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

Trump deploys emergency beds, declaring ‘we’re at war’

US President Donald Trump orders thousands of emergency hospital beds set up at American coronavirus hotspots.

“We’re at war, in a true sense we’re at war,” Trump says as he orders emergency medical stations with 4,000 beds to be deployed to California and other worst-hit areas, including New York and Washington State.

More than a third of Americans are under various forms of lockdown, including in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but the number of infections in the United States has continued to climb.

Highlighting the desperation inside the world’s biggest economy, the mayor of New York says his city is just 10 days away from running out of ventilators.

This comes after a trillion-dollar Senate proposal to revive the US economy crashed after receiving zero support from Democrats, further traumatizing investors who are watching stock markets implode worldwide.


Canada, Australia say they won’t send athletes to July 2020 Olympics

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says postponing the Tokyo Olympics, slated to begin in July, may become “inevitable,” after the International Olympic Committee for the first time admitted delaying the games is a possibility.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Olympic committee says it will not send athletes if they are held this summer.

Australia’s Olympic committee tells athletes to prepare for a northern-hemisphere summer Olympics in 2021.

“It’s clear the Games can’t be held in July,” Australian chef de mission Ian Chesterman says.

— with AFP

Japan to begin quarantining anyone visiting from US

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces that Japan will require a 14-day quarantine to all visitors from the United States, including the Japanese and Americans, effective Thursday and until the end of April.

Abe makes the announcement at a government task force on the coronavirus, citing the escalating COVID-19 infections around the world, especially in the US and Europe in recent weeks.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference in Tokyo on March 14, 2020. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

Japan yesterday raised a travel advisory for the US, urging the Japanese citizens not to make nonessential trips to the US.

He says the US recently took similar measures and urged Americans not to make nonessential trips to Japan, requiring a 14-day quarantine for entrants.

Abe says the current quarantine requirement is in line with measures taken by other countries, including the US, and shows Japan’s commitment to join international effort to stop the further spread of the coronavirus.

He says Japan will continue to launch “flexible border control measures without hesitation” and urges his ministers to keep their caution levels up high.

— AP

Netanyahu to lead 10 a.m. discussion on tightening movement restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lead a meeting at 10 a.m. to discuss further tightening restrictions on movement in Israel, Hebrew-language media reports.

Those invited to the video conference meeting are Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Economy Minister Eli Cohen, Energy minister Yuval Steinitz, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

United Hatzalah president slams ‘vengeful, evil’ health minister Litzman

Eli Beer, the president of Israel’s United Hatzalah ambulance service, who is currently hospitalized in serious condition in Miami after contracting the coronavirus, lambastes Health Minister Yaakov Litzman from his hospital bed.

Health minister Yaakov Litzman speaks during a press conference at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Litzman has refused to allow Hatzalah’s 6,000 volunteers to play any role in assisting the Health Ministry and Magen David Adom (MDA) with conducting virus tests. He recently argued in a Channel 12 interview that Hatzalah staff were “less professional” than MDA staff.

“He is a vengeful person, an evil person,” Beer says in a video message. “I really hope he isn’t health minister in the next government. The man has been fighting United Hatzalah for several years. A bad man without a good heart, who only looks out for his own interests.”

Litzman’s office responds by wishing Beer a speedy recovery and adding that “Magen David Adom is the State of Israel’s national emergency organization, and as such is the only organization authorized to manage emergency situations. If it requires reinforcement it can operate any other body that meets the criteria.

“Attempts to smear the activity of Israel’s emergency apparatus with false statements should be rejected.”

Coronavirus cases in Israel up to 1,238 — Health Ministry

The Health Ministry adds 135 new coronavirus cases to last night’s tally, bringing the total count to 1,238.

The number of serious cases jumped overnight from 18 to 24. Another 34 are in moderate condition, 37 have recovered, and the rest are showing mild symptoms.

Almost 130,000 Israelis have been in home quarantine, with some 75,000 of them still in quarantine today.

The ministry says it has tested 5,268 people for the virus in the last 24 hours.

