Israel said preparing to reopen stores next week, but keep schools shut
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Israel said preparing to reopen stores next week, but keep schools shut

Sources close to defense minister say his proposal to fully restart economic activity has been accepted; some special education classes will resume, reports say

People with shopping bags walking through the shuttered Mahane Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem on April 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People with shopping bags walking through the shuttered Mahane Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem on April 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Sea of Galilee water level rises after night of heavy rain

The water level of the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main fresh water reservoir, has risen by an additional two and a half centimeters after a night of heavy rain in parts of the north of the country, according to the National Water Authority.

A lack of rain over many years had seen the lake’s level drop sharply but the level has steadily risen since the beginning of the winter.

According to officials who measure the water level every day, it’s currently at 208.96 meters (685.65 feet) below sea level.

The level is now just 16 centimeters (7.28 inches) below the “upper red line,” above which the lake would be in danger of overflowing.

The promenade in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias, by the Sea of Galilee, on January 30, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Ministers to meet to debate extending Jerusalem neighborhood lockdown

The special ministerial committee dealing with the immediate response to the coronavirus crisis is set to meet this morning to discuss loosening restrictions on both Jerusalem and the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak.

Cabinet ministers will discussing revoking Bnei Brak’s definition as a “restricted zone,” declared on April 2 as the largely ultra-Orthodox city experienced a severe spike in infections.

They will also discuss a similar closure that has been imposed since Sunday on several ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem where high infection rates have been reported. They are expected to extend the restrictions in the capital.

This morning, Israel lifted a nationwide closure imposed for the end of Passover and the Mimouna festival as officials indicated they could slowly start easing lockdown restrictions imposed to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

From 5 a.m., Israelis could again leave their hometowns if they comply with general lockdown restrictions. Limited public transportation also restarted. The closure had been in place since Tuesday evening.

— Raoul Wootliff

Rivlin sends mandate back to Knesset, starting 21-day countdown to election

President Reuven Rivlin hands Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz the formal notice that his mandate to form a government is over, after the Blue and White party leader failed to do so by yesterday’s midnight deadline.

For only the second time in Israel’s history, the mandate to form a governing coalition is now in the hands of the Knesset. If 61 lawmakers sign their support for a fellow MK to form a government over the next 21 days, that person will be tasked with doing so. If not, the country goes to the polls once again.

“I hope that the Knesset members will be able to form a majority in such a way that a government can be formed as soon as possible, to prevent a fourth round of elections,” Rivlin wrote.

 

Negotiating teams for Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud continued their talks to form a unity government late yesterday night and into the early hours of this morning, and agreed to meet again later today, even as the latter’s presidential mandate to form a coalition expired at midnight.

Passing the mandate the the Knesset essentially gives Netanyahu and Gantz three more weeks to seal a deal, or theoretically opens the door to other coalition possibilities.

— Raoul Wootliff

80-year-old man dies from COVID-19, bringing Israel’s death toll to 132

Laniado Hospital in Netanya says an 80-year-old man with existing medical conditions has died from COVID-19 at the medical center.

His death brings the toll from the virus in Israel to 132.

A total of 12,501 infections are confirmed, while 180 patients are in serious condition, 133 of them on respiratory ventilation.

Bedouin town holds large funeral in violation of virus restrictions

Dozens of people attended a funeral in the northern Arab Israeli town of Isfiya yesterday, violating public health orders aimed at curbing an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in the country, Channel 12 news reports.

Under current lockdown orders against public gatherings Israel allows up to 20 people to attend a funeral, provided they maintain a distance of at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) between each other. The incident in Isfiya, a predominantly Bedouin town, comes amid concerns that the highly contagious virus is gaining momentum in some Arab Israeli communities.

Screen capture from video of a funeral in the Arab Israeli town of Isfiya, April 15, 2020. (Channel 12 news)

In video from the event many dozens of people can be seen joining the procession for the burial of a local woman. Though almost all participants are wearing face masks, they were not seen maintaining the social distancing orders.

There are no police seen at the funeral or attempting to enforce restrictions, according to the report.

Ivanka Trump flew to New Jersey for seder, flouting social distancing rules

US President Donald Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, has failed to follow the federal government’s guidelines against unnecessary travel, The New York Times reports.

Trump, who serves as a senior adviser to her father and has spearheaded part of the administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout, has repeatedly urged Americans to stay home and refrain from discretionary travel.

But before the start of Passover on April 8, she traveled with her husband Jared Kushner, also a senior adviser to the president, and their three children from the couple’s home in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington DC to the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey, the report says.

While the federal guidelines against travel are not compulsory, Washington issued a stay-at-home order beginning April 1 for all but essential activities.

Virus death toll up to 134 as two women die in Jerusalem hospital

Shaare Zedek in Jerusalem says a 71-year-old and a 90-year-old woman, both with existing medical conditions, have died from COVID-19 at the medical center.

Their deaths brings the toll from the virus in Israel to 134.

A total of 12,501 infections are confirmed, with 180 patients in serious condition, 133 of them on respiratory ventilation.

Progress reported on possible prisoner swap with Hamas

Progress has been made on a possible prisoner swap deal with Hamas, according to Hebrew media reports, citing both Palestinian and Israeli sources.

A senior Israeli source tells Channel 13 that “an exceptional and rare opportunity has been created to reach a prisoner deal with Hamas.”

The channel says the deal would include the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Sergeant First Class Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war (Operation Protective Edge), and two Israeli civilians, Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are believed to held by Hamas after having entered Gaza of their own accord in 2014-2015.

