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Netanyahu: Vaccine drive to begin Dec. 27, with 60,000 shots given a day

Health minister says hundreds of thousands of Israelis will be inoculated in coming weeks, encourages all to get the vaccine

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

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

Israel said reluctant to declare UAE a virus hotspot amid burgeoning ties

The Foreign Ministry has decided the United Arab Emirates won’t be designated a “red” or highly infected country, a step that would have forced returning Israeli tourists to enter quarantine, according to the Walla news site.

The ministry decision comes amid fears that such a designation would cause a diplomatic rift with the Gulf country, which only recently forged ties with Israel, according to the report.

The Foreign Ministry decision overrides a Health Ministry request to declare the UAE a “red” country, Walla reports.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein discussed the issue earlier today and agreed the designation would only be granted with the Foreign Ministry’s approval, given the sensitive diplomatic situation.

The Foreign Ministry denies the report, saying the final decision on the designation rests with the Health Ministry.

UK investigates possible allergic reactions to COVID-19 shot

UK regulators say that people who have a “significant history’’ of allergic reactions shouldn’t receive the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine while they investigate two adverse reactions that occurred on the first day of the country’s mass vaccination program.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the National Health Service in England, says health authorities were acting on a recommendation from the Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

“As is common with new vaccines the MHRA have advised on a precautionary basis that people with a significant history of allergic reactions do not receive this vaccination after two people with a history of significant allergic reactions responded adversely yesterday,’’ Powis says in a statement. “Both are recovering well.”

The comments come as Dr. June Raine, head of the MHRA, told a Parliamentary committee that regulators had received reports of two allergic reactions from the vaccine.

Undated file photo shows a volunteer receiving the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (John Cairns/University of Oxford via AP, File)

“We know from the very extensive clinical trials that this wasn’t a feature,” she says. “But If we need to strengthen our advice, now that we have had this experience with the vulnerable populations, the groups who have been selected as a priority, we get that advice to the field immediately.”

Raine’s comments come as part of a general discussion of how her agency will continue to monitor people who receive the vaccine authorized for emergency use last week.

AP

Israel plans to send another spacecraft to the moon by 2024 — president

President Reuven Rivlin unveils Israel’s plans to send another spacecraft, Beresheet 2 to the moon by 2024.

The announcement comes a year and a half after Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft crashed on the surface of the moon.

The $100 million project, funded mostly by donations and run by Israel’s space agency, is aimed at scientific research.

People watch the live broadcast in Netanya, Israel April 11, 2019, of the SpaceIL Beresheet lunar landing attempt. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

 

Bennett lashes Sa’ar’s new right-wing party over focus on removing Netanyahu

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett comes out against Gideon Sa’ar’s new right-wing party.

Israel’s “political system and media has a crazy obsession of ‘yes Bibi’ or ‘no Bibi,'” says Bennett, using Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname. “You don’t build parties based solely on ‘only Bibi’ or ‘Just not Bibi.'”

His comment comes after Sa’ar quits Likud and the Knesset to form a new party, New Hope, which will be competing with Bennett for right-wing votes if early elections are held. Both Bennett and Sa’ar say they’re running for prime minister.

Gideon Sa’ar (R) and Naftali Bennett seen during an assembly session in the plenum hall at the Knesset on February 24, 2014 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel to start testing Palestinian workers for COVID-19 at checkpoints

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians announces that it will begin testing Palestinian workers entering Israel at checkpoints.

“A worker who refuses to be checked will not be permitted to enter Israel,” a spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories says.

It was unclear how many workers would be checked as part of the new policy and whether COGAT would allow them to be tested elsewhere. On COGAT’s Arabic-language Facebook page, social media users bemoaned the lack of clarity, with one user writing “someone please translate, COGAT, we’ve stopped understanding you, dude.”

A spokesperson for COGAT declines a request to elaborate.

