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Teenagers in 11th, 12th grades likely to be next group to be vaccinated

Emerging Health Ministry recommendation aims at ensuring winter matriculation exams can go ahead; currently, Israelis over 40 are eligible for shot

A man receives a coronavirus vaccine injection at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on January 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A man receives a coronavirus vaccine injection at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on January 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Show will go on: Netanyahu says arts and culture to resume in 2 weeks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pledging to reopen the arts and culture industry in two weeks’ time, according to Hebrew media reports.

Netanyahu meets with representatives of the battered industry at his office for 1.5 hours, according to Channel 12.

He lays down rules for a reopening in early February, including capping attendance to 75 percent capacity and requiring attendees to show a “green passport” indicating they were vaccinated or have recovered from the virus, or a negative test within 72 hours. In the first stage, the audience will be required to wear masks, according to the network.

Arts and culture venues have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, with most shuttered for the bulk of the year under government orders.

Workers from the culture and art industry protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, on August 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Likud MK Benny Begin, son of late PM, joins New Hope

Former Likud member Benny Begin, the son of the late Likud prime minister Menachem Begin, is joining Gideon Saar’s breakaway New Hope party.

“In recent years, and especially in the last year, we have witnessed a strange and dangerous phenomenon. Nasty, crude attacks are coming – specifically out of the government – against the central governmental institutions in the State of Israel, against our state institutions,” says Begin.

“This phenomenon must be stopped, and the way to stop it is to replace the government. Therefore, I was happy when my friend Gideon decided to take this bold step and establish the New Hope party to bring about a change of government. We have the opportunity to do this in the upcoming elections, and everyone has a duty to play their part and bring about a change of government in Israel.”

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar (left) welcomes Benny Begin to his party, January 21, 2021 (Courtesy)

Israel vaccinating foreign journalists 40 and over

Israel’s Government Press Office offers the coronavirus vaccine to foreign journalists 40 and up stationed in the country, free of charge and with no insurance requirements.

A notice is sent out to journalists lowering the age limit, after previously offering the shot to those 50+.

Dubai halts live entertainment as virus cases surge

Dubai’s tourism department announces an immediate halt to all live entertainment at hotels and restaurants, a day after suspending non-urgent surgeries at hospitals to deal with an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Both decisions come after months of Dubai promoting itself as the ideal pandemic-friendly vacation spot while coronavirus infections skyrocketed. Now, the sheikhdom is showing signs of strain.

Even as cases surged to previously unseen heights in the United Arab Emirates, the city-state of Dubai had been a glimmering desert oasis for tourists fleeing tough lockdowns elsewhere, including thousands from Israel. Since reopening in the spring, the commercial hub has resisted more restrictions that would pummel its economy, built largely on aviation, hospitality and retail.

Despite the ubiquitous masks outdoors, a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy has prevailed in the city. Bands, dancers and DJs had been performing in bars and clubs for socially-distanced crowds. Hotel occupancy rates surged over 70% in December, nearing 2019 holiday levels. The city’s airport welcomed over 70,000 travelers for New Year’s weekend alone.

Times of Israel contributed to this report.

Travelers returning from Dubai turn violent at Jerusalem quarantine hotel

A number of people quarantined at a Jerusalem hotel after returning from abroad turn violent and destroy property, apparently after there was no official available to exempt them from the requirement to stay in a state-run facility.

The passengers arrived in the middle of the night and were said to be angered by the lack of representatives from the Health Ministry who could consider their requests to be exempted from the requirement to spend their quarantine period in a state-run facility, and instead isolate at home.

According to the Ynet news site, the travelers had been told at the airport that a Health Ministry official would meet them at the Dan Panorama hotel in Jerusalem, but there was nobody there and the men reportedly became angered.

In footage from the scene, one man overturns a table while another breaks the partition set up to protect workers from potential virus transmission.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, the men had recently returned from Dubai.

Delay in Pfizer vaccine shipments frustrates Europe, Canada

Frustration is mounting from Europe to North America over reduced shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine while the US pharmaceutical company increases production capacity at its Belgian plant. Governments say it is costing critical time during the early stages of the rollout to care homes and hospital personnel.

Italy has threatened legal action. The leader of Canada’s most populous province said Pfizer’s chief executive should be chased “with a firecracker.” A top European Union official icily invoked the principle of “pacta sunt servanda,” a Latin phrase meaning “agreements must be kept.”