Channel 12 cites Palestinian sources as saying that a senior Hamas delegation met in Cairo last week with Egyptian intelligence to discuss a prisoner swap. According to the sources, Musa Dudin, a member of the Hamas political bureau, was one of the members of the delegation.

Number of virus cases in Israel up to 12,591; 140 dead

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 12,591, the Health Ministry announces.

The ministry also says that nine people have died since last night, bringing the number of total deaths to 140.

According to the ministry figures, 174 people are in serious condition, 140 of whom are on ventilators.

So far, 2,624 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.

WWII veteran, 99, raises more than £12 million for UK health workers

A 99-year-old British World War II veteran raises more than £12 million ($15 million, 13.8 million euros) in his fundraising challenge for frontline health workers by walking laps of his garden.

Tom Moore, a captain who served in India, is being sponsored to complete 100 lengths of his 25-metre (82-foot) garden in time for his 100th birthday at the end of the month.

He originally planned to raise £1,000 for a National Health Service charity after receiving treatment for a broken hip and cancer.

But he is now passed the £12-million barrier, and has to do just one more round of laps in his garden in Bedfordshire, south England, with the help of his walking frame.

— AFP

Sources close to Gantz: Blue and White and Yesh Atid could win more seats separately

Sources close to Blue and White chair Benny Gantz say that his party and the Yesh Atid-Telem faction could win more seats in a fourth election if they run separately rather than together as a joint slate, as they have done in the previous three elections.

“If we go to an election split, without Yesh Atid, we might bring in more seats. Everyone will knows why there is no unity — just because of Netanyahu,” the sources tell Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s sister site in Hebrew.

Gantz and Netanyahu have been negotiating to form a unity government after neither received enough support to form a coalition after March’s election. Gantz’s decision to pursue negotiations caused Blue and White to split.

In first, High Court to broadcast hearing on Shin Bet coronavirus phone snooping

A High Court of Justice hearing on a petition against digital tracking methods employed by the Shin Bet and used by authorities to trace the whereabouts of coronavirus carriers and others will be the first session to be broadcast live from the courtroom when it is transmitted today as part of a pilot project.

The hearing will take place at 11:30 a.m. and will be transmitted by the Government Press Office on the court’s website.

Much like in the US, the Israeli Supreme Court and High Court have never allowed live broadcasts of their hearings. But Supreme Court President Esther Hayut announced on Monday that the court session would be the first to be broadcast live as part of a year-long pilot.

Although the court had been planning to begin the project before the coronavirus outbreak, the pilot was moved up at the request of some Hebrew media outlets that noted that due to the coronavirus lockdown orders their reporters would not be able to attend the court hearings as usual.

Police arrest 2 ‘hilltop youth’ for stealing tents from quarantine site

Police officers arrest two members of a group of radical Israeli settlers who are suspected of stealing tents and equipment from a quarantine facility that the military established for them in the northern West Bank, police say.

Earlier this week, the group of far-right extremists — also known as “hilltop youth” — were accused of attacking a group of Palestinians and firebombing their cars.

Police say the officers arrested two suspects who were driving down the Route 90 highway in the eastern West Bank after finding what they believed was the stolen military equipment in their car. It is not immediately clear how many suspects remain at large.

— Judah Ari Gross

El Al warns it will go bankrupt if government doesn’t help with $350 million loan

El Al airlines says it is at the risk of shutting down if the government does not help with granting it a $350 million loan to weather the coronavirus pandemic.

The company, Israel’s flagship carrier, is facing financial ruin as the disease outbreak, and government containment measures, have largely grounded international travel and completely halted travel into Israel.

Ninety-five percent of the airline’s 6,500 employees are currently not working, with around a thousand having been laid off and the rest on unpaid leave.

Earlier this month, the Finance Ministry rejected the El Al’s request for a state loan of $350 million. The company is now in negotiations for the state to cover a majority of the amount with banks making up the rest.

Police remove Bnei Brak roadblocks as official closure order ends

Police remove most of the roadblocks deployed throughout the city of Bnei Brak in recent weeks.

The move comes as cabinet ministers are discussing revoking the city’s definition as a “restricted zone,” declared on April 2 due to the largely ultra-Orthodox city experiencing a severe spike in infections.

The official order over the city ended at 12:30 p.m.

Police appeared be anticipating that the government lockdown of the city would not be extended.

For the past two weeks residents have been largely prevented from leaving the city (though last Friday restrictions were eased somewhat, with residents allowed to travel outside the city for work and some other essential needs).

Unemployment rate in Israel passes 26 percent

The unemployment rate in Israel reaches 26.01 percent, as the Employment Service says some 39,000 people have registered as unemployed since yesterday.

Cumulatively, there are now nearly 1,085,461 unemployed people in Israel.

76-year-old woman dies from COVID-19, bringing death toll to 141

The Sharon Hospital in Petah Tikva says an 76-year-old woman with pre-existing medical conditions has died from COVID-19 at the medical center.

Her death brings the toll from the virus in Israel to 141.

A total of 12,591 infections are confirmed, with 174 patients in serious condition, 140 of them on respiratory ventilation.

PM invites Gantz to meeting to discuss unity government

Netanyahu called Blue and White chair Benny Gantz this morning to invite him to meet this evening to discuss the formation of an emergency unity government, according to the prime minsiter’s spokesperson.

The two agreed that the teams would meet before they speak, a statement says.

This morning, President Reuven Rivlin handed Gantz formal notice that his mandate to form a government was over, after the Blue and White party leader failed to do so by yesterday’s midnight deadline.