Approximately 100,000 West Bank Palestinians are legally employed in Israel or in West Bank settlements, according to the labor rights group Kav LaOved.

Both Israeli and Palestinian officials have repeatedly pointed fingers at the other side to accuse them of importing coronavirus cases into their areas.

Aaron Boxerman

Global study: Israel among countries curbing democratic freedoms amid pandemic

More than six in 10 countries around the world have adopted measures during the COVID-19 pandemic that threaten democracy or human rights, a report by democracy institute International IDEA says.

The study, which examines the situation in almost all countries of the world, concludes that 61 percent of nations “implemented restrictions that were either illegal, disproportionate, indefinite or unnecessary” in at least one area of democratic freedoms.

Among countries widely considered democracies, 43 percent fell into this category, a figure that rose to 90 percent for authoritarian regimes, according to the Stockholm-based intergovernmental organization.

India, a democratic country, held the unenviable top spot, with measures of “concern” in nine of 22 areas studied — including freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of the press — ahead of Algeria and Bangladesh with eight areas of concern.

Border Police officers patrol on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 21, 2020, as Israel exists a national coronavirus lockdown and begins to roll back restrictions. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

They were followed by China, Egypt, Malaysia and Cuba, which each had seven.

Russia was the top European nation with six, a score shared by Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Jordan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

IDEA examined the various measures adopted around the world to determine if they were problematic from a democracy and human rights standpoint, regardless of effectiveness from a health perspective.

Along with India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Iraq — all considered democracies, albeit some of them “fragile” — were among the top 15 countries with the worst records.

Five European Union countries were mentioned: Bulgaria with three areas of concern, Hungary (two) and Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia (one each).

Among the major Western democracies, only the United States was singled out, with two areas of concern: “freedom of association and assembly” and “predictable enforcement.”

Israel had five areas of concern and Argentina two.

On Israel, it says: “The government has met the anti-government and lockdown protests with excessive use of force and arrests. Rights groups have raised concerns over the violation of Palestinians’ basic rights during the pandemic, including the destruction of homes and healthcare infrastructure, including COVID-19 testing centers. Israel has used domestic security service to trace COVID-19 infections, raising privacy worries.”

A policeman, wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus, asks a passenger of a car to display his movement permission form, during the first day of a lockdown, in Athens, Nov. 7, 2020 (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

The study also praised several countries as role models for having combined effective health measures with a respect for democratic principles.

They were Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Taiwan, Uruguay, Cyprus, Japan, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

France, Italy, Canada, Germany, Britain and Spain were not mentioned among the top performers, but did not present any concerns either.

AFP, with Times of Israel staff

Gyms threaten to reopen later this month in defiance of government health rules

Gyms and fitness centers — which have been closed since mid-September under pandemic regulations — are threatening to reopen in two weeks, according to Channel 12.

They say they’ll only reopen in so-called green and yellow cities with low rates of infection and will uphold strict sanitary standards.

People exercise at a gym in Modi’in on July 14, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Derech Eretz MKs to make statement, amid speculation they’ll join Sa’ar

Derech Eretz MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser are set to make a press statement at 5 p.m.

The two rightist coalition lawmakers — formerly of Blue and White — are widely expected to join former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar’s new right-wing party, New Hope.

Then Blue and White party members MKs Yoaz Hendel (left) and Zvi Hauser seen in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Hezbollah suing Lebanon PM’s brother for blaming terror group for port blast

Lebanon’s Hezbollah is suing the estranged brother of the country’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri after he accused the terror group of being responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port earlier this year, a TV station reports.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV gives no further details about the case filed against Bahaa Hariri, the son of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and estranged brother of Saad Hariri.

The move came a week after Hezbollah said it was suing former Christian lawmaker Fares Souaid and the website of the right-wing Lebanese Forces party for accusing Hezbollah of being responsible for the August 4 blast that killed more than 200 people and wounded thousands.

