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Health Ministry said to admit it’s incapable of handling nursing homes outbreak

Home Front Command gears to take over country’s 700 old age homes as government seeks to deal with second threat caused by virus in Haredi communities

Illustrative: A nursing home for the elderly in Jerusalem, April 15, 2008. (Anna Kaplan/Flash90)
Illustrative: A nursing home for the elderly in Jerusalem, April 15, 2008. (Anna Kaplan/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Friday’s events as they unfolded.

Bnei Brak deputy mayor says closure a ‘death trap’ for city’s elderly

The deputy mayor of Bnei Brak calls the decision to close off his city “a death trap for the city’s elderly” and urges the governments to consider other ways to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Gedalyahu Ben Shimon says the lockdown has caused “many city residents to flood a limited number of supermarkets, thus increasing the danger of infection.

“As opposed to a curfew, where the army takes full responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of residents and provides them with food and medicine, here they’ve taken a half-measure that raises the odds of contagion and could cost human lives. A course correction is required.”

Police set up temporary checkpoints at the entrance to the city of Bnei Brak, April 3, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Man who knew he had virus took part in a Bnei Brak prayer service anyway

A man previously diagnosed with coronavirus, and who was aware of his illness, was found praying alongside 16 others at a yeshiva in Bnei Brak yesterday, police say.

The prayer service was itself a forbidden event, with residents throughout the country required to stay at home and avoid gatherings of any kind.

Officials say a prayer services at another yeshiva was also broken up. All participants in both events received fines.

Police officials tell Ynet if it sees Bnei Brak residents repeatedly failing to follow instructions “we will go in with hundreds of officers.”

People wear face masks in Bnei Brak. April 3, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

4 residents, 2 staff members in Nahariya retirement home diagnosed with virus

Four residents and two staff members at a retirement home in the northern city of Nahariya have been diagnosed with coronavirus, the Walla news site reports.

The facility’s director says everyone was tested after one resident fell ill earlier this week, leading to the diagnosis of the six.

He adds that none of them currently have any symptoms.

Media asked not to report on events in ultra-Orthodox areas during Shabbat

In a rather unorthodox request, the government is asking the press not to report on the developing situation in Bnei Brak during Shabbat — likely due to requests from the ultra-Orthodox community there.

“Journalists are kindly requested to refrain from reporting (including broadcasting, filming, photographing and sound recording) in ultra-Orthodox areas, municipalities and neighborhoods over Shabbat, from sunset today (Friday, 3 April 2020) until nightfall tomorrow (Saturday, 4 April 2020),” the Government Press Office says. “Exact Shabbat times for any given city may be checked online or in the Israeli national and/or local press.”

Jewish billionaire Milner to donate 3 million masks to Israeli emergency workers

Israeli-Russian Silicon Valley entrepreneur Yuri Milner has announced he is donating three million masks to Israel’s emergency services as they grapple with the coronavirus outbreak in the nation.

“I would urge business leaders to consider adopting this practice even after the current acute phase of the crisis, and to provide their employees with masks for daily use in the office,” the billionaire says.

“This should become the new norm for all of us to wear a mask when outside our homes… until the scientists come to the rescue, and develop a reliable vaccine or treatment.”

Yuri Milner speaks at TechCrunch conference on September 21, 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)

75-year-old dies of coronavirus in Hadera, raising toll to 38

A 75-year-old man with preexisting conditions has died of coronavirus at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera. He had been in critical condition for several days, hospital officials say.

His death brings the number of coronavirus victims in the country to 38.

Home Front chief: Few ill Bnei Brak residents have answered call to leave

The government has arranged special care facilities for Bnei Brak residents with coronavirus to curb the spread of the disease, but many have not answered a call to evacuate the city.

The IDF’s Home Front Command, which is handling civil affairs in the city, assesses several hundred known virus patients are still in the city. (Throughout the country many patients with mild symptoms are told to remain in quarantine at home due to limited hospital capacity.)

Home Front Command chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai tells reporters: “We won’t do anything with force… I hope we get all the sick out of Bnei Brak.”