The mandate to form a governing coalition is now in the hands of the Knesset. If 61 lawmakers pledge their support for a fellow MK to form a government over the next 21 days, that person will be tasked with doing so. If not, the country goes to the polls once again.

Ministers said set to lift Bnei Brak lockdown, continue closure on Jerusalem neighborhoods

The ministerial committee dealing with the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak is set to approve lifting the two-week lockdown on the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, according to Channel 12 news.

Ministers will, however, extend the closure of several Jerusalem neighborhoods, the channel reports.

Earlier today police removed most of the roadblocks deployed throughout Bnei Brak as the official order over the city ended at 12:30 p.m.

For the past two weeks residents have been largely prevented from leaving the city (though last Friday restrictions were eased somewhat, with residents allowed to travel outside the city for work and some other essential needs).

A similar closure has also been imposed since Sunday on several ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem where high infection rates have been reported.

Spain sees 551 new virus deaths as toll tops 19,000

Spain sees its coronavirus death toll soar past the 19,000 mark after another 551 people died of COVID-19, with the numbers reflecting a staggered slowdown after nearly five weeks on lockdown.

One of the worst-hit countries in the world, Spain has seen the increase in the number of deaths and infections slow over the past fortnight, with the overnight fatalities taking the toll to 19,130.

It also records 5,183 new cases of COVID-19, taking the overall figure to 182,816 — officially second highest in the world behind the United States.

— AFP

Ethiopia moves to close Eritrean refugee camp despite virus fears

Ethiopia plans to shutter a camp for Eritrean refugees and resettle thousands of its inhabitants in other camps that the UN considers already full, an official says, despite concerns this could make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Hitsats camp is one of four in the northern Tigray region that together house nearly 100,000 people from Eritrea, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, out of more than 170,000 Eritrean refugees nationwide.

In early March, Ethiopian officials informed UNHCR they intended to close Hitsats as part of a consolidation scheme, but it was delayed after Ethiopia confirmed its first COVID-19 cases in mid-March.

Yet preparations for the closure have continued, and Eyob Awoke, deputy director general of Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, says that relocations could begin by the end of April.

— AFP 

Greece to move migrants out of congested island camps

Greece will begin moving hundreds of elderly and ailing asylum seekers out of congested island camps to protect them from the coronavirus, the migration ministry says.

The ministry says 2,380 “vulnerable persons” will be moved out of camps on Aegean islands to apartments, hotels and other camps on the mainland.

Those to be moved include 200 asylum-seekers over the age of 60 who will be accompanied by their families. Another group of 1,730 includes people with prior ailments and their relatives, the ministry says.

Authorities says the two-week operation will begin after April 19, Orthodox Easter, and that a timetable would be announced at a later date.

— AFP

Israel said to shut down unauthorized East Jerusalem coronavirus testing site

Israel Police have closed down an makeshift coronavirus testing clinic in East Jerusalem because it was operating under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, the Haaretz newspaper reports.

The clinic was set up next to a mosque in the Silwan neighborhood of the capital during the day and then closed in the early evening. Later that night police arrived and arrested four people who were running the clinic.

Sources who were at the location tell Haaretz that police told them the clinic was closed because of its ties to the PA, which is forbidden to carry out activities in Israeli territory without prior approval.

President’s office to Likud: PM has no chance of forming government alone

In a letter to Likud ministers explaining why President Reuven Rivlin did not task  Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government, the director of the president’s office, Harel Tubi, says that the prime minister appears unable to do so at the moment.

“In light of the current situation where none of the candidates has the support of the majority of Knesset members, the president does not see the possibility of forming a government, and therefore he passed the government assembly process to the Knesset,” Tubi says.

This morning, Rivlin handed Gantz formal notice that his mandate to form a government was over, after the Blue and White party leader failed to do so by yesterday’s midnight deadline.

The mandate to form a governing coalition is now in the hands of the Knesset. If 61 lawmakers pledge their support for a fellow MK to form a government over the next 21 days, that person will be tasked with doing so. If not, the country goes to the polls once again.

— Raoul Wootliff

Iran says virus deaths rise 92 to 4,869

Iran announces 92 new deaths from the coronavirus, the third straight day that official fatalities remain down in double digits in the Middle East’s worst-hit country.

Health ministry spokesman Kinaoush Jahanpour tells a news conference the latest deaths brought the official total to 4,869.

He adds that 1,606 new infections have been confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 77,995 from 310,340 tests. Of those confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus and admitted to hospital, 52,229 have been discharged after recovering, which he describes as a “rising trend.”

Another 3,594 patients are in critical condition.

There has been speculation abroad that the number of deaths and infections is higher than officially announced.

A report published Tuesday by parliament said the real death toll from Iran’s outbreak was estimated to be as much as 80 percent more than that announced by the government.

— AFP

18 killed by Nigeria security forces over virus lockdown, more than virus

Nigerian security agents have killed 18 people in their enforcement of measures to curb coronavirus, a figure higher than the documented toll inflicted by the disease, the country’s human rights body says.

Africa’s most populous nation has imposed a total lockdown in megacity Lagos and the capital Abuja and set restrictions in other regions in a bid to contain the virus.

According to official figures, coronavirus has so far infected 407 people in Nigeria, 12 of them fatally.

Security forces, including police and army, have been deployed to enforce the restrictions, sparking deadly confrontations in some states.

A report released by the National Human Rights Commission says it has received and documented “105 complaints of incidents of human rights violations perpetuated by security forces” in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states and Abuja.

Of these complaints, “there were 8 documented incidents of extrajudicial killings leading to 18 deaths,” it says.