The EU and many nations are under pressure for what is seen as the slow start to their vaccination campaigns compared to countries like Israel and the United Kingdom. Pfizer compounded the problem last Friday when it announced a temporary reduction in deliveries so it could upscale its Puurs, Belgium plant, which supplies all shots delivered outside the United States.

The delay, which the pharma giant said would last for a few weeks, affects not only the number of people who can get inoculated during that period but also throws off the careful choreography that governments mapped out to get elderly residents and caregivers the required two doses within a strict timetable of several weeks.

A woman receives her second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from an army medic, left, at a vaccination center set up on a mall parking lot in Givataim, central Israel, during a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, January 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

“It means huge complications for us,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis says. Similar complaints could be heard in several other EU nations, from Denmark to Belgium.

“Indeed,” adds European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, “we were all surprised by the announcement of Pfizer-BioNTech to have a delay.”

The EU now expects Pfizer to deliver across the 27-nation bloc 92% of what was expected over this week and the next one. The missing 8% is expected to be recovered during the week of February 15

Von der Leyen says the immediate challenge would be securing enough doses to make sure people who already had their first shot of Pfizer vaccine received their second within the recommended interval.

Iran’s top diplomat mocks Netanyahu’s ‘boot-licking’ of US

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif mocks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to persuade the United States to confront the Islamic Republic as “boot-licking” and “cringe-worthy obsequiousness.”

“From terrorist bombings in Baghdad to Netanyahu’s boot-licking—albeit a new boot—all have but one objective: trap another POTUS into spending US blood & treasure to ‘confront’ Iran. The cringe-worthy obsequiousness notwithstanding, desperate plotting against Iran will fail again,” Zarif tweets.

Government allows soccer, basketball premier leagues to resume games

The Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry say Israel’s premier leagues in soccer and basketball can resume games, if health rules are observed.

In addition, training sites for professional athletes, including swimming pools, are allowed to reopen.

The new rules come into effect in 24 hours.

The Israeli Premier League match between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on February 17, 2020. (Flash90)

Police in East Jerusalem open fire on car that ran through roadblock

Police say officers opened fire at a car that drove through a roadblock without stopping in the a-Tur neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“A car arrived at a police checkpoint in the a-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem and did not respond to calls by officers to halt and continued driving. The officers who felt under threat opened fire at the fleeing car,” police say.

The police add that officers are searching the area for the vehicle.

There is no immediate indication that the incident was terror-related.

IDF arrests 4 settlers over attempt to break into West Bank army base

Soldiers arrest four Israeli settlers in the northern West Bank after two of them attempted to break into a military base on Thursday afternoon, the Israel Defense Forces says.

According to the military, two suspects were spotted climbing the fence into the Samaria Regional Brigade’s headquarters near Nablus. When soldiers were dispatched to arrest them, the pair fled the scene, with the IDF troops giving chase.

The two suspected infiltrators were caught and arrested, along with two other settlers who were found nearby and were suspected of being part of the same group.

The IDF says all four have been handed over to police for investigation.

The highly irregular incident came amid growing unrest in the West Bank, with young nationalist Israelis — referred to as hilltop youth for the hilltops on which they often set up illegal outposts — clashing regularly with Israeli security forces and attacking Palestinians in recent weeks.

Amid budget fight, 6 hospitals tell ambulances to redirect patients from Sunday

Six hospitals have informed the Magen David Adom emergency service that they won’t admit patients from its ambulances from Sunday, amid an ongoing budget fight with the Finance Ministry.

The hospitals are demanding more funding from the state, citing the pandemic and a general lack of manpower.

The hospitals are: Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek, Netanya’s Laniado, Bnei Brak’s Maayanei Hayeshua and three hospitals in Nazareth.

Amazon offers to help distribute vaccines in US

Amazon is offering its colossal operations network and advanced technologies to assist US President Joe Biden in his vow to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations to Americans in his first 100 days in office.

“We are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination efforts,” writes the CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer division, Dave Clark, in a letter to Biden. “Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against COVID-19, and we stand ready to assist you in this effort.”

Amazon said that it has already arranged a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to give vaccines on-site at its facilities for its employees when they become available.

Amazon has more than 800,000 employees in the United States, Clark wrote, most of them essential workers who cannot work from home and should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Biden will sign 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday, his second day in office, but the administration says efforts to supercharge the rollout of vaccines have been hampered by lack of cooperation from the Trump administration during the transition. They say they don’t have a complete understanding of the previous administration’s actions on vaccine distribution.

