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Tel Aviv mayor to form new left-wing party to run in March elections

Ron Huldai set to launch campaign on Tuesday night, further splintering center-left vote

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.

Lockdown rules approved 8-7 by Knesset panel

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approves the government’s lockdown rules.

Knesset members on the panel vote 8-7 in favor of the regulations, after the right-wing Yamina opposition party opposes it.

Yamina says it was opposed to the rules because of the ban on takeout from restaurants.

The lockdown went into effect yesterday, shutting down commercial activity but keeping schools open.

Health Ministry probing death of man, 75, shortly after vaccination

The Health Ministry says it’s investigating the death of a 75-year-old man in northern Israel with serious health problems, who died at home hours after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

The ministry says its preliminary investigation indicates the death does not appear to be connected to the shot. The man suffered from heart disease and cancer, the ministry says.

Tel Aviv to open vaccination center in Rabin Square

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality announces it will open a vaccination center in the city’s Rabin Square, where it hopes to inoculate some 5,000 people a day.

The city aims to open the vaccination site on January 4. It will initially be open only to those over 60 years old.

The site will be run by the city’s Ichilov Medical Center. Information on how to make an appointment has yet to be announced.

One thousand chairs are placed at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to symbolize the deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, September 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to nearly 6 years

One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists is sentenced to nearly six years in prison under a vague and broadly worded law aimed at combating terrorism, according to state-linked media.

Loujain al-Hathloul’s case, and her imprisonment for the past two and a half years, have drawn criticism from rights groups, members of the US Congress and European Union lawmakers.

Al-Hathloul was among a handful of Saudi women who openly called for the right to drive before it was granted in 2018 and for the removal of male guardianship laws that had long stifled women’s freedom of movement and ability to travel abroad.

State-linked Saudi news outlet Sabq reports that al-Hathloul was found guilty by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, using the internet to harm public order and cooperating with individuals and entities that have committed crimes according to anti-terror laws. She has 30 days to appeal the verdict.

A rights group called “Prisoners of Conscience” that focuses on Saudi political detainees says that al-Hathloul could be released as early as the end of March 2021 based on time served. She has been imprisoned since May 2018 and 34 months of her sentencing will be suspended.

This November 30, 2014 image made from video released by Loujain al-Hathloul shows her driving toward the United Arab Emirates-Saudi Arabia border before her arrest on December 1, 2014, in Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Loujain al-Hathloul)

The judge ordered her to serve five years and eight months in prison for violating anti-terrorism laws, according to Sabq, which said its reporter was allowed inside the courtroom during Monday’s session.

Sabq reports that the judge said the defendant had confessed to committing the crimes and that her confessions were made voluntarily and without coercion. The judge says the verdict was issued in the presence of the prosecutor, the defendant, a representative from the government’s Human Rights Commission and a handful of select local media representatives.


Despite government order, most arrivals to Israel not isolating in hotels

Despite a government order requiring all Israelis who enter the country to isolate in state-run quarantine hotels, only a fraction are complying, according to Hebrew media reports.

According to Army Radio, of the 2,100 people who landed at Ben Gurion Airport in the past day, only 600 went to the COVID hotels.

Passengers at the Ben Gurion Airport departure hall on December 14, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

13,000 kindergartens to get dishwashers to phase out plasticware

Environmental Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel announces she’s earmarked NIS 45 million ($14 million) to purchase dishwashers for 13,000 kindergartens and daycares around the country, in an environmental campaign aimed at phasing out plasticware.

The schools that receive the dishwashers will be required to stop using disposable dishes and cutlery.

“This is an important initiative to reduce the endless amounts of plastic in the kindergartens that will foster environmental awareness among the children from a young age,” tweets the Likud minister.

Children at a kindergarten in Jerusalem after a two month coronavirus lockdown, May 10, 2020. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)

Teachers won’t be vaccinated this week — report

The Health Ministry is rebuffing demands by teachers to start receiving the COVID-19 vaccines this week, according to the Walla news site.

Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy informed the healthcare providers on Sunday night that they should continue to vaccinate only those over 60 or people with chronic conditions, the report says.

Teachers have declared a labor dispute, demanding the ministry begin administering the shots to educational staff.


Justice Ministry voids religious appointments that were rushed through before Knesset dissolved

The Justice Ministry has canceled a series of appointments by the Religious Affairs Ministry to local religious councils around the country, citing serious procedural issues and a lack of female representation, and noting that some of the candidates have a criminal history.

In a letter to Religious Affairs Minister Yaakov Avitan, Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz informs him the nominations greenlit last week have been voided.

Kaminitz says the 16 appointments — which were pushed through as the government dissolved — were plagued by “significant shortcomings.”

The candidates were not appropriately vetted by the government’s legal authorities; the appointments lack appropriate female representation (just 1 of the 16 was a woman, and her position was junior); and most did not undergo background criminal checks, says Kaminitz. The letter says some of the candidates had been convicted in the past of “serious crimes” and others are being investigated. It also underlines that the appointments were approved hours before elections were called.


Researcher who identified Nigeria virus variant says it may not pose higher risk

A researcher who identified a novel coronavirus variant in Nigeria cautions against automatic assumptions that the risks it poses are similar to those of new strains that have emerged elsewhere.

The new strain was uncovered last week by scientists at the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) in southeastern Nigeria.

ACEGID director Christian Happi says the variant was found in two out of 200 samples of virus collected from patients between August 3 and October 9.

The two samples were taken from the same state in Nigeria at different times.

They show a variant “different to the one that has been circulating in Nigeria, different from the one in South Africa and different from the one in the UK,” he says in an interview with AFP.

Britain tightened restrictions after finding a new strain there that it said was more contagious than initial forms of the virus.

South Africa says a new strain detected there could explain the rapid spread of a second wave that has especially affected younger people.

Happi stresses that scientists were racing to unlock knowledge about the Nigeria strain and urged people not to “extrapolate.”

“We have no idea, no evidence to say that this variant is linked to the spike we are seeing in Nigeria or not,” says Happi, explaining that samples from the latest cases were being analyzed for an answer.

Nigeria has recorded more than 82,000 cases of COVID-19, of which 1,246 were fatal.

Compared to the country’s population of some 200 million people, this number is tiny.

However, the tally of cases has been rising by several hundred a day since the start of December. There has been a major increase in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, prompting the authorities there to reinstate a curfew and ban gatherings of more than 50 people.

But the number of deaths in Nigeria has not experienced a proportionate surge.


Jewish Agency: 20,000 immigrated to Israel during pandemic year

The Jewish Agency says 20,000 people have immigrated to Israel from 70 countries in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s a drop of some 59 percent from 2019, which saw some 34,000 immigrants, the largest annual figure in the past decade.

Immigration levels from France and North America in 2020 were similar to last year, according to the Jewish Agency.

The Jewish Agency predicts that 250,000 will move to Israel in the next 3-5 years.

It notes: “Since the start of the year, the Jewish Agency has received around 160,000 inquiries about immigration to Israel, and has opened roughly 41,000 new aliyah application files, including 28,000 files from Western countries – twice the number opened in 2019. There was also a 41 percent increase in files opened for young adults aged 18-35 from Western countries.”

In this photo from the Jewish Agency, Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (left) and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog (center) greet 119 new immigrants from Ethiopia at Ben Gurion Airport, May 21, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem)

Israel Prize-winning geographer Moshe Brawer dies at 101

The Israel Prize-winning geographer and cartographer Moshe Brawer, who compiled dozens of atlases and helped delineate Israel’s border with Jordan, has died at 101.

Brawer’s world atlas is widely used in Israeli schools.

“He was involved in setting borders, and among other things was among those who determined the border with Jordan. He was a lecturer in university and people from around the world would call him to consult on these issues. He was a man of great stature,” Brawer’s daughter, Orit Brawer Ben David, tells the Ynet news site.