Home Front Command chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai in 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

He notes that some families have eight or 10 children that need to be cared for. “The efforts are ongoing but it’s not a rousing success so far,” he says. However, “We won’t arrest people.”

Iran coronavirus death toll rises 134 to 3,294

Iran on Friday announced 134 more deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the officially confirmed total to 3,294.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a news conference that 2,715 new infections had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 53,183.

Iran is one of the countries worst-hit by the coronavirus pandemic and has been struggling to contain the outbreak since it reported its first deaths on February 19.
Jahanpour said 17,935 of those hospitalized with the virus had recovered, while 4,035 were in a critical condition.

A file photo taken on March 26, 2020 shows a member of the Iranian Red Crescent testing people for coronavirus symptoms outside Tehran (AFP)


Germany’s Merkel ends quarantine; UK’s Johnson still ill with virus

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has left her Berlin home for the first time in almost two weeks, after being forced into quarantine following contact with an infected doctor.

Merkel has returned to her office, where she will continue to observe social distancing rules and lead the country via video and audio conferencing, her spokesman Steffen Seibert says in Berlin.

Meanwhile British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will continue his self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, following a week of staying at home and working remotely.

“In my own case, although I’m feeling better and I have done my seven days of isolation, alas, I still have one of the minor symptoms… a temperature, so in accordance with government advice, I must continue my self-isolation until that symptom itself goes,” he says.


39th victim: A 79-year-old dies of coronavirus in Kfar Saba

A 39th Israeli coronavirus victim has been announced — a 79-year-old who died at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba.

Police detain, fine 15 men in Haredi settlement who held illegal prayer service

Police say they have detained and issued fines to 15 men in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modi’in Illit who were holding a prayer service inside of a synagogue in violation of the government’s coronavirus guidelines.

Police say they were tipped off to the illegal service by residents of the settlement who disapproved of their neighbors’ willingness to endanger the entire community.

Dressed as Haredim, police bust illegal prayer service in ultra-Orthodox town

Police officers dressed up in ultra-Orthodox garb in order to infiltrate an illegal prayer service in the northern Haredi town of Rechasim.

The operational decision was made after weeks of seeking to cooperate with locals through less invasive means that proved insufficient as the locals had people on look-out whenever officers arrived to check for illegal prayer services, police say.

After identifying themselves as law enforcement during a prayer service this morning, two undercover officers handed out fines to a handful of worshippers for participating in a communal service in violation of the government’s coronavirus guidelines.

However, after the officers left the premises, the worshipers returned and restarted the service. Police identified the violation and handed out fines totaling in NIS 17,500 ($4,806) to those present before closing the synagogue once again.

PM orders Agriculture Ministry to airlift mass import of eggs from Europe due to shortage

Under the directive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the Finance and Agriculture ministries will subsidize the airlifting of a mass import of eggs from Europe, the PMO says in a statement.

The decision was made due to the shortage in Israel “created by the difficulty of importing eggs from Italy and Spain,” the PMO says.

For the past two weeks, Israelis have reported egg shortages throughout the country with many supermarkets out of them entirely while others only allowing  shoppers to purchase one or two dozen at a time or conditioning the sale on purchasing over NIS 150 in groceries.

Last Friday, Agriculture Minster Tzachi Hanegbi ordered an increase in imports from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ukraine to re-stock the supply of Israel, which typically is able to suffice through local coops.

National security adviser notes decline in virus rate, but warns against viewing it as a stable trend

During last night’s cabinet meeting, National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat said that “there are signs that the rate of infection is slowing down, but this should not be seen as a steady trend,” Channel 12 reports.

“In Israel there’s not a democracy, but a deep state,’ PM said to claim

“In Israel there’s not a democracy, but a deep state,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told confidants in recent months, according to a Haaretz report

The remarks have been made by the premier in the context of his upcoming trial in three corruption cases. Netanyahu is reportedly convinced that the justice system is intent on bringing him down.

