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Health Ministry announces 3 new coronavirus cases, bringing total number to 61

All three individuals returned recently from trips abroad, with two of the men in their 60s and another 29-years-old; one of them violated quarantine order for 3 days

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

The front seats of a Jerusalem public bus are blocked off on March 10, 2020, as part of preventive measures amid fears over the spread of a new coronavirus.  (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
The front seats of a Jerusalem public bus are blocked off on March 10, 2020, as part of preventive measures amid fears over the spread of a new coronavirus. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

Netanyahu trial to start next week after court rejects PM’s request for delay

The Jerusalem District Court has rejected a request to delay the start of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial and the first session will go ahead as planned next Tuesday.

Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman has also ruled that Netanyahu is required to be present at the court on March 17 when proceedings will begin in the cases against him.

The prime minister faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two cases, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in a third.

Netanyahu’s attorneys had asked for the delay after saying they did not have all of the files for the cases.

Eight new cases of virus recorded since yesterday, bringing total in Israel to 58

Eight new cases of coronavirus have been recorded since yesterday, bringing the total in Israel to 58.

The latest patients either arrived recently from abroad or were in contact with those who had contracted the virus.


Man arrested after attempting to stab officers outside Old City, police say

Border Police officers arrest a man who attempted to stab them outside Jerusalem’s Old City, police say.

According to police, the suspect took out a knife and attempted to attack the officers stationed at a police post near the Damascus Gate.

The officers wrestled the man to the floor and arrested him. No injuries are reported.

— Judah Ari Gross

Source: PA forces nab 3 Palestinians for spreading rumors about coronavirus

The Palestinian Authority security forces have arrested Palestinians who were involved in spreading rumors about coronavirus infections in Bethlehem by way of a WhatsApp voice recording, a PA security source says.

The PA Preventative Security collared Muataz Salim of Dar Salah, a village of east of Bethlehem, after he created the voice recording, in which he feigned being a PA Health Ministry official and spoke about infections in Bethlehem, the security source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, says in a phone call, without elaborating further on the contents of the audio.

The PA General Intelligence Services also nabbed two Palestinians in Hebron, who received the recording from Salim and sent it to others, the source adds.

— Adam Rasgon

Ben Gurion train off-limits for arrivals starting tomorrow

Arriving passengers will not be allowed to use the train station at Ben Gurion Airport beginning tomorrow, Israel Railways announces.

The station will still be available for use by badged airport workers as well as Israelis traveling within the country who will be required to show their plane ticket before being allowed into the station.

5th AIPAC attendee said to have contracted coronavirus

A 5th attendee of the AIPAC conference last week has contracted coronavirus, the Haaretz daily reports.

The individual is a member of the Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto, which subsequently announced that it was temporarily shuttering in order to have the building sanitized.

The synagogue says the man’s condition is improving after he experienced flu-like symptoms.

Trump discussed energy markets with Saudi crown prince, White House says

US President Donald Trump discussed “global energy markets” with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the White House says, after a deep plunge in oil prices shook markets worldwide.

The White House statement says Trump spoke with the crown prince on Monday but gave few details on the substance of their discussions,

“The president and the crown prince discussed global energy markets and other critical regional and bilateral issues,” it says.


Putin says court to have final say on if he can run again

Russian President Vladimir Putin says a proposed amendment allowing him to run for president after 2024 would be possible if the Constitutional Court allows it.

Putin made the suggestion in parliament after majority party deputy Valentina Tereshkova suggested a constitutional amendment that would effectively reset Putin’s presidential run, allowing him to stand in a new election.

“This would be possible… if the constitutional court rules such an amendment would not go against (the constitution),” Putin tells lawmakers.

Tereshkova’s suggestion to let Putin run again due to his “massive authority” came as a surprise but was swiftly approved.

The Russian president is currently serving his fourth and final term which would end in 2024.

He announced sweeping reforms in January during a state of the nation address, saying the constitution needs to be updated.

Critics immediately saw the drive for constitutional amendments as a move by Putin to stay in power beyond 2024, though the leader has repeatedly denied he is seeking to remain president.

Putin says he would be against completely lifting the two-term limit for any Russian citizen to remain in the Kremlin.


Israelis who caught virus on cruiseship released from Japanese hospital

The first two Israelis to have contracted the coronavirus, Oded and Rochale Ofarim have been released from a Tokyo medical center where they had been hospitalized since last month when they got sick on the Princess Diamond cruise ship.

According to the Health Ministry’s new guidelines however, they will apparently be required to quarantine themselves for two weeks when they land in Israel tomorrow.