Brawer is survived by his wife, Rina, 91, four children and eight grandchildren, according to Ynet.


Likud’s Zohar drops bid to oust Yifat Shasha-Biton from party

Likud MK Miki Zohar has dropped his bid to declare Yifat Shasha-Biton a defector from the party, after she announces she’ll run with rival Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope in the upcoming election.

Shasha-Biton will remain the head of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee.

Zohar, who is also coalition chairman, pulls the request during a House Committee hearing after learning it won’t pass, Hebrew reports say.

MK Yifat Shasha Biton. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Health officials hint they’ll scrap mandatory hotel quarantine

Top health officials say they’re reconsidering a government order to force all Israelis arriving in the country to self-isolate in state-run hotels. The order — aimed at preventing the British variant of the virus from spreading in Israel — has not been strictly enforced.

“I’m not sure there’s a need for the quarantine hotels [to continue]. We’re weighing whether to continue with this,” Health Ministry director Ggneral Chezy Levy tells the Kan public broadcaster.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tweets: “In light of the reasonable assumption that the vaccines are effective against this mutation as well, it seems right to move to home quarantine and stop the quarantine in hotels.”

Iran warns Israel not to cross ‘red lines’ in the Gulf

Iran warns Israel not to cross its “red lines” in the Gulf in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency and following a reported Israeli submarine deployment.

Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh stresses the Islamic Republic would defend itself against any American military “adventure” in the runup to the January 20 handover of power in Washington.

The statement comes a week after the US Navy announced a nuclear submarine was being deployed to the Gulf, in a new show of force directed at Iran.

Media in Israel have since reported that an Israeli submarine has crossed the Suez Canal also headed for the Gulf, a report that has not been officially confirmed or denied.

“Everyone knows what the Persian Gulf signifies for Iran,” Khatibzadeh tells an online news conference.

“Everyone knows the policies (of Tehran) regarding security and national security… Everyone knows very well how high the risk is raised if the red lines of Iran are crossed.”


Despite lockdown, Jerusalem market open for business

Despite the lockdown, it’s business at usual at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market, reports Channel 12.

Many stalls in the bustling market openly defy the government order, which requires all nonessential businesses to close.

Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza see 1,246 new virus cases in day

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza saw 1,246 coronavirus cases and 23 deaths over the past 24 hours, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.

Around 15% of coronavirus tests came back positive in the West Bank over the past 24 hours, in addition to 25% of tests in the Gaza Strip. While both numbers are lower than previous weeks — which saw as many as 45% of tests come back positive in Gaza — they remain drastically high.

Officials in the Ramallah-based PA have repeatedly said that many West Bank Palestinian residents are not complying with the current lockdown regulations, which came into force a week and a half ago.

“The situation is disastrous and getting worse,” PA Health Ministry spokesperson Kamal al-Shakhra told Voice of Palestine Radio on Sunday.

Aaron Boxerman

COVID-19 has killed 1.7 million worldwide, infected 80.6 million

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,765,049 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Monday.

At least 80,686,630 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 50,834,100 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 symptomatic or the most serious cases.

On Sunday, 7,273 new deaths and 444,004 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 1,329, followed by Russia with 487 and Mexico with 400.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 333,140 deaths from 19,136,589 cases. At least 6,298,082 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 191,139 deaths from 7,484,285 cases, India with 147,901 deaths from 10,207,871 cases, Mexico with 122,426 deaths from 1,383,434 cases, and Italy with 71,925 deaths from 2,047,696 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Belgium with 166 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Slovenia with 122, Bosnia-Herzegovina with 120, Italy 119 and the Republic of North Macedonia 117.

Europe overall has 549,944 deaths from 25,465,569 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 497,894 deaths from 15,191,123 infections, and the United States and Canada 348,097 deaths from 19,684,350 cases.