“They want to see me sitting in jail,” Haaretz quotes the prime minister as having said of officials in the justice system.


Joint List MK denounces attacks on Haredi communities in backdrop of virus spread

Joint List MK Ofer Cassif denounces the growing number of attacks voiced in recent days against Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population, which has been hit hardest by the coronavirus, partially due to a small minority in the sector’s refusal to comply with the Health Ministry guidelines.

“The guidelines must be followed. The hatred for the ultra-Orthodox must be denounced and extracted from within us, like all racism,” he says.

Peace Now activists protest outside Gantz’s home calling on him to oppose annexation

A handful of activists from the Peace Now settlement watchdog are protesting outside of the home of Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, calling on him to block efforts by the Netanyahu government he is slated to join to annex the West Bank.

Peace Now activists protest against annexation outside the Rosh Ha’ayin home of Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz on April 3, 2020. (Peace Now)

Separately, the Commanders for Israel’s Security has published a petition signed by 220 former senior security chiefs calling on Gantz and his deputy Gabi Ashkenazi to block annexation efforts.

Issue of annexation continues to block sides from reaching unity deal — report

The issue of West Bank annexation continues to be a main sticking point preventing Blue and White and Likud from reaching an agreement on a unity government, according to a Channel 12 report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views the move as a legacy-maker and has been adamant about seeing the election promise through before he steps down.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, on the other hand, has long opposed such unilateral measures. Gantz recognizes that the right-wing bloc currently has a majority in support of the move, with the votes of Telem mutineers Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser as well as Yisrael Beytenu’s seven MKs from the opposition. He therefore is hoping to influence the decision from the powerful position of defense minister, which he is slated to become, Channel 12 reports.

Gantz has also weighed conditioning his support for the move on a green-light from the US. Washington has said it will retract its veto once its mapping team finishes surveying the West Bank to determine how much land Israel is allowed to annex. But with that process currently frozen due to the coronavirus outbreak, Gantz is hoping that the US will have a change of heart. Netanyahu on the other hand is hoping that the Trump administration will want to move forward with a bold legacy move of their own at the end of its first term, even if it means breaking with a number of its allies around the globe.

Labor leader Amir Peretz and Gantz’s deputy Gabi Ashkenazi are calling for a more secure mechanism to be instituted in order to neutralize the right-wing’s support for annexation. They have called for the move to be contingent on support from the Jordanian government, which has long opposed the move and warned that it could place the future of its decades long peace deal with Israel at risk.

PM phones Modi to discuss tech cooperation and efforts to curb virus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the PMO says in a statement.

The two discussed technological cooperation along with efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the PMO adds.

Gantz: We’ve reached agreements on most issues, but some hurdles remain

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz says unity government negotiations with Likud are reaching a close, but a number of hurdles remain.

“We have reached an agreement on most issues, but there are a number of crucial and critical ones that are still under discussion,” he says in a Facebook post.

“It is clear to all of us that there is no other alternative for either party [than a unity deal] and that the State of Israel needs a government.”

Bnei Brak mayor: Nobody will be removed from city by force

In an effort to calm members of his ultra-Orthodox city after what has been criticized as unclear government guidelines, Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein assures residents in a statement that “no one will be removed by force.”

Yesterday, the government announced that it had approved a plan to remove 4,500 Bnei Brak residents above the age of 80 from the virus-plagued city in order to ensure their health.

However, the announcement did not specify that only those who requested to be removed would be extracted.

Thus far, police have only removed a handful of elderly locals.

Son of senior rabbi and mentor to Litzman smuggled into Bnei Brak for religious event

The son of a senior rabbi who heads Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s Gur Hasidic sect was smuggled into the locked-down city of Bnei Brak in an ambulance along with his wife this morning to participate in a circumcision ceremony, Channel 13 reports.

The son of the Admor of Gur Yaakov Aryeh Alter violated the “restricted zone” imposed by the government which limits Bnei Brak entrances to residents, police, rescue services, those bringing essential supplies and journalists.