— AFP

Global coronavirus death toll climbs to 137,500

The worldwide death toll from the novel coronavirus pandemic rises to 137,500 on Thursday, according to a tally compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT from official sources.

More than 2,083,820 declared cases have been registered in 193 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December.

Of these cases, at least 450,500 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only the most serious cases.

In the United States, now the epicenter of the pandemic, the death toll stands at 30,985 with 639,664 infections. At least 50,107 patients have recovered.

Italy is the next most-affected country with 21,645 deaths from 165,155 infections.

It is followed by Spain with 19,130 fatalities from 182,816 confirmed infections, France with 17,167 deaths and 147,863 infections and Britain with 12,868 deaths from 98,476 cases.

China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — has to date declared 3,342 deaths and 82,341 cases with 77,892 recoveries.

AFP

Another 5.2 million Americans seek unemployment since last week

The wave of layoffs that has engulfed the US economy since the coronavirus struck forced 5.2 million more people to seek unemployment benefits last week, the government reports.

Roughly 22 million have sought jobless benefits in the past month — easily the worst stretch of US job losses on record. All told, nearly 12 million people are now receiving unemployment checks, roughly matching the peak reached in January 2010, shortly after the Great Recession officially ended.

All businesses deemed nonessential have been closed in nearly every state as the economy has virtually shut down. Deep job losses have been inflicted across nearly every industry. Some economists say the unemployment rate could reach as high as 20% in April, which would be the highest rate since the Great Depression of the 1930s. By comparison, unemployment never topped 10% during the Great Recession.

Layoffs are spreading beyond service industries like hotels, bars and restaurants, which absorbed the brunt of the initial job cuts, into white collar professional occupations, including software programmers, construction workers and sales people.

Collectively, the job cuts could produce unemployment on an epic scale. Up to 50 million jobs are vulnerable to coronavirus-related layoffs, economists say — about one-third of all positions in the United States. That figure is based on a calculation of jobs that are deemed non-essential by state and federal governments and that cannot be done from home.

It’s unlikely that all those workers will be laid off or file for unemployment benefits. But it suggests the extraordinary magnitude of unemployment that could result from the pandemic.

AP

Cabinet said to ease Bnei Brak lockdown, extend Jerusalem neighborhoods closure

The cabinet has approved a decision to relax lockdown restrictions in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, while extending closure rules in Jerusalem neighborhoods until April 19, Hebrew reports say.

This is not immediately confirmed by the government.

The decision to ease the closure around Bnei Brak, which will  permit cars to enter and leave the city but no public transportation, came amid a pledge to evacuate 700 residents sick with the virus to isolation hotels, according to Channel 12.

In Jerusalem, however, neighborhoods with a large number of cases will continue to remain under lockdown until at least April 19. The Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood has joined the list of closed down areas, which are predominantly Haredi.

Britain expected to extend lockdown for another 3 weeks

The British government is expected to extend a nationwide lockdown for another three weeks, amid signs the coronavirus outbreak is peaking but also warnings of more deaths to come.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recuperates after spending a week in hospital with COVID-19, meets with ministers and officials to finalize the plans.

An announcement is due later but the government has already said that, with the death toll approaching 13,000 and still rising, now is not the time to rescind the stay-at-home order imposed on March 23.

“It is too early to make a change,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock tells BBC television on Thursday.

“Whilst we’ve seen a flattening of the number of cases, and thankfully a flattening of the number of deaths, that hasn’t started to come down yet. And as far as I’m concerned that is still far too high.”

He says the vast majority of Britons had followed rules not to go out except for exercise and to buy essential items.

AFP

100 soldiers gather, dance at Mimouna party

Channel 12 airs footage of some hundred Israel Defense Forces soldiers celebrating the Mimouna festival on Wednesday night, in violation of social distancing rules.

The clip shows dozens gathered in circles and dancing.

Bnei Brak deputy mayor: Lockdown ‘utterly failed’

Bnei Brak’s deputy mayor, Gedalyahu Ben Shimon, lambastes the apparent cabinet decision to ease some restrictions on the city, but not all, by saying the lockdown had “utterly failed” and claiming the re-installation of checkpoints was “only to appease anti-Haredi elements.”

“We call on the ministers not to give in to cheap populism but carry out real steps to evacuate the sick from the city,” he says in a statement. “That is the only efficient solution at this time.”

Ministers confirm Bnei Brak rules eased, Jerusalem neighborhoods on lockdown

The government confirms it approved a decision to designate Bnei Brak and parts of Jerusalem as a “restricted area,” a move that relaxes some rules in the Tel Aviv suburb.

For Bnei Brak, the decision — in force until April 20 — means all lockdown rules are eased, with the exception of public transportation, which remains banned in the city.

Bnei Brak commits to sending 700 residents sick with the virus to isolation hotels.

For Jerusalem, neighborhoods that were placed on lockdown before the final days of Passover will remain closed off from the rest of the city until April 19, with exceptions made for those going to work.

The decision goes into effect at 6 p.m.

Health Ministry: 9,269 virus tests performed Wednesday

The Health Ministry says 9,269 coronavirus test were administered on Wednesday, as officials seek to raise the testing figures to 10,000 daily.

 

Health Ministry chief, Kahlon said to fight over Bnei Brak decision

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon sparred with Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov over the easing of restrictions on Bnei Brak, warning it was a “gamble” that was unsubstantiated by the data on the coronavirus spread in the city.

“Why don’t we open up the whole country then, why just Bnei Brak,” Kahlon is quoted saying by Channel 12.

“The Bnei Brak municipality is working efficiently and appropriately,” responds Bar Siman-Tov.