Health Ministry weighs tightening limit on public gatherings from 5K to 2K

The Health Ministry is currently weighing tightening the limit it has placed on public gatherings from 5,000 to 2,000, Army Radio reports.

New research finds coronavirus symptoms take five days to appear

New research finds that coronavirus symptoms take an average of five days to develop in those who have contracted the disease.

The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,

The research also finds that if an individual has not gotten sick 12 days after making contact with someone who has the virus, it is safe to assume that he or she did not contract it.

The study therefore concludes that the 14-day quarantine rule being broadly instituted in Israel is a wise tactic.

Israel to shutter Allenby crossing between West Bank and Jordan

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, announces that the Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan will be closed to “all traffic in both directions” starting on Tuesday “due to [the] increase in the spread of coronavirus in the region.”

It says that Allenby will remain shuttered until further notice.

COGAT, however, clarifies that “local residents,” an apparent reference to Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem who are currently in Jordan, can return to their homes, if they coordinate with authorities.

The Defense Ministry body also says that Jordanians in “the area,” an apparent reference to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, can go back to Jordan, if they make arrangements with authorities.

— Adam Rasgon

Newtown gun control group endorses Joe Biden

Joe Biden has received his third endorsement from a major national gun control group in as many days, this time from the Newtown Action Alliance.

The group was founded after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which killed 26 people, including 20 children. Biden also received the support of Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign in recent days.

Newtown Action Alliance chairwoman Po Murray says in a statement Biden’s “support for gun violence prevention has never wavered.” The group notes the former vice president was appointed by president Barack Obama to lead a gun control task force after the 2012 Newtown massacre.

The endorsement is another indication Bernie Sanders’ spotty record on gun control could weigh him down in the Democratic presidential primary. Michigan and five other states are voting Tuesday at a critical point in the race.

Sanders has a D-minus rating from the National Rifle Association. But the Vermont senator has been criticized by opponents and gun control advocates for past opposition to background check legislation and support for shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits over misuse of their guns.

— AP

Blue and White working to form parliamentary committee on coronavirus

The Blue and White party announces that it is working to set up an emergency parliamentary committee that will convene next week to help administer the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Turkish airlines announces cut to 70% of its flights to Israel

Turkish Airlines airlines announces that it is cutting 70% of its flights to Israel against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak.

In addition, Latvia’s Air Baltic announces that it is canceling all of its flights to Israel until June 1.

El Al announces postponement of Chicago direct flight until June 28

El Al Israel Airline announces that it is postponing the rollout of its direct flight to Chicago until June 28 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The airline says it will continue offering other routes from the US to Israel.

The Chicago line had been slated to begin on March 22.

Other routes slated to be unveiled this month have also been postponed: Dusseldorf until July 3 and Tokyo until August 29.

IDF calls up 70 reservists to assist Home Front Command’s coronavirus response team

The Israel Defense Forces has called up some 70 reservists from its Home Front Command who will assist in the creation of instructional materials regarding the coronavirus, the military says.

The IDF has also rolled out a series of harsher restrictions on soldiers in a bid to curb the spread of the disease within the military.

Handshaking has been forbidden, as have indoor gatherings of more than 120 people, unless permission has been given by a commanding officer.

Barracks and common areas that have been used by someone found to have contracted the disease must be completely disinfected before they can be used. If this is not possible for some reason, the room must be sealed off for 14 days.

Civilian visitors are barred from all IDF bases, including representatives from charity organizations and donors to military causes.

Civilian contractors and vendors are still permitted on military bases, but they must first fill out a statement confirming that they haven’t been abroad in the past 14 days or been in touch with a person who has contracted the virus.

Military attaches abroad are also banned from taking part in large public events.

Thus far, one IDF soldier has contracted the coronavirus. Some 2,240 soldiers are currently quarantined, most of them due to personal trips abroad. Several hundred have been released from the two-week isolation and returned to their units.

— Judah Ari Gross

Report: Health Ministry tightens limit on public gatherings from 5K to 2K

The Health Ministry has decided to tighten the limit it has placed on public gatherings from 5,000 to 2,000, Army Radio reports.

Welfare Ministry bars visitors from entering nursing homes

The Welfare Ministry announces that visits to nursing homes will be barred indefinitely in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Due to the sensitivity of the elderly population and the need to maintain their health, family visits will only be able to take place outside the nursing homes,” the ministry says.

Coronavirus: Top US universities move classes online

Major American universities — including Harvard, Princeton and Columbia — have been forced to cancel classes because of the coronavirus and move lessons online, affecting tens of thousands of students.