It is not immediately clear to whom the ambulance belongs, but the Magen David Adom emergency service says it is not theirs.

Sailors cheer captain forced to leave USS Roosevelt after exposing virus outbreak onboard

Sailors are filmed cheering for Captain Brett Crozier after he was ordered off the USS Roosevelt and stripped of command after a memo he sent pleading for help in containing the outbreak on his ship was leaked to the press.

The captain of the US Navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus on his ship was fired by Navy leaders who said he created a panic by sending his memo pleading for help to too many people.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Crozier “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis. He said the captain copied too many people on the memo, which was leaked to a California newspaper and quickly spread to many news outlets.

Modly’s decision to remove Crozier as ship commander was immediately condemned by members of the House Armed Services Committee, who called it a “destabilizing move” that will “likely put our service members at greater risk and jeopardize our fleet’s readiness.”

Modly told Pentagon reporters during an abruptly called press conference Thursday that Crozier should have gone directly to his immediate commanders, who were already moving to help the ship. And he said Crozier created a panic by suggesting 50 sailors could die.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, with a crew of nearly 5,000, is docked in Guam, and the Navy has said as many as 3,000 will be taken off the ship and quarantined by Friday. More than 100 sailors on the ship have tested positive for the virus, but none is hospitalized.

— with AP

In rare virus-time appearance, Abbas urges Palestinians to follow guidelines

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech broadcast by the government-run Palestine TV.

Since shortly after the first cases of coronavirus emerged in the West Bank in early March, Abbas has stepped out of the spotlight, making only a handful of public appearances.

In his speech, he calls on Palestinian workers in Israel to quarantine themselves upon their return to the West Bank.

“We urge them all to act with national responsibility, not mix with people and strictly abide by the measures related to isolation and testing,” he says.

Israeli authorities have barred the vast majority of Palestinians from entering Israel, but allowed tens of thousands of Palestinian workers in “essential sectors,” mostly construction, to spend one to two months in the country.

Israeli authorities said the workers would not be allowed to move back and forth between the West Bank and Israel and would be required to sleep in accommodations provided by their employers.

On Wednesday, PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said the workers would return to the West Bank during Passover, which begins the evening of April 8.

— Adam Rasgon

Report: Holiday stipends for families and elderly won’t be transferred until Passover

Holiday stipends for families and the elderly that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised earlier this week will not be transferred until the day Passover begins (next Wednesday), Channel 12 reports, saying that the Finance Ministry was unable to gather the funds in such a short window.

Netanyahu on Wednesday announced that families will receive a one-off payment of NIS 500 per child (approximately $140), up to the fourth child, ahead of the upcoming Passover holiday. There would also be stipends for the elderly, he said, without specifying the minimum age.

US scientists: Coronavirus may spread through normal breathing

The new coronavirus might spread through the air via normal breathing and speaking, a top US scientist says as the government was poised to recommend the use of face masks for everyone.

Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told Fox News the guidance on masks would be changed “because of some recent information that the virus can actually be spread even when people just speak, as opposed to coughing and sneezing.”

As it stands, the official advice is that only sick people need to cover their faces, as well as those caring for them at home.

Fauci’s comments come after the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) sent a letter to the White House on April 1 that summarized recent research on the subject.

It said that though the research isn’t yet conclusive, “the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing.”

Until now, US health agencies have said that the primary pathway of transmission is respiratory droplets, about one millimeter in diameter, expelled by sick people when they sneeze or cough.

These quickly fall to the ground around a meter away.

But if the virus can be suspended in the ultra-fine mist we expel when we exhale, in other words an aerosol, it becomes much harder to prevent its spread, which in turn is an argument in favor of everyone covering their faces.

So far, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been more cautious on the airborne threat.

In an analysis published on March 29, it wrote that aerosol transmission was only known to occur during particular medical treatments that required assisted breathing.


Singer Bill Withers who defined 1970s soul with ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and ‘Lean on Me,’ dies at 81

Bill Withers, the legendary performer who defined 1970s soul with hits like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” has died following heart complications, his family said in a statement. He was 81 years old.