Death toll in Baghdad suicide bombings rises to 32

The toll from a twin suicide attack in Baghdad on Thursday has risen to 32 dead and 110 wounded, Iraq’s health ministry reports, the deadliest attack in three years.

The ministry says those who lost their lives had died at the scene of the attack, and that most of the wounded had been treated in hospitals and released.

A picture shows the scene of a twin suicide bombing on a bustling commercial street in the heart of Baghdad on January 21, 2021. (Sabah ARAR / AFP)

Austria presents national strategy against anti-Semitism

The Austrian government presents a national strategy on fighting rising anti-Semitism that includes improving the protection of synagogues, improved education about Judaism and stricter prosecution of hate crimes against Jews.

The Alpine country’s Europe Minister, Karoline Edtstadler, stresses Austria’s responsibility to fight anti-Semitism regardless of whether it comes from the far right, leftists, immigrants or anybody else, Austrian news agency APA reports.

The new measures intend to battle anti-Semitism in all its forms and wherever it expresses itself — from online chat groups to hate speech in corner bars or expressions of hatred against Jews at public protests such as the current rallies against coronavirus regulations, Edtstadler says.

The president of the Jewish community of Vienna, Oskar Deutsch, welcomes the government’s initiative.

“Jews are always the first ones who are affected” by discrimination, Deutsch warns, adding that the fight against anti-Semitism needs to be an effort by the whole of society, not just the Jewish community.

In 2019, Austria recorded 550 anti-Semitic incidents, Edtstadler says.

“That is twice as much as five years ago,” she adds.

A military police officer guards at the crime scene near a synagogue in Vienna, Austria, November 4, 2020. Several shots were fired shortly after 8 p.m. local time on November 2, in a lively street in the city center of Vienna. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Woman, 70, accidentally given 5 vaccine doses

A 70-year-old woman has accidentally received five doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, according to Channel 12. A man in his forties also received a double dose in error, the report says. Both were clients of the Clalit health provider.

According to the network, three cases of vaccine overdosing have been recorded by the Maccabi provider, while the Leumit and Meuhedet HMOs say there have been no such mistakes during their respective vaccine drives.

None of the Israelis who received extra vaccine doses in error have shown any medical reactions to the mistake.

An Israeli man receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center operated by the Tel Aviv Municipality with Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, January 19, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel’s energy minister cheers Biden’s return to Paris climate deal

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz applauds US President Joe Biden for reentering the Paris climate accords as one of his first acts in office.

“The fight against climate change requires us all to not make populist statements, but rather reach our targets on the ground,” tweets Steinitz, hailing Israel for meeting its targets on power plants and energy in the past five years that it committed to under the international deal.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Biden resumes WHO funding, launches $1.9 trillion virus plan

The United States says it will resume its funding of the UN’s health agency as President Joe Biden shifts towards greater international cooperation in the fight against COVID-19, while also launching a $1.9 trillion plan to tackle the pandemic at home.

On his first day in the job, Biden dispatches his top expert Anthony Fauci to Switzerland and confirms he has reversed the decision of former president Donald Trump to quit the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Under trying circumstances, this organization has rallied the scientific and research and development community to accelerate vaccines, therapies and diagnostics,” Fauci tells a WHO meeting in Geneva, confirming that the US would continue to pay its dues to the organization.

Biden was a fierce critic of Trump’s approach to tackling the virus in the US, which with more than 400,000 dead is the world’s worst-hit nation.

US President Joe Biden delivers his inauguration speech on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

The new president is seeking to vaccinate 100 million people in the next 100 days, increase the use of masks and testing, expand the public health workforce and offer more emergency relief to those struggling with the restrictions.

“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy,” says Jeff Zients, coordinator of the new COVID-19 task force. “As president Biden steps into office today, that all changes.”

Biden’s administration unveils a detailed COVID-19 roadmap Thursday to boost vaccinations and testing while centering scientific expertise, after the new US president warned during his inaugural speech the pandemic was entering its “deadliest period.”

Officials say Biden will immediately sign 10 executive orders and other directives to jumpstart the national strategy.

The plan has organized goals like restoring the trust of the American people, boosting the vaccination campaign, and mitigating viral spread through aggressive masking and testing, while expanding the public health workforce.

