90)
Former Sephardi chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. (Flash90)

Bakshi-Doron, 79, was hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Shaarei Zedek hospital five days ago, after testing positive for the coronavirus.

His family was quoted earlier saying that his situation is “very grave,” and urging prayers on his behalf.

Three Hebron workers test positive for coronavirus — PA

A Palestinian Authority spokesman says three new cases of the coronavirus were found in the West Bank, bringing the total number of Palestinian cases to 271.

All three people who tested positive are residents of the Hebron area who had been working in Israel, Ibrahim Milham says on Twitter.

He says there have been 19 cases in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, bringing the total to 290

Hospital confirms death of Bakshi-Doron

The Shaarei Zedek Medical Center has confirmed the passing of Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.

The hospital says his condition deteriorated during the day and efforts to revive him over the last hour were unsuccessful.

The death brings the toll in Israel to 104.

Born in 1941 in Jerusalem, Bakshi was first chief rabbi in Bat Yam and then Haifa, before rising in 1993 to become the Rishon LeZion, a title given to the chief Sephardic rabbi, a position he held until 2003.

In 2017, he was convicted of fraud and breach of trust in a scheme to give out false credentials, and sentenced to probation, as well as a fine.

Bennett mourns Bakshi-Doron as ‘kind and generous man’

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett mourns Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron as a “kind and generous man,” and praises him for his work in bringing people closer to Judaism.

He calls two Jerusalem yeshivas founded by the rabbi “symbols of his legacy, a legacy of love of the people and the Torah.”

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