Hezbollah legislator Ibrahim Mussawi, who filed the case against Souaid and the website, told reporters last week that he also plans to press charges against Bahaa Hariri, a harsh Hezbollah critic who lives in exile.

The aftermath of the bombing of the US Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, October 23, 1983. (Jim Bourdier/AP)

The massive blast in August was caused by nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates, a fertilizer improperly stored at a port warehouse for six years.

Since the blast, some of Hezbollah’s opponents and others have accused Hezbollah of storing explosive chemicals at the port. After Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war ended, Hezbollah was the only group allowed to keep its weapons as it was fighting Israeli forces that occupied parts of southern Lebanon.

However, Hezbollah has dismissed the accusation and no evidence has emerged to link the group to the explosive chemicals.

An investigation has yet to provide an explanation for what happened — or hold any senior official responsible. Families of the victims have asked for an international probe, in a country where violent attacks and assassinations are rarely brought to justice.

Lebanon’s port authority, security agencies and political leadership were all aware of the stored explosive chemicals at the port, documents have shown. The port is one of the country’s facilities where rampant corruption has been reported.

AP

Iran president says ready for snap return to nuclear deal compliance

Iran is ready to return to full compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal with major powers as soon as the other parties honor their commitments, President Hassan Rouhani says.

The agreement between Iran and major powers has teetered on the brink of collapse since outgoing US President Donald Trump pulled out of it in 2018 and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions.

US President-elect Joe Biden has expressed readiness to return to the agreement but over the past 18 months Iran has suspended the implementation of some of its own obligations, including key limits to its uranium enrichment program.

“Just as soon as the 5+1 or 4+1 resume all of their commitments, we will resume all of ours,” Rouhani says.

He is referring to the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany with whom Iran reached the nuclear deal.

“I’ve said it before — it doesn’t take time, it’s just a question of willing,” he says in comments to his cabinet aired by state television.

AFP

Health Ministry clarifies: Those returning from UAE don’t require quarantine

The Health Ministry says Israelis returning from the United Arab Emirates won’t need to quarantine.

The statement comes amid reports that the Foreign Ministry blocked the Health Ministry from designating the Emirates as a “red,” or high infection, country.

Israel reprimands Russian ambassador for comments on Iran

Russia’s ambassador to Israel has been summoned by Israel’s Foreign Ministry for a dressing down, following an interview in which he said it is the Jewish state’s conflict with the Palestinians and other Arab entities that is destabilizing the Middle East, not Iran.

Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov also accused Israel of being an aggressor for attacking arms shipments to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, and questioned whether tunnels found under the Israel-Lebanon border were dug by the Lebanese organization.

“The problem in the region is not Iranian activities,” Viktorov told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s a lack of understanding between countries and noncompliance with UN resolutions in the Israel-Arab and Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

The Foreign Ministry says Viktorov had been “seriously reprimanded” for his comments.

It says: “The Russian ambassador said that he intends to issue a clarification letter to the newspaper, in light of his claim that some of the quotes attributed to him are imprecise.”

Daycare owner convicted of 18 counts of child abuse in high-profile case

A daycare owner has been convicted on 18 counts of child abuse, in a case that sparked outrage and protests across the country.

Carmel Mauda, 26, who ran the Baby Love center in Rosh Ha’ayin, was accused of systematic violence against 11 children, three months to three years old, between May 27 and June 16. She will be sentenced at a later date.

“On many occasions during her work at the daycare, the defendant attacked infants and toddlers in the daycare,” the court ruling says, according to Channel 12.

Graphic security camera footage released by police last year showed Mauda tying up children, force-feeding them, smothering toddlers who refused to go to sleep with blankets, and physically abusing them.