Asia has reported 216,371 deaths from 13,739,257 cases, the Middle East 89,000 deaths from 3,909,632 cases, Africa 62,799 deaths from 2,665,751 cases, and Oceania 944 deaths from 30,951 cases.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.


Lebanon set to cut deal with Pfizer for 2 million vaccines

Lebanon’s health minister says his country has reserved nearly 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to fight the coronavirus, an amount that covers up to 20% of Lebanese.

Hamad Hassan says in a news conference his government has been negotiating with the company to acquire the vaccines and that they are expected to be in Lebanon by February. The deal is expected to be signed Monday.

Assem Araji, the lawmaker who heads the parliamentary health committee, says the deal being negotiated is for $18 a dose, a price that takes into consideration Lebanon’s economic troubles. The $27 million deal would secure 1.5 million vaccines while the country negotiates to receive closer to 2 million.

Araji tells The Associated Press the government is to pay a $4 million deposit at signing. It hopes to cover the rest with a World Bank loan that has been diverted to cover expenses related to the pandemic.

Lebanon has also signed up for another 1.5 million vaccines with COVAX, the World Health Organization-led partnership with humanitarian organizations that aims to provide vaccines for up to 20% of the population of poor countries hit hard by the pandemic. Lebanon has deposited $4.3 million to secure the COVAX vaccines, Araji says.

Both vaccines would be offered for free in Lebanon.

Commercially, hospitals and pharmacies can provide their own vaccines, Araji says.

Lebanon has a population of nearly 6 million, including over 1 million Syrian refugees. Araji says UN agencies would cover the refugee population.


Israel currently has enough vaccines to inoculate 1.6 million people — report

Channel 12 obtains information on Israel’s coronavirus vaccine supply, after the government declines to divulge how many Pfizer-BioNTech shots have been delivered to Israel.

According to the report, since the start of the vaccine drive, Israel has received 3.2 million doses, which is enough to vaccinate 1.6 million people. Israel has already vaccinated 379,000 and is expecting additional shipments from the US biotech company.

What lockdown? Highways busy, some stores remain open

Despite the government lockdown, Israelis are out and about, with highways and roads packed with cars, with little enforcement.

The lockdown rules limit Israelis to a kilometer from their homes, with some exceptions.

Many restaurants are also serving takeout in violation of the rules, according to Channel 12.

3 new Likud MKs sworn in after lawmakers defect to New Hope

The Knesset swears in three new Likud lawmakers after several of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party members jump ship to join rival Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party and resign from parliament.

Former minister Ayoub Kara, MK Shevach Stern, and MK Moti Yogev will replace Ze’ev Elkin, Michal Shir, and Sharren Haskel.

Safed, Yeruham offer COVID vaccines to Israelis under 60

The northern city of Safed and southern town of Yeruham are allowing the general population to receive COVID-19 vaccines, despite a Health Ministry order to only inoculate those over 60 years old, reports Channel 12.

Residents of the city are alerted that they are eligible to receive the vaccine, regardless of age.

The Health Ministry tells the network it’s unaware of the directives.

Health minister: Israel has vaccinated nearly 500,000; there won’t be shortages

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tells reporters that Israel has vaccinated nearly half a million people against COVID-19 in the nine days since the vaccine drive began.

“We are close to half a million vaccinated. There is no shortage and won’t be any shortage of vaccines,” says Edelstein.

Edelstein expresses hope Israel can complete the vaccination of all at-risk populations in the coming weeks.

Novavax vaccine reaches final-stage testing in US

A huge study of another COVID-19 vaccine candidate is getting underway as states in the US continue to roll out scarce supplies of the nation’s first shot options.

The US has authorized emergency use of two vaccines, one made by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by Moderna, but doses will be rationed for months.

The candidate made by Novavax Inc. is the fifth to reach final-stage testing in the US. Some 30,000 volunteers are needed to prove if this vaccine – a different kind than its Pfizer and Moderna competitors – really works and is safe.