ATM in Yokne’am pried off and stolen — police

An ATM machine was pried off by a bulldozer this morning at a bank in the northern city of Yokne’am and stolen, police say.

The perpetrators have fled the scene and police are investigating.

Minister says Israel to gradually impose full lockdown

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says Israel is going to gradually impose a full lockdown.

“Hundreds of thousands more people will be told not to go to work,” Erdan tells the Kan public broadcaster.

He adds that the country will be divided by security forces into small operational zones, and that police and army forces will patrol the streets to check if people are outdoors.

“I fear what could happen in a week or two,” Erdan continues. “A week ago I already said we should go for a two-week full lockdown with significantly increased enforcement. The options for leaving home will be reduced.”

Rouhani says US should remove sanctions so Iran can deal with virus

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejects Washington’s offer of humanitarian assistance to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in the Islamic Republic, saying the US should instead lift sanctions designed to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“American leaders are lying,” Rouhani says in a televised speech, according to Reuters. “If they want to help Iran, all they need to do is to lift sanctions… Then we can deal with the coronavirus outbreak.”

Photos from Temple Mount show site (almost) completely empty

Photos tweeted by a reporter for the Kan public broadcaster showing Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the country’s main holy site, empty except for a handful of Islamic Waqf staff.

It comes after Israel and Jordanian authorities made the decision yesterday to close the site to all visitors, whether Muslim or not, to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The site, normally heaving with activity, is the holiest spot in Judaism and the third holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Noble Sanctuary. It is a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hong Kong bans all non-resident arrivals over virus

Hong Kong will ban all non-residents from entering the financial hub from Wednesday, its leader says, as it tries to halt a recent spike in virus infections from people returning from abroad.

“From midnight of March 25, all non-Hong Kong residents flying in from overseas will not be allowed into the city,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam says, adding the order will be in place for at least two weeks.


Netflix to reduce its bit rate in Israel amid surge in traffic

Netflix will lower the quality of its streams in Israel amid a rise of up to 30% in viewer traffic, to ensure its services continue to run smoothly, the Communications Ministry says.

The ministry says the decision to reduce the bit rate comes at the government’s request, and that Netflix has announced similar moves in many EU countries.

The adjustment is to be implemented gradually over the next week.

‘Black flag’ protest against ‘silencing’ of Knesset renews

Anti-government protesters take to the streets for the second time in a week to form a convoy of cars in what they call a “black flag” rally.

The demonstrators — protesting in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines preventing large gatherings with each person staying in their car — are protesting the government’s decision to try and prevent the Knesset from starting to operate.

“Israel deserves a functioning Knesset, a Knesset speaker who acts to facilitate parliamentary oversight of the government’s work, and a prime minister who isn’t dealing with criminal cases,” protest leaders say in a statement. “We are fighting for the foundations of democracy.”

Israel’s unemployment rate reaches 17.6%; 62,000 jobless sign up in 24 hours

The Israeli Employment Service says 572,660 newly jobless Israelis have signed up for its services since the beginning of March, including some 62,000 over the last 24 hours.

Some 90% of them are on unpaid leave.

The country’s unemployment rate, which has more than quadrupled this month, has reached 17.6%.

Daylight saving time won’t be delayed after all — interior minister

After announcing last night that daylight saving time will be delayed to prevent an extra hour of evening daylight and encourage people to stay home, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri says the move won’t be possible after all.

Deri’s office says in a statement that the National Security Council has advised against making the postponement, and that daylight saving time will begin as planned later this week, during the night between March 26 and March 27.

Clocks will move ahead one hour at 2 a.m.

Last night, the Government ICT Authority said the clock change is defined in countless computer servers, and that updating that would take several months.

It added that a situation in which different computers have different times on their clocks could create malfunctions and paralyze entire systems. It could also hurt the preparedness of hospitals and the army.

Netanyahu’s bloc to boycott today’s Knesset discussions — Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party says all the members of the right-wing religious bloc will boycott today’s Knesset session, accusing the rival Blue and White party of “dictatorial, destructive conduct.”