Carmel Mauda, the owner of a kindergarten who was filmed abusing toddlers, sits at the courtroom in Lod, as she arrives for a court hearing on December 9, 2019. (Flash90)

According to the charge sheet handed down last July, Mauda would “on numerous occasions” attack the children, including covering them with blankets and sitting on them to prevent them from moving; tying up a child “for minutes to hours”; lifting the toddlers by the arms and throwing them to the ground; shaking babies; forcing children to stand, facing a wall, for hours; hitting the toddlers with diapers, slapping them, and pulling their heads back while obstructing their breathing.

“In one of the cases, the minor was forced to eat the contents of a plate on which he had vomited,” the indictment said.

Blue and White’s ‘Equality Bill’ gets initial nod by Knesset, angering Likud

The Blue and White party’s proposal to anchor equality in Israel’s quasi-constitutional laws has cleared a preliminary reading in the Knesset, against the wishes of its coalition partner Likud.

“The Basic Law: Equality” is “aimed to enshrine the right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination,” according to Gantz.

It’s part of a batch of bills opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud that Blue and White is raising as the short-lived coalition appears poised to collapse.

The bill would require three more votes to become law.

It passes its initial reading 56-54.

20 said to contract COVID at Rishon Lezion nursing home

A nursing home in the central city of Rishon Lezion has seen a serious outbreak, with 20 cases of the coronavirus, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

 

Ultra-Orthodox said fuming at Sa’ar after ‘Equality Bill’ advances

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are angry with Gideon Sa’ar, the former Likud lawmaker who announced on Tuesday he would form his own right-wing party, for failing to vote against the so-called “Equality Bill,” which advances in its preliminary reading.

“Gideon Sa’ar promised he would vote with us on the Equality Bill, and deceived us — he has lost us,” an unnamed source tells the Kan public broadcaster.

Iran’s former judiciary chief Mohammad Yazdi dies at 89

Iran’s former judiciary chief Mohammad Yazdi, an ultra-conservative, died on Wednesday aged 89, the official IRNA state news agency reports.

A student of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini, Yazdi died due to “illnesses of the digestive system,” IRNA says.

He had been named head of Iran’s judicial authority in 1989, a little after the country’s current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, took the helm.

Iran’s former judiciary chief Mohammad Yazdi attends a session of the Assembly of Experts in the capital Tehran on March 10, 2015, before being appointed as the new head of the Assembly. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP)

Yazdi headed the judiciary for a decade, before he was replaced in the wake of student protests in the summer of 1999.

Reformist media had demanded his departure, criticizing a series of trials against individuals close to then-president Mohammad Khatami that it decried as politically motivated.

A longstanding member of the Assembly of Experts — a body tasked with appointing the supreme leader — Yazdi served as its president in 2015.

AFP

Longtime PLO official Hanan Ashrawi resigns

Senior Palestinian Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi announces that she has submitted her resignation from the organization to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Reports have circulated for several days in Arabic-language media that Ashrawi had submitted her letter of resignation, although Ashrawi’s office had declined to comment on the matter. The reports said Ashrawi’s frustration came from the PA’s recent decision to renew security coordination with Israel.

In her public letter of resignation, however, Ashrawi instead focuses on the diminished role of the Palestinian Liberation Organization since the Oslo Accords that established the Palestinian Authority. The pan-Palestinian PLO still exists, but the PA controls affairs on the ground in the West Bank.

Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I believe it is time to carry out the required reform and to activate the PLO in a manner which restores its standing and role, including respecting the mandate of the Executive Committee rather than its marginalization and exclusion from decision-making,” Ashrawi says.

“I will continue to serve the Palestinian people and our just cause in every capacity outside public office,” Ashrawi says.

Aaron Boxerman

Derech Eretz MKs Hendel, Hauser say they’re joining Gideon Sa’ar’s party

Derech Eretz lawmakers Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser announce they will join former Likud MK Gideon’s Sa’ar’s new right-wing party in the next election.

The two coalition MKs won’t quit the Knesset, however.

“Being right-wing does not mean being a ‘Bibist’ [Netanyahu supporter] and determine what’s best for the leader, but rather the opposite — to make decisions based on ideology,” says Hendel. “Likud has become mixed up in the past few years. Gideon Sa’ar has not.”

Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser (R) seen at the Knesset, ahead of the opening session of the new parliament on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Backing Sa’ar for PM, Hauser declares: This government has failed

Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser defends his two-man party’s decision to support a unity government between Likud and Blue and White following the March 2020 elections.

“We preferred to give a chance to a unity government, but Netanyahu chose to continue to divide Israel, precisely during an unbearable crisis,” he says, when announcing his decision to join Gideon’s Sa’ar’s party.

“This government has failed at its job.”

Sa’ar, in a tweet, welcomes Hauser and his colleague Yoaz Hendel into his new party.

Russia says sensitive equipment stolen from goverment’s ‘doomsday plane’

The Kremlin sounds the alarm over the theft of sensitive equipment from a secretive “doomsday plane” designed for the country’s top command in event of a nuclear attack.

The interior ministry says police in the southern city of Taganrog had been alerted that 1 million rubles ($13,600) worth of equipment was stolen from an Ilyushin Il-80 plane at an airfield.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov describes the breach as an “emergency situation” and vowed that “measures will be taken to prevent this from happening in the future.”

The interior ministry does not specify what was stolen but says that investigators had been dispatched to the scene.

The port city of Taganrog, more than 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) south of Moscow, is home to Beriev Aircraft Company, a struggling state-controlled enterprise.

Both the interior ministry and Beriev declines to comment when reached by AFP.

But the Kremlin-friendly REN-TV television channel reported earlier this week that radio equipment was taken from an Il-80 plane that was undergoing maintenance at Taganrog.

Thieves opened the aircraft’s cargo hatch and shoe and fingerprints were found inside the aircraft, the channel said, adding that Beriev reported the theft to police last week.

The channel said that 12 people had been questioned as part of the probe that was made public on Wednesday.

Citing a source, it said officials with access to the airfield could be behind the high-profile theft.

AFP

Likud: ‘Equality Bill’ would cause Jewish Law of Return to be overturned

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud condemns the passage of the so-called Equality Bill in its preliminary reading, saying the proposed legislation would ultimately see the Jewish Law of Return scrapped on the basis of discrimination.

“[Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman and Gideon Sa’ar today passed the ‘law to cancel the Jewish state bill,’ which effectively means canceling the Law of Return and flooding Israel with non-Jewish refugees, who will ultimately turn the Jews into a minority in its country,” the party says.

It does not mention Blue and White’s Gantz, Netanyahu’s coalition partner, who advanced the proposal.

“Just yesterday, Sa’ar abandoned Likud and today he’s a full-fledged partner of the left,” it adds, referring to Sa’ar’s resignation from the ruling party to form his own list.

Both Liberman and Sa’ar are right wing.

EU medicine regulator suffers cyberattack

The EU’s medicines regulator, which is currently weighing up whether to give special approval for several coronavirus vaccines, says it had been the victim of a cyberattack.

“EMA has been the subject of a cyberattack. The Agency has swiftly launched a full investigation, in close cooperation with law enforcement and other relevant entities,” the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency says in a statement.

AFP

Halle synagogue shooter denies Holocaust in courtroom

A man accused of killing two people in an anti-Semitic attack in Germany last year is cut off during final testimony at his trial after he denies the Holocaust.

Stephan Balliet, 28, is accused of trying to storm a synagogue filled with worshippers in Halle on October 9, 2019 during Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

After failing to break down the door, he is said to have shot dead a female passer-by and a man at a kebab shop instead.

Balliet tells the court in nearby Magdeburg that the proceedings against him were a “show trial” and denies the Holocaust, drawing shouts of protest from the co-plaintiffs on the benches.