It also seeks to expand emergency relief; safely reopen schools, businesses and travel; protect the most vulnerable and advance racial equity; and restore US global leadership with future pandemic preparedness.

The administration is seeking $1.9 trillion from Congress for its plans, which includes $20 billion for vaccines and $50 billion for testing.

Israel, Morocco sign deal to start direct flights

Israel and Morocco have signed an agreement to start direct flights between the countries, following the normalization agreement reached last month, according to Hebrew reports.

Finance minister on director who quit: I hired her twice despite maternity leave

Finance Minister Israel Katz, in an interview with the Ynet news site, issues scathing criticism of his former director-general of the ministry, claiming she was “irrelevant” in the treasury and implying she should be grateful for being hired while raising a family.

Former Finance Ministry director-general Keren Terner Eyal resigned in October amid disagreements over the handling of the economic aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. In comments this week, she said “red lines” were crossed at the ministry, “and things we never thought would happen, happened.”

A former director-general of the Transportation Ministry — which was headed by Katz in the previous government — Terner Eyal was appointed director-general of the Finance Ministry when Katz took over in May. But the relationship between the two quickly soured.

Keren Terner Eyal, then-director general of the Transportation Ministry, attends a hearing at the Knesset, on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Katz says: “It’s very unfortunate that after everything Terner Eyal received — those opportunities, which matched her capabilities — from me as transportation minister, she should come now and join that chorus of [condemnation]. Her loss is greater than mine.”

Katz says he sought to mentor her through the position after her stint at the helm of the Transportation Ministry, “but it emerged that in the Finance Ministry, this reality was impossible. It’s a highly intensive position, and because of my need to make decisions as minister, who is involved in the smallest of details, I would say she became irrelevant. Sometimes it created some embarrassment in the discussions.”

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

“I gave her opportunities from a young age because I believed that it’s appropriate to advance those who have talents, and she is also a woman. Twice I took her on for roles while she was on maternity leave. You must understand that this is my worldview — I cannot accept that raising a family will delay women from having a senior career,” he says.

Defense minister decides to remove Army Radio from the military

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has decided at long last to remove Army Radio from the military and his ministry’s purview once and for all, a move that has long been expected but has been delayed over concerns regarding its still unknown practical ramifications.

“An inter-agency team will be formed, led by Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel, which will lead the process and develop a proposal for how to transfer the station or shut it,” Gantz’s office says in a statement.

The military’s running and funding a radio station with journalists responsible for investigating the IDF itself and the government has long been considered anachronistic and an ethical minefield. The decision to finally jettison Army Radio from the army comes after a request from IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi to do so last summer.

Illustrative image of radio broadcasters at the Army Radio headquarters in Jaffa, on March 27, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)

“Defense Minister Benny Gantz decided — on the recommendation of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi — to speed up the process with the goal of removing Army Radio from the defense establishment,” Gantz’s office says.

Eshel’s team will include representatives from the Defense Ministry, IDF, Justice Ministry and Communications Ministry.

Over the course of several weeks, the committee will put together a proposal to either turn Army Radio into a civilian station or to close it completely, according to the Defense Ministry. In a statement, Gantz indicates he would prefer the former option.

“I appreciate Army Radio and its contribution to Israeli journalism and to the variety of opinions and voices in the media, and it would be right to find another outlet for its continued operation,” the defense minister says.

“The decision… was an ethical matter, not a budgetary one. A free press in Israel is important above all else, and I will continue to defend it and ensure its independence, but having a military radio station in the IDF is not reasonable at this time. I have determined that people in uniform should not deal with politics in any position,” Gantz says in a statement.

Virus czar says vaccines may be available to all ages from next week

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash says the coronavirus vaccine may be opened to all age groups as soon as next week.

“The next stage is opening it up to all, there is no longer any point in this age priority listing,” he tells Army Radio. “There is a possibility that it will be next week. We will have a meeting and decide.”

Over 2.3 million Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine, and nearly 700,000 have received both shots.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Herzliya, December 20, 2020 (Flash90)

Top health official: Use surgical masks, not cloth ones

Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto is recommending that Israelis discard cloth masks in favor of surgical ones, Channel 12 reports.

The recommendation is updated in light of the British coronavirus variant, which is believed to be more infectious, though not more deadly.