“If you want to have enough vaccine to vaccinate all the people in the US who you’d like to vaccinate – up to 85% or more of the population – you’re going to need more than two companies,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, tells The Associated Press.

The study, which is funded by the US government, is open to all adults but will focus on high-risk older adults and volunteers from Black and Hispanic communities who have been hard-hit by the virus. Two-thirds of volunteers will receive the vaccine and the rest will get dummy shots.

The Novavax candidate uses lab-grown harmless copies of the spike protein that coats the coronavirus to train the body to recognize if the real virus comes along. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines instead use a newer technology, injecting the genetic code for that protein.

In the US, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca also have vaccine candidates in late-stage US testing.


Tel Aviv to start vaccinating teachers from Thursday

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality says it will start vaccinating teachers from Thursday, reports Channel 12.

2 arrested over gangland shooting on Route 6

Police have arrested two men in connection with the gangland shooting on Route 6 earlier today.

The two suspects, aged 21 and 23, are brothers and residents of the central city of Lod, police say.

Earlier today, two men in their 20s were critically wounded in a shooting while under police escort on the Route 6 highway near the Nahshonim Junction. Their car crashed and one died shortly after.

Dozens try to break out of quarantine hotel, clash with security guards — TV

Dozens of people quarantined in a state-run hotel in Jerusalem have attempted to break out of the facility, according to television reports.

Clashes break out at the entrance of the Leonardo hotel as security guards force them back inside, according to Channels 12 and 13.

The residents are Israelis who recently returned from abroad. Under a recent government order, which has been selectively enforced, all travelers entering Israel must self-isolate in the quarantine hotels. Health officials say they’re reconsidering the policy.

Netanyahu speaks to Putin about Syria, regional ‘developments’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin and extends good wishes ahead of Novy God, the Russian term for New Year’s.

“The two discussed the situation in Syria, developments in the region, and the actions needed to increase [regional] stability,” Netanyahu’s office says.

Number of sick students, teachers more than doubled in 2 weeks

The number of students and teachers sick with COVID-19 has more than doubled in two weeks, according to Education Ministry figures.

There are currently 8,662 students and 1,735 teaching staff infected with the virus, compared to 3,500 students and 750 staff two weeks ago, reports the Ynet news site.

Schools remain open during the lockdown, Israel’s third, which began on Sunday evening.

Illustrative — Israeli children wearing face masks study in a classroom of the Kramim school in Jerusalem on their first day back to classes on November 1, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)


Iran says Pfizer vaccine batch expected from US benefactors

An unidentified group of US-based philanthropists plans to send 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Iran in the coming weeks, Iranian media reports, in a step that could bring the hardest-hit country in the Middle East closer to inoculating its citizens against the coronavirus.

Details remain scarce in the report by semiofficial Tasnim news agency. It quotes the chief of the country’s Red Crescent Society as saying he expects the vaccine created by American drug maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to be imported by January 19 “based on coordination with a group of benefactors in the US.”

Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East, which has infected over 1.2 million people and killed nearly 55,000.

Karim Hemmati, the Red Crescent director, says his organization plans to receive an additional 1 million vaccine doses, which on Sunday the semiofficial news website reported would come from China. The vaccines will be offered to citizens free of charge, Hemmati says.

Officials have said previously that importing the Pfizer vaccine, which must be shipped and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), poses major logistical challenges for Iran.

Iran has signed up for COVAX, an international program designed to distribute coronavirus vaccines to participating countries regardless of their wealth. It’s run in part by Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. which says the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control has already issued a license for Iran to take part. The US Treasury has not reacted to Iran’s participation.


Dozens of tombstones in France defaced with swastikas; Jewish graves spared

Dozens of tombstones at graveyard in the French town of Fontainebleau were defaced with swastikas, the town’s mayor says, but in an unusual twist Jewish gravestones were spared.