Stephan Balliet, who is accused of shooting dead two people after an attempt to storm a synagogue in Halle, is seen during his trial on November 18, 2020, at the district court in Magdeburg, Germany. (Ronny Hartmann/AFP)

Judge Ursula Mertens interrupts the speech and reminded him that denying the Holocaust is a criminal offense in Germany.

Balliet had previously denied the Holocaust during his trial, spouted racist and misogynist conspiracy theories and insisted that “attacking the synagogue was not a mistake, they are my enemies.”

AFP

For 1st time, human-made mass now outweighs life on Earth: Israeli study

For the first time in history human-made materials now likely outweigh all life on Earth, scientists say in research detailing the “crossover point” at which humanity’s footprint is heavier than that of the natural world.

The weight of roads, buildings and other constructed or manufactured materials is doubling roughly every 20 years, and authors of the research say it currently weighed 1.1 teratonnes (1.1 trillion tonnes).

As humankind has ramped up its insatiable consumption of natural resources, the weight of living biomass — trees, plants and animals — has halved since the agricultural revolution to stand at just 1 teratonne currently, the study finds.

Estimating changes in global biomass and human-made mass since 1990, the research showed that the mass of human-produced objects stood at just three percent of the weight of biomass at the start of the 20th century.

But since the post-World War II global production boom, manufacturing has surged to the extent that humans now produce the equivalent of the weight of every person on Earth every week on average.

View of the Manhattan skyline, New York City, on October 14, 2016. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

2020 likely marked the moment when human-made mass tipped higher than biomass, according to the study published in Nature.

“This study provides a sort of ‘big picture’ snapshot of the planet in 2020,” says co-author Ron Milo of the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.

“We hope that once we have these somewhat shocking figures before our eyes, we can as a species take responsibility.”

Drawing on a host of industrial and ecological data, the study estimates human production accounts for roughly 30 gigatonnes annually.

At the current growth rate, human-made material is likely to weigh as much as three teratonnes by 2040.

At the same time, overall biomass is decreasing, mainly because of deforestation and land use changes making way for intensive agriculture.

This photo taken June 1, 2009 shows the snow-capped Aoraki, also known as Mount Cook, reflected in the still waters of Lake Matheson, New Zealand. Aoraki, part of the Southern Alps, is the highest peak in the Southern Hemisphere. (AP Photo/Kathy Matheson)

Buildings and roads account for most of the human-made mass, and a number of construction trends — including shifting from bricks to concrete in construction in the mid-1950s — contributed to the accelerated weight accumulation.

Lead author Emily Elhacham tells AFP that the study provided an indication of humanity’s outsized impact on the natural world.

“We can no longer deny our central role in the natural world,” she says. “We are already a major player and with that comes a shared responsibility.”

AFP

Canada regulator approves Pfizer’s COVID vaccine

Canada’s health regulator on Wednesday approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Health Canada posts on its website that the vaccine made by US drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech is authorized.

Canada is set to receive up to 249,000 doses this month and 4 million doses of the vaccine by March.

The Canadian government has purchased 20 million doses of that vaccine, which requires people to receive two doses each, and it has the option to buy 56 million more.

Health Canada is reviewing three other vaccine candidates, including one from Moderna.

AP

White House relief plan includes $600 stimulus checks, says senator

A White House-backed proposal to provide more aid to the ailing US economy includes $600 in direct payments to Americans but has little support among Democrats, a prominent senator says.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday unveiled the $916 billion proposal that represents the latest attempt to break a long-running deadlock between Republicans and Democrats in Washington on a new spending package to revive the coronavirus-wracked US economy.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats and is influential among the party’s left wing, on Wednesday rejects the stimulus check proposal as too small and calls the plan “unacceptable.”

“What the Republicans are proposing is grossly unsatisfactory,” he says in an interview with MSNBC.

In this screenshot from the DNCC’s livestream of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addresses the virtual convention on August 17, 2020. (Handout/DNCC via Getty Images)

“That is unacceptable, and we cannot leave here unless we get $1,200 for every worker, and we get extended unemployment and we get adequate aid to states and cities. This country is facing a crisis, we have got to respond accordingly.”