Israelis, wearing protective masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shop in the central market of Israel’s coastal city of Netanya on December 27, 2020, ahead of a third lockdown (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Earthquake off Cyprus coast felt in northern Israel

A 4.3-magnitude earthquake strikes off the coast of Cyprus and is felt in northern Israel, according to the Energy Ministry.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

 

US woman accused of helping steal Pelosi laptop freed from jail

A Pennsylvania woman facing charges that she helped steal a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the US Capitol will be released from jail, a federal judge decides.

US Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson releases Riley June Williams into the custody of her mother, with travel restrictions, and instructed her to appear Monday in federal court in Washington to continue her case. Williams, 22, of Harrisburg, is accused of theft, obstruction and trespassing, as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

Riley June Williams (FBI)

During the hearing, Carlson says the “gravity of these offenses is great, it cannot be overstated.” But, he notes Williams has no prior criminal record.

The FBI says an unidentified former romantic partner of Williams tipped them off that she appeared in video from the January 6 rioting and the tipster claimed she had hoped to sell the computer to Russian intelligence.

Video from the riot shows a woman matching Williams’ description exhorting invaders to go “upstairs, upstairs, upstairs” during the attack, which briefly disrupted certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

Williams’ attorney, federal public defender Lori Ulrich, declined comment on the case. Williams surrendered to face charges on Monday and has been locked up in the county jail in Harrisburg.

American Airlines announces daily New York-Tel Aviv route from May

American Airlines announces a new New York-Tel Aviv daily route, beginning on May 6.

The first tickets will go on sale January 25, the airline says.

Illustrative: American Airlines aircraft parked at their gates at Miami International Airport in Miami, April 24, 2019. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Health Ministry chides hospitals over threat to deny care amid budget fight

Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy chides six public hospitals for their threat to refuse to accept patients from Sunday until a budgetary dispute is resolved.

“We cannot accept a situation in which patients are used as bargaining chips,” Levy writes to the hospitals.

“The public hospitals are obligated to receive patients who arrive at their doors. Therefore, I do not accept the statement in your letter on the refusal to admit patients from Sunday,” adds Levy.

The hospitals are demanding the state increase their budgets, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Prison guards wearing protective clothing as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, seen as they transport a prisoner suspected of having the coronavirus at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on March 30, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Lockdown likely won’t be extended beyond Jan. 31 — virus czar

Israel’s coronavirus czar predicts health officials won’t request another extension of the nationwide lockdown beyond its January 31 end date.

“I very much hope the trend continues and we won’t have to extend the lockdown,” Nachman Ash tells Channel 12, as the virus transmission rates dropped for the first time since October.

Jerusalemites wearing a face mask walk in downtown Jerusalem on January 21, 2021, during the 3rd lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

South African cabinet minister dies of COVID-19

Jackson Mthembu, a central figure in communicating the South African government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, died of complications from the coronavirus, the president announces. He was 62.

Mthembu is the first member of South Africa’s cabinet to succumb to COVID-19 after he tested positive for the coronavirus on January 11.

“Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy,” President Cyril Ramaphosa says. “He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss.”

Mthembu’s death comes as South Africa battles a second coronavirus wave that is driven by a new variant of the virus that is about 50% more infectious, according to health experts.

Mthembu was appointed the spokesman for South Africa’s governing African National Congress party in 2007 and became a member of parliament a few years later.

He was the Minister in the Presidency, responsible for communicating cabinet decisions and since the outbreak of COVID-19 has been coordinating the government’s key messages on the virus.

“We have lost a remarkable person for the ANC, he has come a long way from being a student in the 70s to becoming a leader in the ANC,” says ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte.

“He was the face of the government in the last few months communicating to the country on COVID-19,” she says. “I would say he died with his boots on.”

Tributes for Mthembu have been pouring in from across the country’s political divide.

“Jackson Mthembu was a rare exception amongst ministers as he valued accountability dearly and never shied away from difficult questions,” says former opposition party Democratic Alliance spokesman Solly Malatsi. “He had an impeccable knack for banter that could defrost the most tense moments between political opponents.”

Israeli envoy welcomes Biden’s reentry into climate accords

Israel’s Ambassador to the US and United Nations Gilad Erdan welcomes US President Joe Biden’s decision to reenter the Paris climate accord.

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our planet and we must all fight this together,” says Erdan.

US drugmaker says antibody drug could prevent COVID-19

Drugmaker Eli Lilly says its COVID-19 antibody drug helped prevent illness among residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care locations.