Benny Gantz’s party, with a 61-strong majority that includes the predominantly Arab Joint List, is planning to form the Arrangements Committee and other committees and kick off the 23rd Knesset’s activity despite fierce opposition by the current caretaker government. It is also attempting to force Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to okay a vote on his replacement.

“Blue and White are trampling democracy using a one-person majority, and with the help of the Joint List, including terror supporter Hiba Yazbak,” says Likud, which itself governed several years back with a one-person majority.

“In the history of the State of Israel… there has never been a situation in which the formation of an Arrangements Committee and other committees is brought to a vote without agreement,” it adds.

“In light of their shameful conduct, Likud and the national camp” — a reference to the Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties — “have decided to boycott the plenum discussions and not take part in this despicable process.”

McDonald’s closes its Israel restaurants, will supply hospitals with free food

McDonald’s says it is closing all its restaurants in Israel to the general public due to the coronavirus crisis.

A man walks into a McDonald’s restaurant in central Jerusalem, on April 13, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

It will operate five stores in an emergency format, supplying free food to hospitals, law enforcement forces and Magen David Adom medical staff, it says.

“We hope to return to normal soon,” it says in a statement.

The fast food chain has also closed many of its restaurants elsewhere, include all its branches in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Iran reports 127 more virus deaths; death toll now 1,812

Iran’s state TV is reporting another 127 coronavirus deaths, bringing its death toll to 1,812 amid 23,049 confirmed cases.

Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East, and has faced widespread criticism for not imposing stricter quarantine measures early on.

It is also suffering under severe American sanctions imposed after US President Donald Trump withdrew from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

— AP

Gaza imam claims virus is ‘soldier of Allah,’ isn’t hitting Palestinians, Muslims

A clip published by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) shows Gazan Imam Jamil Al-Mutawa claiming that the coronavirus is a “soldier of Allah (God)” that has harmed Western countries while sparing Palestinians and Muslims.

“Look how anyone who schemes against the Al-Aqsa Mosque is being shattered to smithereens… This is the greatness of Allah!” he is heard saying, praying that God will continue unleashing the virus against those behind the US administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, dubbed the “deal of the century.”

The sermon at the White Mosque in Gaza, originally broadcast Friday by the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, came a day before the first two cases were confirmed in the Gaza Strip.

There have been at least 59 cases of the virus in the Palestinian-ruled areas of the West Bank.

And one of the hardest-hit countries in the world, Iran, is Muslim.

Driving tests canceled until further notice — Transportation Ministry

The Transportation Ministry says all driving tests, whether theoretical or practical, are being canceled until further notice.

The expiration dates of theory tests and medical examinations are being extended by three months.

Spain death toll tops 2,000 after 462 deaths in 24 hours

The coronavirus death toll in Spain surges to 2,182 after 462 people have died within 24 hours, the health ministry says.

The death rate shows a 27 percent increase on the figures released yesterday, with the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rising to 33,089 in Spain, one of the worst-hit countries in the world after China and Italy.


Knesset to create sterile path for quarantined MKs to vote — reports

The Knesset Guard will enable lawmakers who are currently in coronavirus quarantine to come and vote during today’s plenum discussions, Hebrew-language media reports.

The guard’s head has reportedly updated the seven quarantined MKs that he will try to clear a “sterile” path for them.

All lawmakers will enter the plenum in groups of six to vote during to regulations banning gatherings of more than 10. The quarantined MKs will reportedly vote behind a glass window.

Blue and White MKs Alon Schuster and Ram Ben Barak have annouced they are driving to the Knesset in their cars and will wait for instructions.

‘Black flag’ protesters arrive at Knesset, call for Edelstein’s resignation

“Black flag” anti-government protesters arrive outside the Knesset with their convoy of cars, calling on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to resign after he closed down the parliament last week.

The Knesset will convene today for votes on forming committees despite the caretaker government’s opposition, with members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc of supporters saying it will boycott the deliberations.

High Court indicates Edelstein should hold vote on his replacement by Wednesday

The High Court indicates to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that he should hold a vote on choosing his replacement by Wednesday, hinting that otherwise it will rule against him and force him to hold such a vote.

The court orders Edelstein to submit his response by 5 p.m. today.