The US government has refrained from imposing an official ban so the often privately run institutions are each grappling with how best to deal with the fast-moving outbreak.

Ahead of the start of spring break at the end of this week, Harvard on Tuesday announced it would transition to having all classes online by Monday, March 23.

The university, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, asked its 36,000 graduate and undergraduate students not to return to campus after the spring recess and to continue studying remotely “until further notice.”

“The goal of these changes is to minimize the need to gather in large groups,” Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said in a statement posted on the university’s website.

Without going quite so far, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), also based in Cambridge, canceled all gatherings likely to attract at least 150 people until May 15.

Classes with 150 or more students will move online, starting this week, it adds.

In New York, Columbia, New York University and Fordham have all announced that they are switching to remote learning.

Princeton University in New Jersey said it would move all lectures and seminars online from March 23 to at least April 5, as it canceled events of more than 100 people.

On the other side of the country, in California, at least five universities, including Berkeley and Stanford, have suspended all or most of their in-person classes.

A spokesperson for the American Council of Education (ACE) says it was “impossible to say” how many schools and students had been affected because “the situation changes all the time.”

ACE president Ted Mitchell tells the Los Angeles Times the coronavirus was “probably the greatest short-term challenge facing higher education in a generation.”


Iran Air says resuming flights to Europe

Iran Air says it will resume flights to Europe, lifting a two-day suspension apparently linked to a ban on the carrier’s planes entering European airspace.

“All flights will be resumed except to Vienna, Stockholm and Gothenburg, which have stopped flights due to the coronavirus outbreak,” it says in a statement.

The national carrier had suspended flights to Europe on Sunday, citing European “restrictions” imposed for “unknown reasons,” without mentioning the novel coronavirus epidemic.

The announcement comes as Iran’s health ministry reported 54 new deaths from COVID-19, the highest toll within 24 hours since the start of the outbreak in the country.

According to several specialized sites, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on February banned some Iran Air aircraft from European airspace.

The ban covered an Airbus A321-200 and two Airbus A330-200 planes that had not undergone necessary software upgrades for authorization to fly in Europe.

The flight resumption announcement comes after talks by the Iran Civil Aviation Organisation and the foreign ministry with European officials, Iran Air’s statement said.

The carrier, whose fleet was hit by US sanctions reimposed after Washington quit a nuclear deal with Iran, operates flights to multiple European destinations including Paris, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Vienna and Rome.

The novel coronavirus outbreak in Iran is one of the deadliest outside of China and has so far killed 291 people and infected more than 8,000.


Hating Jews has become mainstream, warns French writer Sfar

Watching anti-Semitism rise again across Europe, the acclaimed author Joann Sfar doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“When I was growing up in France, hating the Jews was something repugnant; now it’s almost the consensus,” says the French graphic novelist and director of the film “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life.”

“Anti-Semitism has become a way of bringing together people who have nothing else in common but can unite” under that banner, says Sfar with bitter irony.

The writer of the bestselling “The Rabbi’s Cat” books decided to tackle his fears head-on with the oldest Jewish weapon of all — humor — in his new satirical novel.

“The Last European Jew” turns on the elderly Desire Abergel, who has had enough of being a Jew and wants to become an anti-Semite like everybody else.

He even goes as far as asking a cosmetic surgeon to remake his lost foreskin.

The colorful cast of characters includes a female English rabbi who specializes in getting divorces for Hasidic lesbians.

There is also a completely unfunny stand-up comedian called Donnemoidufric — which means ‘give me the cash’ in French — who may or may not be based on Dieudonne, a convicted anti-Semite who has a cult following in France.

“I am terrified of boring my readers,” Sfar tells AFP.

Having given up long ago “the desire to win them over and convince them. I don’t write as an activist, or to change the world,” he adds.

“I love the idea of creating dread and making people laugh at the same time,” admits the polymath, whose father Andre is famous for prosecuting neo-Nazis.


New Health Ministry guidelines urge Israelis against hospital visits

The Health Ministry issues new guidelines aimed at containing the coronavirus outbreak.

As reported earlier, the ministry has tighten the limit on public events from 5,000 people to 2,000 people, while also urging Israelis to reconsider holding any mass gatherings whatsoever.

The ministry urges the public against visits to hospitals or other sites where senior citizens might be. This follows an earlier Welfare Ministry announcement barring visitors from entering nursing homes.

“The Health Ministry recommends that the elderly population, especially those with a history of health problems reduce contact with [members of the general public] as possible while still maintaining their routine,” the ministry says in a statement.