It’s the first major study to show an antibody medication may prevent disease. The drugmaker says residents and staff who got the drug had up to a 57% lower risk of getting COVID-19. Among nursing home residents only, there was up to an 80% reduction in risk.

US regulators last year allowed emergency use of the antibody treatment for mild or moderate COVID-19 cases that don’t require hospitalization. It’s a one-time dose given through an IV.

The study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health, involved more than 1,000 residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care locations.

In the US, those residents account for less than 1% of the population, but nearly 40% of deaths from COVID-19. The U.S. leads the world with more than 406,000 deaths.

Court rejects Likud minister’s request to access evidence in Case 4000

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court rejects a request from Likud minister Amir Ohana to access evidence in Case 4000, the case in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Ohana had requested access to the files to bolster his defense in a lawsuit by a state’s witness.

Nir Hefetz, a former aide and confidant to Netanyahu who turned state’s witness, has filed a civil lawsuit against former justice minister Ohana for defying a gag order to publicly detail alleged misconduct by police during his interrogation.

In 2019, at the Knesset, Ohana railed against what he said was police misconduct in leaning on Hefetz to testify against Netanyahu in three corruption cases, revealing details of alleged illegitimate pressure tactics used by investigators that had been sealed by the court, supposedly to protect Hefetz’s privacy.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (FLASH90)

Ohana, who has parliamentary immunity, described how investigators called in a woman who was not directly connected to Case 4000 for questioning, asked her “invasive and intrusive” questions about her relationship with Hefetz, then engineered an “accidental” meeting between the woman and Hefetz in the hallway to pressure him. After the two met, investigators allegedly told Hefetz, according to Ohana, that “we know everything and will drop a bomb on your family.”

Ohana used the Hefetz investigation to assert that the justice system was acting with malicious intent against Netanyahu, accusing it of “protecting criminals” and allowing “rot to take over.”

Nir Hefetz, then-editor in chief of the Maariv newspaper, attends an Economic Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, September 27, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Hefetz is a key witness in Case 4000, which involves suspicions the premier pushed regulations benefiting Bezeq-controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Israel to airlift diplomats from abroad to get vaccinated — report

Israel will airlift its diplomats from abroad to get the coronavirus vaccine, the Israel Hayom daily reports.

According to the report, the first flight will depart next week for Ethiopia to bring Israel’s diplomatic staff in Africa to the Jewish state for the shots.

Channel 12, however, says that Israel is vaccinating foreign diplomatic staff in Israel, in the hopes countries will repay the gesture and inoculate Israeli diplomats when the vaccines become available around the world. The move has angered Israeli diplomats, the report says.

Second AI ethics researcher suspended at Google

Google has suspended an artificial intelligence ethics researcher weeks after dismissing another member of the team, a recently formed union says.

The Alphabet Workers Union, which was created by employees of Google’s parent firm, says in a statement this week it was “concerned by the suspension of the corporate access of Margaret Mitchell,” a union member and lead researcher.

“This suspension comes on the heels of Google’s firing of former co-lead Timnit Gebru; together these are an attack on the people who are trying to make Google’s technology more ethical,” the union says in a statement.

Google faced criticism last month after Gebru was forced out, after she claimed she had been ordered to retract a research paper.

The tech giant does not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment. In a statement to Axios, Google said Mitchell’s email account had been locked pending an internal probe into her downloading of a large number of files and sharing them with people outside the company.

Last month, more than 1,400 Google employees were among the nearly 3,300 names on an online letter calling on the tech giant to explain Gebru’s dismissal along with the reason for ordering her to withdraw her research.

The letter demanded Google make an “unequivocal” commitment to research integrity and academic freedom.

Health Ministry expected to recommend expanding vaccine drive to teens 16-18

A Health Ministry committee is expected to recommend the coronavirus vaccine next be offered to teenagers aged 16 to 18, to enable the winter bagrut matriculation exams to go ahead, according to Hebrew media reports.

The committee is meeting to discuss how to expand the inoculation drive.

Earlier, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash indicated the ministry could open it up to all age groups as early as next week.

Currently, Israelis under 40 are eligible for the shot, with some health providers scheduling appointments to those over 35.

Biden’s first call to foreign leader will be to Canada’s Trudeau

US President Joe Biden’s first call to a foreign leader will be to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki says — with the fate of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on the agenda.

“His first foreign leader call will be on Friday with Prime Minister Trudeau,” Psaki tells reporters at her first White House briefing.