‘Prepare for a long night’: after boycotting 1 vote, Likud to filibuster others

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party plans to arrive at the Knesset plenum after boycotting votes on forming the Arrangements Committee and filibuster political rivals’ plans to form other, permanent committees.

Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to a screenshot of a WhatsApp message sent out by Likud MK Miki Zohar in a group of the party’s lawmakers, he says it is important for ministers to be at the Knesset at 6 p.m. and for other lawmakers to be there at 4 p.m.

“Prepare for a long night,” he writes.

It isn’t clear how the process of filibustering will go ahead with votes being held in small groups due to measures limited public gatherings to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Global death toll from coronavirus passes 15,000

Deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have topped 15,000 across the globe, according to an AFP tally compiled from official figures.

A total of 15,189 deaths have been recorded, the majority in Europe with 9,197 fatalities.

Italy is the hardest-hit country with 5,476 deaths, followed by China where the virus first emerged last year with 3,270, and Spain with 2,182.

With a total of 1,395 new deaths reported in the past 24 hours out of 172,238 officially declared cases, Europe is now the continent where the virus is spreading the most rapidly.


Health Ministry guidelines could stop abortions in hospitals — report

New Health Ministry guidelines barring non-essential hospital activities do not include abortions in the list of essential activities, Channel 12 has reported.

The guidelines leave the decision whether to carry out medical procedures to end pregnancy with individual hospitals. Some, including Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, will reportedly not carry out abortions until further notice.

In response to criticism by women’s rights organizations, the Health Ministry responds that “every hospital has an exceptions committee for subjects that weren’t included in the document and are necessary — such as abortions.”

Government said mulling full lockdown for the elderly

The government is considering imposing a full lockdown on elderly Israelis, Channel 12 reports.

That would mean all men aged 70 or more and women aged 65 or more would be forbidden from leaving their homes.

Another option cited in the report is closing all shops except food stores and pharmacies. A third proposal is to further limit the number of people allowed to venture out for work.

“There is no choice but to step up the measures. This is still not a curfew — but it is the closest there is to it,” a source with knowledge of the deliberations is quoted as saying.

Members of PM’s bloc call on Edelstein to ignore High Court’s ‘impositions’

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin is among members of the right-wing religious bloc calling on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to ignore the High Court position indicating he should hold a parliamentary vote to choose a new speaker within two days.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin at the Kfar Maccabia Hotel in Ramat Gan, on October 27, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“The court has officially taken over the Knesset, and from today the High Court has turned the Knesset speaker into a rubber stamp. There’s nothing like that in any democracy,” Levin says in a statement.

“I call on the Knesset speaker to announce that only he will determine when the plenum convenes and what will be on its agenda.”

Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked says that “only the Knesset is sovereign to decide when it convenes and when it votes, in accordance with the law.”

Her fellow Yamina party member Bezalel Smotrich, the transportation minister, similarly calls on Edelstein “not to succumb to the blatant intervention by the High Court in the Knesset’s work and refuse to accept its impositions.”

Blue and White lambastes minister’s call to ignore High Court

The Blue and White party slams Tourism Minister Yariv Levin for calling on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to ignore the High Court, which has indicated he should hold a vote on his replacement within two days.

“Minister Levin, your godfather [former prime minister] Menachem Begin would have been ashamed of what you wrote,” the party says in a statement.

“Democracy is democracy, and not only when it suits you,” it adds. “Respect the majority’s ruling and stop harming the state’s institutions.”

Justice minister also urges Edelstein to snub High Court

Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, joins a chorus of lawmakers from Likud and allied parties calling on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein — a Likud MK — to defy the High Court’s stance.

After the country’s top court told Edelstein to respond by 5 p.m. whether he would be willing to hold a vote on choosing a new Knesset speaker within two days — hinting otherwise it would rule against him and force him to hold the vote — Ohana tweets: “If I were the Knesset speaker, I would answer: No.”

Deputy minister accuses High Court of seeking ‘judicial dictatorship’

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, of the Netanyahu-aligned United Torah Judaism party, accuses the High Court of “seeking to form a judicial dictatorship in Israel” after it essentially sought to compel Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to hold a vote on his own replacement.