“But what are the figures? Based on what? We are taking a gamble here,” says Kahlon.

“It’s not a gamble, they are operating correctly and we must accommodate them,” the Health Ministry director responds.

The TV network says Defense Minister Naftali Bennett was also opposed to relaxing the rules in Bnei Brak, which ministers ultimately approved.

The report cites unnamed senior officials as saying Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was pushing for relieving the lockdown due to pressure from rabbis and his ultra-Orthodox constituents.

IDF says it’ll investigate large Mimouna party on military base

The Israel Defense Forces says it is investigating a large celebration held last night in the Nahal Infantry Brigade in violation of the military’s social distancing restrictions.

Footage of the event — a celebration of the Moroccan Jewish holiday of Mimouna — that was shared on social media showed dozens of troops dancing and singing in close contact with one another.

The gathering occurred when the brigade’s administrative company entered a tent that had been set up on the base, the military says, noting that the company had been stationed on the base for over 30 days.

“The behavior of the soldiers in the incident in question deviated from the IDF’s restrictions for responding to the coronavirus on military bases,” the military says.

“After the company entered [the tent] the gathering occurred. It was broken up by the unit’s commander, and afterward the rules were clarified [to the soldiers]. The event will be investigated,” the IDF says.

Judah Ari Gross

Negotiators for Likud, Blue and White resume coalition talks

Likud and Blue and White negotiating teams are meeting in a continued effort to forge a unity government deal.

Death toll rises to 142 as man, 85, succumbs to virus

An 85-year-old man dies of the coronavirus in the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, bringing the national death toll from the pandemic to 142.

The man, who is not immediately named, is a resident of nearby Ra’anana.

IDF to supply hospitals with makeshift ventilators

The Israel Defense Forces announces it will begin delivering makeshift ventilators to hospitals beginning next week in a bid to address potential shortages of the machines, which are needed to treat coronavirus patients.

These jury-rigged ventilators were created out of existing CPAP machines — devices that are used to regulate breathing but that lack the monitoring capabilities that ventilators have — as part of an initiative by Military Intelligence’s elite Unit 81 dubbed “Air to Breathe.”

The head of the project — who for security reasons can only be identified by his rank and first Hebrew letter of his name, Maj. Samech — says a hundred machines will be delivered to the Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv on Sunday, followed by hundreds more to hospitals across the country.

Samech says one of the primary benefits of his improvised devices is the cost, which he says is “far, far cheaper” than that of proper ventilators, while still being able to perform the necessary functions to help coronavirus patients.

“These machines of ours are the primary alternative in case of a flood of patients in hospitals who need to be put on ventilators, beyond the number of machines available today,” says Dr. Amit Zabtani of Sheba Medical Center, who assisted in the project.

Judah Ari Gross

Gantz said threatening to advance anti-Netanyahu bills if no deal reached

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who is Knesset speaker, tells his party lawmakers that if a coalition deal is not approved by Monday, he’ll advance legislation that would prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government, according to Channel 12.

The proposed bill, which has a majority in parliament with the opposition, aims to block anyone who faces criminal charges from forming a coalition, effectively disqualifying Netanyahu.

The report, which does not cite a source, comes as negotiators from Blue and White and Likud resume talks.

Proposal to ease restrictions said to keep schools closed

Health and treasury officials are meeting to discuss plans to gradually ease closure restrictions.

The proposal being debated, according to Channel 12, would see 30 percent of workers return to work next week, 50% by early May, and some stores reopen by mid-May.

But the plan keeps schools closed, raising the question of how employees with young children would return to work under the proposed scenario.

No decisions are expected before Saturday night.

US death toll from virus surpasses 30,000

The confirmed coronavirus death toll in the United States surpasses 30,000 on Thursday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The tracker says 30,990 people have now died in the country from COVID-19 since the start of the global health crisis.

The US has the highest death toll in the world, followed by Italy with 21,645 dead although its population is just a fifth of that of the US.

Spain has recorded 19,130 deaths, followed by France with 17,167.

Nearly 640,000 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the United States, which has seen a record number of deaths over the past two days.

New York, the epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 epidemic, has suffered more than 14,000 deaths across the state alone.

AFP

Lapid proposes six month ‘political freeze’

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, the emerging opposition leader, proposes a six-month “political freeze” to combat the coronavirus pandemic and prevent fourth elections.

“So I’m going back to a proposal I suggested before – a simple, clean proposal. To freeze everything for six months. This house will vote to amend clause 10 of Basic Law: The Government and we will go to a freeze. The legality of it has been checked and the proposal was formally tabled earlier today. The country needs stability. We have to avoid fourth elections.

“We will go to six months of a political freeze. In six months we’ll come back to the same situation. In those six months, instead of dealing with politics we will work to save the economy and the health care system and people’s lives. In those six months, the transitional government will continue. I think it’s a bad government but it won’t be able to do whatever it wants because we’ll control the Knesset. The Knesset will have teeth and it will have a majority,” he says.

He adds: “A freeze isn’t ideal. It’s not what we wanted. But it’s better than crawling into a corrupt government. It’s definitely better than fourth elections. The citizens of Israel are at risk. They need to know that their politicians aren’t focused on themselves, but on them. They mostly need to know that we’re working for them. Let’s freeze the politics and get to work.”

Netanyahu briefed on plans to ease virus restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently being presented with various  strategies for lifting the coronavirus restrictions, his office says.

“The national security adviser has consulted with many countries around the world and learned more about the challenges and various proposals,” the statement says. “The prime minister and ministers are being presented with all the alternatives that were raised during discussions.”