Mnuchin said his plan includes “money for state and local governments and robust liability protections for businesses, schools and universities” and the Treasury Department has not provided any additional details.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer seemed little moved by the idea, indicating they wanted to focus on a $908 billion bipartisan compromise put forward last week that is making its way through the legislature.

They released a statement saying it was “unacceptable” that the White House offer only includes $40 billion for unemployment insurance.

AFP

Germany sets date for election determining Merkel successor

Germany’s next parliamentary election, which will determine the country’s new leader after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long rule, will be held on Sept. 26, 2021.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s office says that the head of state set the date in line with a recommendation from the government. It will be post-World War II Germany’s 20th parliamentary election

Germany holds elections every four years. The lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, elects the chancellor. That may not happen until well after the election, because the process of putting together a governing coalition can be lengthy. After the 2017 election, it was nearly six months before Merkel was sworn in for her fourth term — a record.

Merkel has been chancellor since 2005. She said more than two years ago that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term, and has repeatedly made clear that she won’t change her mind.

At present, it’s hard to guess who will succeed her, and much will depend on whom the leading parties nominate as their candidates for chancellor.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, November 25, 2020. (Michael Kappeler/Pool via AP)

Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, part of a conservative bloc that is well ahead in polls thanks in part to positive reviews of her management of the coronavirus pandemic, plans to choose a new leader in January. That person will likely, but not necessarily, be nominated to run for chancellor.

The center-left Social Democrats, who provided three of Germany’s eight post-war chancellors, have chosen Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as their candidate.

But the party, now the junior partner in Merkel’s governing coalition, is currently very weak in polls. Its support is lower than that of the environmentalist Greens, who are likely to make their first run for the chancellery but have yet to nominate a contender.

Voters will elect at least 598 lawmakers to the Bundestag. The number may be considerably higher because of Germany’s complex electoral system, which is based on proportional representation but also sees voters choose directly elected local representatives. The current Bundestag has 709 members.

AP

Government to ban visiting others’ homes on Hanukkah nights — TV

After abandoning a plan to impose nightly curfews to drive down coronavirus infection rates, the government is considering rolling out a ban on visiting others’ homes in the afternoon and evening hours during the upcoming holiday of Hanukkah, according to television reports.

Channel 12 says the government will approve the order on Thursday and would be effective each night from 5:30 p.m. until midnight.

It’s not clear how such a ban would be enforced.

The eight-day holiday begins on Thursday night.

Netanyahu, Edelstein to make press statement on vaccines

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein will hold their second press conference of the day at 8:15 p.m. with remarks on the coronavirus vaccination drive.

Polls predict Sa’ar’s party would be second largest, after Likud

Television polls predict a good showing for Gideon Sa’ar’s new party, chipping away at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support.

Surveys by Channel 12 and Kan signal that centrist and right-wing parties could form a coalition without Netanyahu.

A poll conducted by the Kan public broadcaster gives Sa’ar’s newly formed New Hope 18 seats, making it the second-largest party in the Knesset after Likud, which wins 25. Yamina is projected to receive 17 seats; Yesh Atid 15; Joint List 11; Shas 8; Blue and White 7; United Torah Judaism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 6; and Meretz 6.

According to Channel 12, Likud would win 26 seats, followed by Yamina with 18. Sa’ar follows with 16. Yesh Atid would win 15; Joint List 11; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 8; Blue and White 6; Yisrael Beytenu 6; and Meretz 6.

Sa’ar’s support is seen as taking four seats from Likud, four from Blue and White, three from Yamina and two from Yesh Atid.

With the inclusion of former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot and Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton in the party, Sa’ar’s party would win 22 seats, compared to 26 for Likud, according to Channel 12. Should Sa’ar and Yamina join forces, they could beat Likud, with 32 seats compared to 26.