Porush urges Edelstein not to cooperate with “the court harming publicly elected officials,” calling on him to “prevent the intervention by the judges, important as they may be.”

Health Ministry said pushing for week-long lockdown to fight virus

Government ministers say the Health Ministry pushed Prime Minister Netanyahu to impose a complete lockdown during a meeting today on restrictions to contain the coronavirus, Channel 13 news reports.

Quoting the unnamed ministers, the network said the Health Ministry is seeking a complete closure of all businesses besides grocery stores and pharmacies for a week, with citizens required to remain at home unless they’re shopping for food or medicine or going to a job deemed essential.

Yamina minister likens ‘impertinence’ of High Court to spread of coronavirus

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich joins the right-wing criticism of the High Court of Justice for indicating that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein should hold a vote on choosing a new speaker by Wednesday.

Smotrich, a member of the national religious Yamina party, calls on Edelstein not to accept the High Court’s “dictates” and says the justices are violating the principle of separation of powers.

“The impertinence and contempt of the High Court judges for the Knesset is something that works like the coronavirus — when you don’t deal with it in time it gets stronger at an exponential rate,” tweets Smotrich from home quarantine.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich arrives at a voting station in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim on March 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Pompeo slams Iranian supreme leader’s ‘lies’ about coronavirus

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accuses Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of lying about the coronavirus pandemic as the Iranian supreme leader rejected US assistance for his hard-hit country.

In a televised address yesterday, Khamenei described the United States as “charlatans” and charged that Washington could bring in a drug to keep the virus alive.

Pompeo in a statement also uses loaded language, accusing “Iran’s chief terror airline” Mahan Air of bringing in what he calls the “Wuhan virus” through its continued flights to China.

“The regime continues to lie to the Iranian people and the world about the number of cases and deaths, which are unfortunately far higher than the regime admits,” Pompeo says.

He says that the United States remains open to offering aid and was “working tirelessly” to develop a vaccine.

“Khamenei rejected this offer because he works tirelessly to concoct conspiracy theories and prioritizes ideology over the Iranian people,” Pompeo says.

He also signals that the United States was unreceptive to the Islamic Republic’s first-ever request for a loan from the IMF, where Washington effectively holds a veto, accusing the regime of funding “terror abroad” with its resources.


New ombudsman report warns Israeli health system not ready for epidemic

The State Comptroller’s Office issues a report warning Israel’s health system is not prepared to deal with an epidemic.

The report, written before the outbreak of the coronavirus, says the government did not draw up sufficient plans to deal with an epidemic or stockpile a sufficient amount of medicine and ventilators, among other shortcomings.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was health minister during part of the period covered in the report, acknowledges “there is room for improvement” but says the report is not applicable to the coronavirus.

“There is no country in the world that could forecast or prepare for the spread of the virus,” he says in a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. “No health system in the world, even the best one, was prepared to deal with the epidemic.”

Criticizing High Court, 2 Likud lawmakers say its rulings must still be respected

Two senior Likud lawmakers criticize the High Court stance that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein must hold a vote to elect a new by Wednesday, but in a break with some other members of the party say a formal ruling by the court, if it now follows, must be respected.

“Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is permitted and should even stand by his position in the proceedings taking place now at the High Court. One thing is out of the question: Calls for not respecting a future judicial ruling,” Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar writes on Twitteer.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says the court made a “howler” and had no place to take such a stance but that its rulings nevertheless must be respected.

“If the High Court rules and compels a vote for Knesset speaker already during the process of holding unity negotiations, the ruling must be respected because otherwise we’ll sentence ourselves to anarchy,” he tweets.

Italy bans domestic travel, shutters industries in bid to slow virus deaths

ROME — Italy bans domestic travel and shuts down a range of industries today in a last-ditch push against the spread of a coronavirus that has killed nearly 5,500 people in a month.

The wave of restrictions is designed to ensure Italy gets through a 10-day stretch in which the rate of deaths and infections is supposed to finally drop.

“Everyone’s effort is needed,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tells reporters.