She says they would discuss their “important relationship,” and the Biden administration’s decision to halt further construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the United States.

Trudeau says he was “disappointed” by the move, which came shortly after Biden took office.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic outside his residence in Ottawa, May 19, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

“While we welcome the president’s commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed but acknowledge the President’s decision to fulfill his election campaign promise on Keystone XL,” Trudeau says in a statement.

“I look forward to working with President Biden to reduce pollution, combat climate change, fight COVID-19, create middle class jobs, and build back better by supporting a sustainable economic recovery for everyone.”

Another 4,914 virus cases diagnosed since midnight; 800,000 fully vaccinated

The Health Ministry says another 4,914 virus cases have been diagnosed since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 81,276.

The ministry says 1,156 people are in serious condition, including 315 on ventilators.

The death toll climbs to 4,232.

According to ministry figures, another 105,000 people have received the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since midnight. There are now over 800,000 fully vaccinated individuals in the country. Over 2.4 million have received the first vaccine dose, with another 37,068 since midnight.

Netanyahu’s office deletes photo of meeting with 11 people against lockdown rules

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office deletes a tweet with a photo of the premier’s meeting with representatives of the arts and culture industry, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

That’s because the meeting was apparently held against the lockdown rules, with 11 people sitting around the table. Currently, gatherings of just five people are permitted indoors.

US official: Biden proposing 5-year extension of nuke treaty with Russia

The Biden administration is proposing to Russia a five-year extension of the New START treaty limiting the number of US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons, US officials say.

The proposal was being communicated to Russian officials, says one official, who speaks on condition of anonymity to discuss a matter not yet publicly announced by the administration. A second US official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirms the proposal but offers no details.

The proposal was reported first by The Washington Post.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan plans to convey the extension proposal to Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, on Thursday afternoon, the official says.

The treaty is set to expire February 5 and is the last remaining agreement constraining US and Russian nuclear weapons. Signed in 2010 by US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads.

Former US president Donald Trump had been highly critical of the deal, asserting that it put the United States at a disadvantage. His administration waited until last year to engage Russia in substantive talks on the treaty’s future. Trump insisted that China be added to the treaty, but Beijing rejected the idea out of hand.

Biden, who indicated during the campaign that he favored extending New START, is not proposing any alterations, the US official said. Thus it appeared likely that Moscow would be amenable to an extension.

Top health official: British coronavirus variant putting pregnant women at greater risk

The Health Ministry’s head of public health services, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, warns more pregnant women are being infected with the British coronavirus variant and are at greater risk of developing serious symptoms.

“There is a different kind of contagion. I’ll just mention the [issue of the British variant] and pregnant women. The rates [of contagion among pregnant women] are much higher than they were. That’s why we changed our recommendation [and said that pregnant women should get vaccinated],” she tells Channel 12.

“And that’s why we’re also asking for samples from all hospitals where there are pregnant women in serious and critical condition [with COVID] in order to track this. In the five such cases where we were able to check to date, they were [infected with] the British variant. There is a certain change in the nature of the pandemic.”

She warns that pregnant women are at high risk because of the variant.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis. (Courtesy)

Alroy-Preis says the British variant is also fueling high infection rates among the ultra-Orthodox.

“There is very high contagion in the ultra-Orthodox community. Part of this is from the British variant… It began there more, and now it is spreading. It started there… And it’s much more contagious”

Alroy-Preis says the prime minister’s pledge to reopen cultural venues and live entertainment in two weeks was not coordinated with her, but may have been discussed with other health officials.

The senior health official also addresses the possibility that Israel’s March 23 election will be held amid high infection rates around the country.

Asked whether the vote could be held under such conditions, she says: “It depends on how you organize them.”

If people could vote from home, or online, “that would be better” for public health, she says. “If we’re in a situation where we have thousands of confirmed cases [a day] and they have to let them go out, that will be very challenging.

2 injured, 1 seriously, in car blast in Lod

Two people have been injured as a car explodes in the central city of Lod.

One person is in serious condition, reports say.

The motive is not immediately clear. The city sees occasional gangland violence.

Ultra-Orthodox group attacks police car in Bnei Brak

A group of Hasidim surround a police car in the central city of Bnei Brak and pelt the vehicle with stones, injuring an officer, according to Hebrew media reports.

A large number of forces are being sent to the area to extract the police officers from the car.

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