“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other,” the family says.

“In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones,” they added.


Russian authorities arrest doctor who exposed country’s ill-preparedness for virus

Russian authorities violently arrested prominent doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva, who exposed the country’s ill-preparedness for fighting for fighting the coronavirus, Amnesty International reports.

“It is staggering that the Russian authorities appear to fear criticism more than the deadly COVID-19 pandemic,” Amnesty’s Russia director Natalia Zviagina says in a statement. “By keeping her behind bars they expose their true motive – they are willing to punish health professionals who dare contradict the official Russian narrative and expose flaws in the public health system.”

Vasilyeva spoke to The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister-site Zman Yisrael earlier this week, saying that Russia “prefers to make sick people disappear as if it will allow the virus to disappear along with them.”

Netanyahu and Bennett speak on phone and agree to cooperate amid growing spat

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett spoke on the phone earlier today in an effort to ease tensions between the sides that have grown in recent weeks, Channel 12 reported.

Bennett has called for more aggressive tactics to be taken by the government to combat the coronavirus, particularly testing, while Netanyahu and others have told Bennett to stay in his lane, accusing him of trying to exploit the crisis for political gain.

The two agreed that its best for their two parties to stick together in the coalition, but Channel 12 says that disputes still remain.

Yamina has threatened to bolt toward the opposition and push legislation to end Netanyahu’s rule if the Likud leader bends too far to the demands of Gantz.

Minister: Government must do some ‘soul-searching’ over situation in Bnei Brak

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich says he and his fellow ministers ought to do some soul-searching over their role in the spiraling situation in Bnei Brak.

He says in a Twitter thread that their response to the crisis had been for the general public and that specialized communications should have been drawn up for the Haredi minority, which often does not have access to TV or internet and has a much more difficult time quarantining given that many homes house 10-15 people in close quarters.

70-year-old woman succumbs to coronavirus, bringing number of deaths in Israel to 39

A 70-year-old woman with pre-existing conditions has succumbed to the coronavirus, Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital says in a statement.


Merkel: German virus data offers ‘hope’ but premature to ease curbs

German virus data offers ‘hope’ but premature to ease curbs, Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

With Gantz on patio and Netanyahu quarantined inside, progress reported toward unity government

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz met earlier today to advance negotiations for the establishment of a national emergency government, a joint statement from their offices says.

The conversation was described as a “positive” one during which “understandings and progress were achieved,” the statement says.

The two instructed their negotiating teams to try and bring about a coalition agreement between Blue and White and Likud as soon as possible, the statement adds.

The meeting was held in accordance with the Health Ministry’s coronavirus guidelines, a spokesman for Netanyahu says.

Channel 13 explains what that meant: It reports that Gantz sat on the patio of the prime minister’s residence and Netanyahu, who is in quarantine, was inside. “The conversation featured raised voices,” it reports, but of necessity rather than in anger. “There was a good atmosphere” with some “breakthroughs” on core issues of dispute.

The TV report quotes some sources optimistically suggesting that an agreement could be signed as soon as Saturday night.

PA announces 22 more cases of coronavirus in West Bank

The Palestinian Authority health ministry announces 22 more cases of coronavirus in the West Bank.

Thus far, Palestinian authorities have said 193 people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been infected by the virus, including 21 who have recovered and one who died. They have recorded the highest number of cases in the Jerusalem area.

The ministry also says that the 22 newly infected people had recently returned to the West Bank from jobs in Israel.

— Adam Rasgon

Coronavirus death toll in Europe tops 40,000

The new coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 40,000 people in Europe, more than three-quarters of them in Italy, Spain and France, according to a report compiled by AFP from official sources.

With a total of 40,768 deaths (out of 574,525 cases), Europe is the continent hardest hit by COVID-19.

Italy and Spain are the worst affected countries in the world with 14,681 and 10,935 deaths respectively, while France has registered 5,387 fatalities.


Number of coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 7,428

There have now been 7,428 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, up by 620 from the figure from 24 hours ago.