“Sixty-seven old or more recent gravestones were vandalized with swastikas in pink, white and silver,” Fontainebleau’s mayor Frederic Valletoux tells AFP.

The words “Biobananas” and “Charles” were found inscribed on some of the graves but there was no sign of anti-Semitic graffiti, Valletoux adds.

Meanwhile, the town’s Jewish cemetery which is situated next to the main cemetery was found untouched.

Famous for a royal palace that served as a country retreat for monarchs from Louis VII through to Napoleon III, as well the surrounding forest that was their hunting ground, Fontainebleau is situated about 60 kilometers southeast of Paris.

The incident is the latest to target cemeteries in France, where Jewish gravestones have regularly been targeted by vandals.


Western Sahara map in backdrop of Netanyahu clip said to spark fury in Morocco

A map delineating Morocco from Western Sahara hanging in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office — and seen in the backdrop of a recent video clip — has sparked outrage in the Arab country, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Israel recently normalized ties with Morocco. In exchange, the United States agreed to recognize Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson tells a Moroccan station the map is “old” and will be changed.

“It will be corrected in the new maps that appear,” says the spokesperson.

US airports see highest level of air travel in 9 months

Nearly 1.3 million people went through US airports on Sunday, the highest level of air travel in more than nine months, despite fear that travel will lead to more cases of COVID-19.

The Transportation Security Administration says it screened 1,284,599 on Sunday, the highest total since March 15. More than 10 million people have traveled by air since December 18, including six days with at least 1 million people getting screened.

Figures on road trips aren’t available, but AAA predicts that about 85 million Americans would travel during the Christmas holiday season, most of them by car.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert on infectious disease, says that level of travel could lead to a further increase in COVID-19 cases. Fauci says crowded airports make it difficult to maintain social distance, and holiday gatherings combine people from different households.

“As much as we advise against it, nonetheless, it happens,” he says on CNN. “And that’s one of the reasons why we’re concerned about that being a real risk situation for the spread of infection.”

New cases of COVID-19 have been surging for about two months. There have been more than 330,000 reported deaths from the virus in the US.


Gantz: Cancel hotel quarantine requirement for those tested at airport

Defense Minister Benny Gantz urges the government to allow Israelis who enter the country to quarantine at home, on condition they undergo a COVID-19 test at the airport.

The government is currently requiring those who enter the country to self-isolate at state-run facilities, though the rule appears to be only selectively enforced.

Gantz will not support extending this order, his office says.


Tel Aviv mayor expected to launch political party on Tuesday

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai will unveil his new dovish political party on Tuesday evening, according to Hebrew media reports.

“Hundreds of thousands of Israelis feel they don’t have a political home in this election,” says Huldai.

Israel goes to national elections on March 23. Huldai, 76, has been the mayor of Tel Aviv for the past 22 years.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel invests NIS 1.5 million to collect Palestinian olive mill wastewater

More than NIS 1.5 million ($465,500) has been invested over the past year to collect some 8,300 cubic meters of olive mill wastewater for treatment, from around 37 Palestinian olive presses in the West Bank, the Civil Administration has reported.

This is 40 percent more than was collected during a pilot project last year, and will stop the wastewater, which is full of contaminants, from blocking sewage facilities and polluting the a-Shaer and Alexander streams, which run into Israel, as well as the shoreline at Beit Yannai, on the northern Mediterranean coast.

The treated wastewater was used as a fertilizer for agricultural fields.

The Civil Administration is an Israel Defense Ministry body that forms part of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit that regulates much of the daily life in the West Bank.

Sue Surkes

3,690 new virus cases diagnosed since midnight

The Health Ministry says 3,690 new virus cases have been diagnosed since midnight.

It says 3,508 were recorded on Sunday, when 4.9 percent of tests returned positive.

According to the ministry, there are 36,888 active coronavirus cases, with 602 people in serious condition, 147 of them on ventilators. The death toll stands at 3,247.