Blue and White ‘cockpit’ meets with Liberman

Blue and White’s leadership meets with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman for what the sides called a “positive and substantive” sit-down.

The top four MKs, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi took a photo with Liberman at the end of the meeting that they disseminated on social media.

Gantz and Liberman met yesterday and the sides said they committed to cooperating in order to prevent a fourth election.

New York governor deploys national guard to New Rochelle

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces that he has deployed the state’s National Guard to New Rochelle, a coronavirus hot spot and also the home to a large Jewish community.

Roughly 1,000 members of the Young Israel synagogue in New Rochelle have already been placed under quarantine after several congregants, including the rabbi contracted the virus.

“This is unique in the United States of America, we haven’t seen this anywhere else. Think about it, New Rochelle has double the cases of New York City, it’s true, it’s a phenomenon,” Cuomo tells reporters at a press conference.

Westchester County, where New Rochelle is located, currently has 108 of the states 173 coronavirus cases, according to CNBC.

Jordan closes seaports with Egypt, bars travelers from neighboring countries

After closing its border crossings with Israel, Jordan announces that it’s also shuttering its seaports to shipping from Egypt and overland passenger traffic from Iraq amid the coronavirus outbreak, Reuters reports.

The Hashemite kingdom has also banned travel to Lebanon and Syria, France, Germany and Spain.

Over 100 flights canceled today at Ben Gurion

Over 100 flights have been canceled today at Ben Gurion Airport, Channel 12 reports.

A typical day sees some 70,000 passengers use the airport. Today, just 22,000 travelers roamed its halls, according to Channel 12.

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Orly Levy-Abekasis vows not to support Joint List-backed gov’t

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Orly Levy-Abekasis says that she will not support a coalition reliant on the outside support of the Arab-majority Joint List or its ultra-nationalist Balad faction, Channel 12 reports.

If she follows up on the promise, it would mark a dagger in Gantz’s chances in forming a minority government.

Health Ministry director: Steps we’re taking are to avoid having to shutter schools

Health Ministry General Director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells Channel 12 that the broad steps the government has been taking against the coronavirus outbreak are in order to prevent having to close schools throughout the country.

“This would be a very radical step that we hope won’t be necessary,” he says.

Asked if he thought the ministry has been exaggerating with the economy on the verge of collapse, Siman-Tov asserts that the lives of the elderly, in particular, are at risk.

“If we hadn’t taken these steps, the impact on the economy would be far worse… look at Italy… a country not far from us… where the outbreak has necessitated the entire country going onto lockdown,” he says.

PM tells Israelis there’s ‘no reason to storm the supermarkets’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges calm in a video statement amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“There’s no reason to storm the supermarkets,” he says amid reports of empty shelves at grocery stores throughout the country.

Netanyahu says that most of Israel’s food supply comes by sea where there are currently no restrictions on transit.

Shin Bet to begin providing security to Benny Gantz

In the backdrop of an increase in threats against Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz, the Shin Bet security service announces that it will begin providing personal protection to the de facto opposition leader.

Only the prime minister, the foreign minister, the defense minister and the Knesset speaker receive such security.

Health Ministry announces 3 new coronavirus cases, with numbers expected to rise

The Health Ministry announces three new coronavirus cases, with Channel 12 reporting that at least seven more will likely be reported by the end of the night.

The three new cases, which brought the total number in Israel to 61, are all of Israelis who recently returned from trips abroad.

The first, a 60-year-old man from southern Israel, who returned from Spain on March 2. The second, a 29-year-old Jerusalem resident who returned from the Czech Republic and Germany on March 9. The third, a man in his 60s from central Israel who returned from the Spanish island of Tenerife on March 4.

Police to use immigration authority statistics to enforce quarantine

Israel Police will begin using statistics from the Population Immigration Border Authority in order to enforce quarantine requirements on Israelis who have returned from abroad, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Vatican closes to tourists — but not the faithful

The Vatican says it is closing Saint Peter’s Square and its main basilica to tourists — but not the faithful — as part of a broader clampdown to curb the coronavirus.

The Holy See said the measures will remain in place until April 3 “to halt the spread of the coronavirus.”

The announcement sparks a wave of confusion because churches are supposed to remain open across Italy as a whole during the country’s month-long ban on public gatherings.

A Vatican source later clarifies to AFP that anyone who expresses a wish to pray at the basilica can still pass through the police barrier and walk onto the main square.

Italy’s new nationwide restrictions on social events and travel are designed to curb the spread of a disease that has killed 631 and infected 10,149 in just over two weeks.


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