The Health Ministry says 113 people are in serious condition, 96 of whom are on ventilators.

A total of 403 people have recovered from the virus.

PM said to oppose removing Litzman over worries Blue and White replacement could ‘rehabilitate’ healthcare system

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to express opposition to replacing Health Minister Yaakov Litzman despite recent allegations that he blatantly violated his own offices coronavirus guidelines.

The Kan public broadcaster reports that the reason for Netanyahu’s objections is due to an understanding that Litzman would be replaced by Blue and White No. 2 Gabi Ashkenazi. The former IDF chief has plans to  “rehabilitate” the healthcare system similar to the way he rehabilitated the army after the Second Lebanon War.

But such reforms could “blow up” in the faces of Netanyahu and Litzman, Kan reports, pointing out that they could include appointing committees tasked with probing faults in the office led by the two of them over the past decade and highlighting how the ministry has long been neglected.

Palestinian PM says Israel’s Health Ministry apologized for claim it would ‘medically annex’ West Bank

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh says in a press conference that Israel’s Health Ministry had apologized to PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila for “unofficial statements,” in an apparent reference to a Channel 12 report from Tuesday when an unnamed senior official told the network that Israel would have no choice but to “medically annex” the West Bank.

The official said he believed the number of people infected with the virus in the West Bank was higher than official PA tallies and stated that efforts to contain the virus in Israel and the territory should be united.

Asked whether his office had indeed apologized to Kaila, Health Ministry spokesman Eyal Basson did not respond.

— Adam Rasgon

Health Ministry said to admit it’s incapable of handling nursing homes outbreak

A senior official in the Health Ministry speaking to Channel 13 on the condition of anonymity admitted that his office is not equipped to deal with the growing number of outbreaks taking place in nursing homes throughout the country.

As a result, the Home Front Command will be taking over management of the country’s 700 nursing homes beginning next week. Though the soldiers will not be interacting directly with the residents, Channel 13 says.

Channel 12 reports that the Health Ministry has identified nursing homes as a main threat posed by the coronavirus with the other being the Haredi communities.

Police shutter synagogue where Litzman allegedly prayed in violation of guidelines

Police have shuttered the Beit Yisrael synagogue in Jerusalem where Health Minister Yaakov Litzman reportedly prayed last week in a service that violated his office’s coronavirus guidelines, Ynet reports.

Very few Ben Gurion arrivals opting to go into state-run isolation facilities — report

Very few Israelis arriving at Ben Gurion Airport are agreeing to go into state-run isolation facilities, Channel 12 reports.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that all arrivals would have to go straight into such sites. However, the subsequently published guidelines specified that only those who could not prove that they have a place to self-quarantine for two weeks would be required to lodge in the state-run isolation hotels.

Bar Siman-Tov: If progress continues, economic activity will slowly be resumed after Passover

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells Channel 12 that if the country continues to make progress in curbing the coronavirus outbreak, “the hope is that we can after Passover start to restore economic activity in a careful and controlled way.”

Health Ministry DG says Litzman told him that he’s following guidelines, despite testimony to the contrary

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov defends Health Minister Yaakov Litzman amid allegations that he blatantly violated his own offices guidelines barring group prayer.

“He told me he was careful to follow the instructions, and when he went to pray, it was before we banned group prayer,” Bar Siman-Tov says.

“Minister Litzman was the first to say we should close the skies — to flights from China and the other countries,” he adds.

“He signed the order to close the yeshivot, the kollels and the schools,” says Bar Siman-Tov. Litzman is widely reported to have initially pushed back on such directives, delaying their implementation by days.

“He was among the decision-makers” who decided to close mikvahs and synagogues,” the director says, though neglecting to mention that on these sites too, Litzman initially rejected closure calls.

“Now we have to reach out to the Haredi community… we’re all in this together,” concludes Bar Siman-Tov

2 coronavirus-carrying Eilat residents forcibly hospitalized for violating quarantine

Two COVID-19 carrying residents of Eilat have been forcibly hospitalized at Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center after they violated their quarantine and sought to endanger other locals, the Eilat municipality says in a statement.