WHO calls for expanded measures to find virus variants

The head of the World Health Organization says it is important to step up genomic sequencing worldwide to ensure that new variants of the coronavirus are detected, as the pandemic enters its second year.

New variants detected in Britain and South Africa that appear to be more infectious have caused concern and triggered new travel restrictions this month.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says at an online news conference from Geneva that “there will be setbacks and new challenges in the year ahead — for example new variants of COVID-19 and helping people who are tired of the pandemic continue to combat it.”

He says that the WHO is working closely with scientists across the world to “better understand any and all changes to the virus” and their impact.

Tedros says he wants to “underscore the importance of increasing genomic sequencing capacity worldwide,” and of sharing information with the UN health agency and other countries. He says that “only if countries are looking and testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope.”


Jordan orders 1 million vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech

Jordan has ordered one million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech novel coronavirus vaccine, with the first shipment expected at the end of January or early February, the health minister says.

Jordan has recorded 289,748 cases of the COVID-19 disease, including 3,778 deaths, and the numbers continue to rise daily.

“Jordan will receive one million vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech in installments from January or early February,” says Health Minister Nazir Obeidat in remarks carried by the state-run Petra news agency.

He says the country was seeking to make vaccines available to more than 20 percent of the 11 million-strong population, “which means to suffice for 2.2 million citizens.”

Jordan announced in mid-December that it had approved emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, adding that talks were underway with other pharmaceutical firms.

Last week, Jordan launched a website for those wishing to be vaccinated to register to obtain the jab, on condition that they be front line health workers, over 60, or suffering from chronic health conditions.


Health Ministry to cut vaccine supply to HMOs by 10%-20% — report

The Health Ministry has informed healthcare providers that it will reduce its vaccine supply by 10%-20%, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The report quotes officials in Israel’s HMOs who warn that clinics will have to scale back its current pace of vaccination. The ministry is cutting back on the supply after promising thousands of shots to hospitals, the police, military, medics and other essential services, according to the report. Hospitals joined the vaccine drive earlier this week.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein earlier today said there are no vaccine shortages.

Russia admits to world’s third-worst coronavirus death toll

Russia says its coronavirus death toll is more than three times higher than it had previously reported, making it the country with the third-largest number of fatalities.

For months, President Vladimir Putin has boasted about Russia’s low fatality rate from the virus, saying earlier this month that it had done a “better” job at managing the pandemic than Western countries.

But since early in the pandemic, some Russian experts have said the government was playing down the country’s outbreak.

On Monday, Russian officials admit that is true.

The Rosstat statistics agency says that the number of deaths from all causes recorded between January and November had risen by 229,700 compared to the previous year.

“More than 81 percent of this increase in mortality over this period is due to Covid,” says Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova, meaning that over 186,000 Russians have died from COVID-19.


Burial society threatens to stop COVID funerals if its workers aren’t vaccinated

The Chevra Kadisha, or Jewish burial society, is demanding that the Health Ministry vaccinate its workers, citing the risks of interring the bodies of people who succumbed to the coronavirus.

It has given the ministry an ultimatum, saying that if its members do not receive the shots by Wednesday, they will stop burying COVID-19 victims, according to the Ynet news site.

Members of Hevra Kadisha, an organization which prepares bodies of deceased Jews for burial according to Jewish tradition, take away a body of a person who died from coronavirus in Jerusalem, April 1, 2020. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)

Man stabbed and seriously injured in Givat Shmuel

A man in his 30s is stabbed and seriously injured in Givat Shmuel in central Israel.

The motive for the stabbing is not immediately clear.

South Africa mandates mask-wearing, bans alcohol sales

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announces a ban on alcohol sales and says mask-wearing would be mandatory in public, as his country became the continent’s first to record one million coronavirus cases.

Ramaphosa says during a televised speech that alcohol would be temporarily banned from midnight to help emergency services already under pressure.

He also announces it would be “compulsory for every person to wear a mask in public spaces,” saying it was a “drastic measure, now necessary.”


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