“The country’s social and economic strength is at stake.”

Italian health officials reported that the rate of increase in both deaths and declared infections slowed yesterday — albeit from a high base.

There were 651 fatalities compared with Saturday’s record 793 deaths, while the number of new reported infections fell to 5,560 from 6,557.

But Conte tells Italians it is too early to let down their guard.

“We have not reached the most acute phase of the infection and the numbers will continue to grow,” he says.

“Much depends on the responsible behavior of each one of us.”


An undertaker wearing protective gear removes a coffin from a hearse on March 16, 2020, at the Monumental cemetery of Bergamo, Lombardy, as burials of people who died of the new coronavirus are being conducted every half an hour. (Piero Cruciatti/AFP)

Knesset speaker opens session on forming Arrangements Committee

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein opens a plenum session to vote on forming the Arrangements Committee, reopening the parliament after it was closed last week amid disagreements on the panel’s makeup.

“In contrast to the lies that were recently spread, the Knesset didn’t close for a moment. The Knesset opened now so that today we can form the committees that the law determines we need to form in order to perform our roles and supervise the government in this not simple situation,” he says.

High Court accepts Knesset speaker’s request for extension to file response

The High Court of Justice accepts Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s request to submit his response to its position that he should hold a vote by Wednesday on electing a new speaker, giving him until 9 p.m. rather than 5 p.m. to respond.

Police probing 135 Israelis suspected of violating quarantine

Police have opened over 150 investigations and given out dozens of tickets for violations of Health Ministry directives meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Police say they are investigating 135 people suspected of breaking quarantine and another 21 people for spreading “fake news” about the virus.

Officers have also given out 74 tickets, “the majority of them for refusing to disperse a forbidden gathering,” and ordered 32 businesses to close that “flagrantly violated the directives,” according to police.

Likud minister wears protective mask, gloves in Knesset plenum

Culture Minister Miri Regev attends the Knesset plenum session on forming the Arrangements Committee with a mask and gloves on.

Regev, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, says the selection of a new Knesset speaker would send Israel to a fourth round of elections and lashes out at the rival Blue and White party.

“Blue and White is ready to carry out immoral and illegal moves only out of a desire to replace the elected government,” she says.

Israel has had a caretaker government since December 2018, when the Knesset voted to dissolve and go to the first of three rounds of indecisive elections.

As other lawmakers speak, Regev periodically pulls down her mask to berate the MKs before pulling it up again.

Merkel tests negative for coronavirus, will undergo further testing

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman says the German leader has tested negative for the new coronavirus.

Spokesman Steffen Seibert tells news agency dpa today that “further tests will be conducted in the coming days.”

Merkel went into quarantine at home yesterday after being informed that a doctor who had administered a vaccine to her had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

— AP

Lapid charges Likud trying ‘to dismantle democracy’

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid charges that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is uninterested in democracy, as the Knesset holds a heated vote to set up the Arrangements Committee.

“Mr. temporary speaker, let’s admit the truth, you don’t want democracy. The prime minister understood that if there’s democracy he’s going to prison so you decided there won’t be,” Lapid tells the plenum, referring to Netanyahu’s indictment on graft charges.

He accuses Likud of using restrictions against the coronavirus as cover to carry out moves that benefit it politically.

“When people are at home is the moment to dismantle democracy,” Lapid says.

WHO chief warns spread of coronavirus accelerating

GENEVA — The new coronavirus pandemic is clearly “accelerating,” the World Health Organization warns today, but says it was still possible to “change the trajectory” of the outbreak.

“The pandemic is accelerating,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells journalists in a virtual news briefing, saying “it took 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000 cases.”

But he says that “we are not helpless bystanders. We can change the trajectory of this pandemic.”


Gantz: Netanyahu must condemn Likud calls to ignore High Court

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz addresses the Knesset as it votes to establish the Arrangements Committee.

“Even at this time we’ll come together and act democratically,” he says.

“This isn’t small politics,” Gantz adds, calling the establishment of Knesset committees as “critical.”

He accuses Netanyahu of having tried to “paralyze” the Knesset, “something that hasn’t happened in any proper democracy.”