White House changes national stockpile definition amid criticism its keeping supplies from states

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has abruptly changed its description of the Strategic National Stockpile, the federal government’s repository of life-saving medicines and supplies, to conform with President Donald Trump’s insistence that it is only a short-term backup for states, not a commitment to ensure supplies get quickly to those who need them most during an emergency.

The change, reflected on government websites, comes a day after Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser who has taken a larger role in the coronavirus response, offered a new argument about the stockpile.

After saying that states should use their own stockpiles first, Kushner said, “And the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

Until Friday, the federal Health and Human Services website had reflected a markedly different approach to the stockpile. The “Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out,” the website used to say, according to an archived search.

“When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency,” the website had said.

But, according to data, the description changed Friday morning: “The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available.”

Trump has long insisted that the onus for battling the crisis lies with the states and that Washington is meant to play more of a supporting role. He has resisted calls to issue a national stay-at-home order and said that he didn’t want to overly use the Defense Production Act, which allows him to mobilize private companies for the effort, because he believed the states should take the lead in obtaining supplies.

— AP

‘Worst yet to come’ for countries in conflict, says UN chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has renewed his call for a global ceasefire, urging all parties to conflict to lay down arms and allow war-torn nations to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“The worst is yet to come,” Guterres says, referring to countries beset with fighting like Syria, Libya and Yemen.

“The COVID-19 storm is now coming to all these theaters of conflict.”

Guterres said there had been some progress following his March 23 call for peace, but that fighting still rages in a number of countries, hampering the ability to put into place plans to combat the virus.

“The need is urgent,” Guterres says at a UN press conference.

“The virus has shown how swiftly it can move across borders, devastate countries and upend lives.”

He says that parties to conflict in a number of countries, including Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, have expressed support for his call.

“But there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds — between translating words into peace on the ground and in the lives of people,” Guterres says.

“In many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting — and some conflicts have even intensified.”


France reports record 588 more coronavirus deaths

France today has reported 588 more coronavirus deaths in hospital, its biggest 24-hour toll in the country since the epidemic began.

The new deaths bring to 5,091 the total number of people who have died in hospital of COVID-19 in France, top health official Jerome Salomon tells reporters.

There is no daily toll for those who have died of COVID-19 in old people’s homes in France. But Salomon says that a total of 1,416 people had died in such establishments from COVID-19 during the epidemic. This brings the total French toll to at least 6,507.

France has been in lockdown since March 17 in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic, with only essential trips allowed outside that have to be justified with a signed piece of paper.

In a glimmer of hope, Salomon says that 1,186 more people had been hospitalised suffering from the coronavirus with 263 more entering intensive care, the lowest such increases for over a week.

He says that there were a total of 64,338 confirmed cases in France, an increase of 5,233 on the day earlier. But this does not include all cases as testing is not universal.


US stocks end lower after dreary March jobs data, Dow -1.7%

Stocks close lower on Wall Street after latest grim reading on job losses due to coronavirus outbreak spooks investors.

— AFP and AP

Number of worldwide coronavirus fatalities climbs to 58,433

The worldwide number of officially confirmed fatalities from the novel coronavirus rose to 58,433, according to a tally compiled by from official sources.

More than 1,087,569 declared cases have been registered in 188 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December. Of these cases, at least 228,001 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected 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 only testing cases that require hospitalization.

— with AFP

Israir flight en route to China to airlift 20 tons of medical supplies

An Israir flight is currently en route to China to airlift 20 tons of medical supplies back to Israel in order to help the state cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

The shipment will include two million masks, landing in Israel on Monday morning, days after the government began recommending citizens cover their faces when they leave their homes.

The flight is the airline’s first to the Far East after special permission was granted by state authorities in a process that was expedited due to the public health crisis.

The Airbus A320 aircraft will stop in Almaty, Kazakhstan to refuel before continuing to Shenzhen, China where it will pick up the medical supplies.

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