Among those joining the meeting, which is being held over videoconference, are the ministers of health, interior, economy, science, education, public security, energy; top Netanyahu aides; and various treasury officials.

US Navy says 6 sailors hospitalized for virus

The US Navy says six sailors from the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt are hospitalized for treatment of coronavirus symptoms.

That’s up from five on Wednesday and four on Tuesday. One of the six in is the intensive care unit with shortness of breath.

The total number of Roosevelt sailors who have tested positive for the coronavirus has risen to 655. Another 3,919 tested negative.

Six percent of crew members have not yet been tested.

AP

IDF preparing ‘coping strategies’ to deal with pandemic

The Israel Defense Forces is preparing “coping strategies” as it gears up for continuing to face the coronavirus pandemic for months to come, the military spokesperson says.

“In the past week, we’ve formed a number of teams under the deputy chief of staff to look at dealing with the coronavirus for the next few months. For how many months? I don’t know,” IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says.

“In the IDF, we don’t talk about an exit, but coping,” he says, referring to a number of government proposals to “exit” the current situation into a more normal routine.

Speaking to reporters, the spokesperson notes that the military was starting to ease some of the restrictions put in place on its troops by releasing them home beginning Sunday for three to four days of rest.

Zilberman says this is a “very complicated logistical and medical operation,” as the IDF must try to prevent the troops from contracting the coronavirus while on leave and ensuring that any soldier who did so would not infect his or her comrades when they return.

The military hopes this latter goal will be accomplished by bringing the soldiers back gradually in so-called capsules — self-contained shifts of troops — so that if one of them did contract the disease, the other capsules would not be at risk of infection.

The soldiers would remain in these capsules, not interacting with the others, for the full incubation period of the virus, before being allowed back into normal, albeit restricted, contact with one another.

According to Zilberman, 131 soldiers or civilian employees of the IDF are currently sick with the coronavirus, while another 42 had the disease but recovered. All of them displayed only light symptoms. Another roughly 1,600 people in the military are in quarantine.

Judah Ari Gross

Woman, 82, dies of virus, raising death toll to 142

An 82-year-old woman dies of the coronavirus in northern Israel, taking the country’s death toll to 142.

The Poriya Medical Center announces the death and says the woman had been hospitalized in serious condition since April 10.

She was a resident of a nursing home in Yavne’el, the hospital says.

Hundreds rally against Netanyahu in Tel Aviv

Hundreds of protesters gather in Habima square in Tel Aviv to protest what they describe as the erosion of Israeli democracy under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, amid the pandemic.

The demonstrators, who say they are keeping 2 meters’ distance between them in accordance with social distancing rules, wave black flags.

Hundreds attend a pro-democracy demonstration in Tel Aviv on April 16, 2020 (courtesy of the Black Flags Protest)

Far-right suspects, accused of stealing IDF equipment, released to house arrest

The Israel Police release to house arrest two suspects who allegedly stole military equipment from a quarantine facility set up by the IDF.

The police say that investigation into the incident is ongoing.

The two suspects are part of a group of far-right extremists who were forced into quarantine after coming into contact with a confirmed coronavirus carrier. After they violently opposed being sent to an existing facility, the IDF established a camp for them north of the Dead Sea.

Earlier this week, members of the group allegedly attacked a group of three Palestinians, throwing rocks at them and spraying them with tear gas, before firebombing their cars. Police put a gag order in place over their investigation into the attack.

Judah Ari Gross

Knesset advances bill to allow police to track phones to enforce quarantines

The Knesset advances a bill that would permit police to use phone tracking to enforce coronavirus quarantine orders.

The proposal clears its first reading with 49 lawmakers in favor, 26 against.

If passed into law in two more readings, the emergency ordinance will be in effect for three months.

The bill comes after the High Court of Justice said such powers must be anchored in law.

Organizers say 2,000 now at protest against Netanyahu

Organizers of the so-called Black Flag protest in Tel Aviv have updated their tally of participants, saying 2,000 are in attendance.

“The citizens of Israel are proving today that Israeli democracy refuses to undergo a coup under the guise of the coronavirus,” an organizer says. “We won’t back a government whose prime minister is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. We cannot permit a situation in which that same accused man has a role in appointing investigators, prosecutors and judges in the State of Israel.”

Treasury officials said at loggerheads with Health Ministry over lockdown relief

Health and economy officials are again butting heads over proposals to lift the closure.

According to the Ynet news site, during a briefing with the prime minister, Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad says the health authorities’ plan “can’t be serious. This is not what an exit strategy looks like. We must let the economy breathe.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon worried people would take to the streets in protest.

Netanyahu said earlier the relief must be “gradual and responsible.”

New Jersey police find 18 bodies at nursing home

Police responding to an anonymous tip find more than a dozen bodies at a nursing home in northwestern New Jersey, according to news reports.

Five bodies were found Sunday and 13 more were found on Monday at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, Andover Township Police Chief Eric Danielson tells The New Jersey Herald.

The remains found at the facility are among 68 deaths linked to the home, including both residents and two nurses, The New York Times reported, citing Danielson, other officials and county records shared with a federal official. At least 26 of those deaths were confirmed by laboratory tests to be related to COVID-19, the newspaper said.

A boxtruck used as a makeshift morgue outside the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Facility, April 13, 2020 (Andover Township Police Department)

Police release a photo of a box truck parked outside the home that was being used to store the bodies after a hazmat team removed them.

More than 100 residents and staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the Times reports.