Some 29% of Channel 12 respondents say Netanyahu is best suited to be prime minister, while 16% say Sa’ar is and 13% say Bennett. In the Kan poll, by contrast, 40% say Netanyahu and 32% say Sa’ar.

Edelstein: We’ll vaccinate hundreds of thousands of Israelis in coming weeks

In a live press statement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says that quarantine will be reduced to 10 days, on condition that people receive two negative tests.

Edelstein hails the first vaccine shipments that arrived in Israel today, likening it to the Hanukkah miracle.

“Something that seemed like a dream… that we thought could happen in June, July” is happening now, he says.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis can be vaccinated in the next few weeks, he says.

“Soon, millions of additional vaccines will arrive, from Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and other companies,” he says.

Edelstein says all those who receive the shot will receive a “green passport” allowing them to move around freely.

“The more people get vaccinated, the more the economy can reopen,” he says, urging Israelis to get the shot.

The health minister calls on Israelis not to gather on Hanukkah.

Netanyahu: First vaccines will be administered on December 27

Netanyahu, in a live statement, says: “On the eve of Hanukkah, we’ve brought a great light to Israel,” referring to the first delivery of vaccines.

“It’s not to be taken for granted that Israel, which is… a small country with 9 million citizens should receive the vaccines at the same time as Britain and the leading countries in the world.”

“This is a great achievement for Israel, I am very proud of it,” he says.

“I ask all Israelis to get vaccinated,” says Netanyahu, adding that he’ll do it first.

Netanyahu says the first vaccines will be administered on December 27.

He says Israel will able to vaccinate 60,000 a day.

Netanyahu repeats that those vaccinated will be given privileges, such as access to malls and other sites.

He says the end of the pandemic is in sight.

Netanyahu adds: “It’s possible we will need to tighten some of the restrictions in the coming days.”

Channel 13 poll: Neither Sa’ar nor Netanyahu can form government without each other

A Channel 13 poll gives Likud 28 seats, followed by Yamina and Yesh Atid, with 16 each.

Gideon’s Sa’ar’s party comes in fourth place, with 15 seats.

The Joint List would win 11, while Shas, United Torah Judaism, Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu would each pick up seven. Blue and White would become the smallest party, with just six seats.

Under this scenario, right-wing and centrist parties can’t form a government without Netanyahu, unless they pull away one of his ultra-Orthodox allies or if the left-wing Meretz and right-wing Yamina agree to sit in the same coalition.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, can’t form a right-wing coalition without Sa’ar’s support, coming up three seats short of a majority if he teams up with Yamina and the Haredi parties.

PM on Sa’ar: I’m busy saving Israel, while he saves his political career

During his press conference, Netanyahu also lashes out at his new rival Gideon Sa’ar, who quit Likud to form a new party and challenge him for the premiership.

“He lost by a huge margin,” says Netanyahu, referring to a Likud leadership contest between the two of them last year, which saw Netanyahu win over 70% of the Likud vote. “A large majority of Likud voters supported me. While I’m busy bringing vaccines and relief to Israel, there are those who are busy saving their political careers.”

Netanyahu also claims internal polls within Likud showed Sa’ar slipping down to the 10th-20th slot in Likud party primaries.

He accuses Sa’ar of abstaining on a preliminary vote earlier today on the so-called “Equality Law” which would undermine the Jewish state law.

Tweets Sa’ar in response: “Netanyahu looks very stressed tonight. But that’s no reason to lie. I did not abstain from voting today. On the contrary: I voted against it.”

Number of active virus cases tops 15,000

The Health Ministry records another 1,028 new virus cases since midnight, bringing the number of active infections in the country to 15,121.

The ministry says 1,729 new cases were reported on Tuesday. Over 70,000 tests were administered yesterday, while 2.5% returned positive.

According to the ministry, there are 316 people in serious condition, 106 of them on ventilators.

The death toll stands at 2,934.

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