Gantz urges Netanyahu to condemn calls from Likud ministers for Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein not to comply with a High Court position indicating he should hold a vote on electing a new speaker by Wednesday.

“Have you gone off the rails,” he says.

As Gantz speaks, Culture Minister Miri Regev continuously yells at him, accusing Blue and White of violating its campaign promise not to form a government with the support of the majority-Arab Joint List.

Gantz calls on Netanyahu to join a government led by him.

“We’ll win. We’ll overcome the coronavirus and safeguard democracy,” he says.

Yamina MK: There’s no such thing as not obeying a High Court ruling

Yamina MK Matan Kahane joins other lawmakers on the right in rejecting calls urging Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to ignore a High Court ruling, should it come, that he must hold a vote on electing a new speaker.

“There’s no such thing as not obeying High Court rulings,” Kahane tweets. “I have criticism of the Supreme Court and the prosecution… And still, there’s no such thing as not obeying High Court rulings.”

The court has indicated that Edelstein should hold the vote on who will serve as Knesset speaker — in which he is likely to lose his job — by Wednesday. It gave him until Monday night to respond.

Coronavirus drive-through testing site opens in Haifa

The new coronavirus drive-through testing site in the northern city of Haifa has begun operating, with people suspected of having COVID-19 arriving to be tested.

Cabinet said set to significantly tighten coronavirus restrictions

The cabinet is expected to further restrict Israelis’ movement as part of Israel’s efforts to contain the coronavirus, according to Hebrew media reports.

Israelis will reportedly be barred from leaving their homes unless their job is considered critical or if they are buying food, medicine or other essential goods.

Reports also indicate that only supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open, public transportation will cease completely and that authorities will step up enforcement of emergency ordinances meant to curb the spread of the virus.

Knesset approves establishment of Arrangements Committee; right-wing bloc boycotts vote

The Knesset approves the establishment of the Arrangements Committee, which deals with procedural issues and setting up other key parliamentary panels.

The vote is 61 in favor and zero against, with right-wing and religious lawmakers allied with Prime Minister Netanyahu boycotting the vote.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, abstains.

Blue and White MK Ram Ben-Barak waiting to vote in the Knesset public gallery, to separate him from other lawmakers due to him being in quarantine over coronavirus fears, March 23, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

Increase in new virus cases drops in Italy for second straight day

ROME — Italy’s day-to-day increases of new cases of COVID-19 drop considerably compared to figures from a day earlier.

According to data released today by Italy’s Civil Protection agency, new cases rose from a day earlier by 4,789 cases.

That’s nearly 700 fewer new cases that were reported in the day’s previous day-to-day increases. Italy has been anxious to see daily new case loads drop as it health system struggles to keep up with the world’s largest outbreak after China.

Day-to-day increase in deaths also were fewer than the day before: 602 compared to 651 reported by authorities yesterday.

Health authorities have said it will need a few more days to see if a positive trend holds, including in northern Lombardy region, which is the nation’s worst stricken region.

The latest numbers come nearly two weeks into a national lock-down in a desperate bid to contain Europe’s largest outbreak.

— AP

MKs opposed to Netanyahu have majority on Arrangements Committee

The new Arrangements Committee will be composed of 17 MKs, eight from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc and nine from parties that oppose him.

The committee will be headed by Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn.

Health Ministry suggested fully sealing Israel’s borders — report

The Health Ministry suggested fully sealing Israel’s borders during deliberations on new measures to contain the coronavirus, today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Channel 13 reports.

According to the network, the ministry’s proposal would have barred Israelis currently overseas from entering the country.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who is in quarantine after being near a confirmed carrier of the virus, strongly opposed the idea and it was ultimately discarded, the report says.

186 more coronavirus deaths in France, bringing total to 860

PARIS — The coronavirus has killed another 186 people in France, the health minister says, bringing the total death toll in the country to 860.

Health Minister Olivier Veran says that 19,856 people had been registered as testing positive for the virus in France, with a total of 8,675 hospitalized of whom 2,082 people are in intensive care.