Ambulance crews are parked outside Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in Andover, N.J., on Thursday April 16, 2020. Police responding to an anonymous tip found more than a dozen bodies Sunday and Monday at the nursing home in northwestern New Jersey, according to news reports. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

AP

TV: Treasury pushing for some stores to be reopened next week

In the debate on the proposals to relieve the closure, treasury officials are pushing for some stores to be reopened as soon as next week, according to Channel 12.

Only stores flagged by the health authorities as meeting cleanliness standards would be allowed to open, the TV network says, citing suggestions raised at the meeting.

The officials are also debating opening special educational frameworks for babies and children up until the age of six whose parents return to work.

Health officials at the debate, which is ongoing after over four hours, are seeking a much more conservative and slow-paced reopening of the economy, it says.

Government could make decisions on closure scale-back tonight

Amid conflicting reports on when the government will announce its plan to scale back the virus restrictions, a senior official tells Channel 12 that decisions could be made tonight.

The source says the final plan will be more liberal than the proposals set out by the Health Ministry.

Netanyahu-Gantz meeting said pushed back due to virus briefings

Amid hours-long discussions on the reopening of the Israeli economy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed off meeting Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for coalition talks to later tonight or tomorrow morning, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Sources close to Gantz tell the outlet he’ll only meet Netanyahu if the prime minister is ready to sign a final deal.

New York state extends stay-at-home orders until mid-May

New York state will extend its stay-at-home restrictions at least through May 15 amid signs the initial wave of the coronavirus outbreak is slowing down.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says that transmission rates still need to be tamed as he prolonged the restrictions that have left most New Yorkers housebound.

The number of people hospitalized statewide has ticked down to around 17,000, far below initial projections. But there are still close to 2,000 newly diagnosed people coming into hospitals daily, Cuomo says.

New York recorded 606 COVID-19-related deaths Wednesday, the lowest daily number in more than a week.

“This is still continuing at a really tragic, tragic rate,” Cuomo says at a press briefing.

The governor says the requirement for New Yorkers to wear face coverings when people are out and close by other people starting Friday will also help fight the outbreak.

AP

TV: US intelligence alerted Israel of coronavirus in mid-November

US intelligence agencies alerted Israel to the dangers posed by the coronavirus outbreak in China in November, Channel 12 reports.

According to the report, the US intelligence community became aware of the emerging disease in Wuhan in the second week of November and drew up a classified document.

Information on the disease outbreak was not in the public domain at this stage — and was known only apparently to the Chinese government.

US intelligence informed the Trump Administration “which did not deem it of interest,” the report says.

The Americans also decided to update two allies with this classified document: NATO and Israel, specifically the IDF.

The network says Israeli military officials later in November discussed the possibility of the spread of the virus to the region.

“Still in November, the IDF held a first discussion regarding what impact this unknown disease would have were it to reach the Middle East. How would we be affected? How would it affect our neighbors? As you can imagine, the information [on the virus outbreak in China] did not remain solely with the IDF. It reached Israel’s decision makers and the Health Ministry.”

In the Health Ministry “nothing was done,” the report says.

Britain’s Raab: China must address origins of the virus

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says China will have some “hard questions” to answer about how the coronavirus pandemic started.

The virus emerged in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019. Raab says the world will need to find out what happened in China in the early days of the pandemic.

Raab is filling in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is convalescing after a weeklong hospita sltay to be treated for COVID-19. The foreign secretary says there will have to be a “deep dive” review of the crisis, including how the outbreak came about.

He says the review of all aspects of the pandemic, including its origins, will have to be based on the science and conducted in a “balanced way,” and adds that there “is no doubt we can’t have business as usual after this crisis.”

Raab does credit cooperation from Beijing in relation to bringing home stranded Britons in Wuhan and in supplying equipment to deal with the pandemic.

AP

Virus claims another 753 lives in France as deaths approach 18,000

The coronavirus outbreak has claimed another 753 lives in the last 24 hours in France, bringing the country’s total fatalities to 17,920, top French health official, Jerome Salomon, says.

But the number of virus patients hospitalized drops by 474 and the number in critical care declined by 209, the health ministry’s number two official says.

“The spread of the virus is stabilizing at a high level,” he adds.

AFP

Health Ministry: Virus cases hit 12,758, with 181 in serious condition

According to an updated Health Ministry tally, there are 12,758 coronavirus cases in Israel, 181 of them serious.

The ministry says 137 people are currently on ventilators.

Another 158 are in moderate condition.

It says the death toll stands at 142.

The vast majority of those infected with the virus, 9,464, are displaying mild symptoms.

Waqf: Al-Aqsa to remain closed to prayer over Ramadan

The al-Aqsa mosque will remain closed through the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins April 23 and ends May 23, due to the coronavirus, the Jordanian custodians of the holy site in Jerusalem say.

The decision by the Waqf is reported by the Reuters news agency.

The mosque has been shuttered since late March as a result of the pandemic.

Global coronavirus death toll surpasses 140,000

The global coronavirus death toll passes 140,000, with nearly two thirds of all fatalities in Europe, according to an AFP tally Thursday at 1800 GMT.

In total, 140,902 people have died of the virus, including 92,900 in Europe, the hardest hit continent in the world.

There are now more than 2.1 million recorded infections globally, nearly half of which are in Europe.

The United States has the most deaths with 31,590 fatalities, followed by Italy with 22,170 and Spain’s 19,130.

The tallies are collated using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO).

AFP

Likud’s Barkat sorry for violating Passover social distancing rules

The latest politician found to have violated the government social distancing rules for Passover is Likud’s Nir Barkat.

According to Channel 12, Barkat hosted his daughter, who does not live with them, over the holiday.

In a statement to the channel, he apologizes.

“MK Nir Barkat held the Seder with his nuclear family, as he thought it should be done. After clarifications on the matter, Barkat spent the final days of Passover only with family members who live at home. MK Barkat apologizes for this,” the statement says.

Also on the list of violators who hosted their grown children, even while warning it’s forbidden, are: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Likud minister Yoav Galant, and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

Italy to start experimental immunity testing

Italy will begin administering experimental coronavirus immunity tests on an initial 150,000 people nationwide in early May as part of its efforts to reopen after a weeks-long shutdown.

Italy’s commissioner for the pandemic, Domenico Arcuri, tells state-run RAI news Thursday that the government hopes the first wave of tests will progressively grow in number and become the national standard.

Italy, the European epicenter of the pandemic, has imposed a lockdown and production shutdown through May 3.

Individual regions and even companies are already gunning to start antibody tests to accelerate the reopening. But Arcuri makes it clear the government wants a unified approach in testing, which he says would be one of the “fundamental pillars” of moving into the next phase of the emergency.

Arcuri says another pillar involved rolling out a voluntary contact-tracing cellphone application, to provide real-time data on movements of people and possible new clusters of infection. A pilot program would begin in some regions and then extend nationwide, he says.

AP

Woman, 86, dies of COVID-19 in Holon; death toll up to 143

The death of an 86-year-old woman from the coronavirus brings Israel’s toll to 143.

The woman, a resident of a nursing home, succumbs to the disease at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

Fed official says it’ll take ‘a year or two’ before US economy recovers

The United States will take “a year or two,” if not longer, to recover from the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus, a top Federal Reserve official says.

“It would probably take a year or two, a few years to get the US economy fully back to full strength,” New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams says.

“Unfortunately, this is a situation where I think the economies can be underperforming for some time,” he says in a video conference organized by the Economic Club of New York.

AFP

Shas leader Deri calls for outdoor prayer groups to be allowed

Shas leader Aryeh Deri is urging the government to permit prayer gatherings of 10-15 people, provided the services are held outdoors and the worshipers stand apart in accordance with social distancing rules.

He makes the plea as ministers debate plans to gradually scale back restrictions on movement imposed due to the pandemic, which includes a ban on group prayer.

Police investigating fuel source in suspected settler arson

Law enforcement is probing whether the gasoline used by settler extremists in a suspected arson attack against Palestinians earlier this week was the same fuel that the army supplied them to run a generator at their quarantine outpost, a police official tells The Times of Israel, confirming a Kan public broadcaster report.

On Tuesday, a group of far-right youths from the quarantine facility near Metzoke Dragot north of the Dead Sea allegedly attacked a group of three Palestinians nearby, throwing rocks at them and spraying them with tear gas, before firebombing their cars.

Police have put a gag order on details of the investigation into the attack.

Jacob Magid

US to provide Palestinians with $5 million to fight virus

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman says Washington will provide Palestinian “hospitals and households” with $5 million to combat the coronavirus.

The Trump administration cut aid to the Palestinians since the 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which was met with a furious Palestinian response.

Yair Netanyahu appears to wish virus death on left-wing protesters

Yair Netanyahu, the son of the prime minister, condemns a pro-democracy protest in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu and corruption.

The demonstration drew some 2,000 people, said protest leaders.

Organizers say those who participated kept to social distancing rules. Demonstrations are the only form of gathering still permitted under the pandemic rules.

“I hope that the old people who die as a result of this demonstration are only from your camp,” he tweets at Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, who shares a photo from the rally.

Reports: Israel could fully reopen economy on Sunday

Hebrew media is quoting sources close to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett as saying the government has accepted his proposal to fully reopen the Israeli economy on Sunday, with some restrictions.

The reports say conditions for the reopening of trade and industry will be set out by Saturday night, and could include temperature-taking, sanitary rules, mask wearing and social distancing.

There are no further details provided and no confirmation.

Trump to US governors: Reopening states is your call

US President Donald Trump has told the nation’s governors “you’re going to call your own shots” as he prepared to unveil national guidelines on when and how the country starts to recover economically from the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump is set to issue new guidelines aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in check in harder-hit places. Ultimately, decisions on when to ease up will rest with governors.

Trump talks to governors before he unveils the guidelines to the public in the evening. The announcement comes on the same day the government said 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week.

Trump said on Monday that his “authority is total” to reopen states but has since backed away from that claim after governors pointed out the Constitution does not grant the president that power.

Trump tells the governors some of them are in good shape to open their states quickly, but others are in tough shape. He remarks that requests for ventilators have gone away, adding, “I say that respectfully.” He also asserts that “we’re in excellent shape” on testing, which many health care officials have disputed.

AP

Stores to reopen, but schools to remain closed — report

As ministers wrap up talks, Channel 12 elaborates on the proposed scale-back of restrictions.

It says Israelis will be permitted to venture 500 meters from their homes beginning next week, an extension from the current 100 meters.

Stores will be reopened, it says.

And while some special education programs will open but be limited, schools are expected to remain closed for another month.

Yair Netanyahu erases tweet against left-wing protesters; PM condemns it

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns his son’s tweet that apparently wished death by COVID-19 on elderly participants of a demonstration against the premier in Tel Aviv.

Yair Netanyahu has erased the tweet.

His father says he rejects the sentiment entirely.

“In the fight against the coronavirus, there are no camps and there cannot be any,” his office says. “The prime minister is working around the clock to protect the health and lives of all Israeli citizens without exception.”

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