Health minister said to argue with Netanyahu over virus restrictions

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman opposed his ministry’s advocating of a full lockdown to contain the coronavirus during a meeting today at the Prime Minister’s Office, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The following is the text of an exchange between Litzman, head of the ultra-Orthodox United Judaism Party, and Netanyahu, as reported by Kan:

Litzman: How does it look that every day or two there’s another decision [to impose new restrictions] and another decision?

Netanyahu: So because of public perception we shouldn’t do this?

Litzman: It can’t be that one can take their dog out, but the mikveh is closed.

Netanyahu: What can you do, the virus doesn’t respect religion.

Litzman: Well if it doesn’t respect [religion], we will.

Defying High Court, Edelstein won’t say when he’ll hold vote on new Knesset speaker

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein informs the High Court of Justice that he will not accede to its position that he should hold a vote on electing a new Knesset speaker by Wednesday.

He says he considers that the court’s intervention in his decisions regarding the Knesset agenda “is not appropriate at this time” and calls such intervention “unprecedented.” Given the current extraordinary circumstances, he adds that he can’t say when he’ll schedule the vote but “I hope it will happen in the very near future.”

“I won’t agree to ultimatums,” Edelstein says in a lengthy statement. “The intervention of the attorney general in an internal parliamentary process of the Knesset is out of place.”

Edelstein was responding to the justices’ position, set out earlier Wednesday, that indicated he should hold a vote on his job by Wednesday. The justices cited positions to this effect by the attorney general and the Knesset’s legal adviser.

Chief rabbis of Israel call for fast ‘to remove the coronavirus disease from our midst’

The chief rabbis of Israel announce a fast on Wednesday “to remove the coronavirus disease from our midst.”

A letter from the rabbi says the fast will last midnight. It also instructs municipal rabbis to hold a prayers that day at 4:30 p.m. at synagogues throughout Israel, while maintaining Health Ministry directives on limiting gatherings to 10 people and staying two meters apart.

The call is backed by Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, as well as the Chief Rabbinate Council.

Health Ministry announces 371 coronavirus cases; 29 in serious condition

The Health Ministry announces 371 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Israel to 1,442.

The ministry says 29 people are in serious condition and hooked up to respirators, with 40 in moderate condition. The rest are showing mild symptoms.

There have so far been 41 Israelis who recovered from the virus, according to the ministry.

You can go your own way: Arrangements Committee approves MK’s request to part from Labor-Meretz

The Knesset Arrangements Committee approves MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s request to split off from the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, making her Gesher party a one-woman faction.

Levy-Abekasis ran on a joint list with the parties in the last election, but recently broke with them, refusing to support a Blue and White government that receives backing from the majority-Arab Joint List.

She was an independent MK from 2016 to 2019, after breaking off from the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party.

Orly Levy-Abekasis gives a speech during a Labor-Gesher-Meretz campaign event in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Edelstein’s response means issue of vote on speaker now goes back to High Court

In rebuffing the High Court’s position that he should schedule a vote on his job by Wednesday, Knesset speaker Edelstein has thrown the issue back to the justices.

They will now consider his response and decide how to proceed.

Were the court to issue a formal ruling requiring Edelstein to schedule the vote by a specific imminent date, the speaker would again have to consider whether to do so. Were he to then refuse, as his fellow Likud MK Amir Ohana and others in the Netanyahu-led right-wing/Orthodox bloc are urging, Israel would find itself in a constitutional crisis.

Earlier Monday, the justices, responding to a petition by Blue and White, cited the opinions of the Knesset’s legal adviser and the attorney general in indicating that Edelstein should hold the vote — in which he would almost certainly lose his job to Blue and White candidate MK Meir Cohen — by Wednesday.

Rebuffing the justices’ stance, Edelstein responded with a 29-clause argument in which he argued that “a reasonable delay” in holding the vote on the Knesset speaker “does not come close to constituting real harm to the fabric of democratic life.”

His response culminated with the statement that he would “put the matter [of the vote] on the Knesset agenda when the political situation has become clear.”

Blue and White: Edelstein will go down as a ‘disgrace’ if no vote on new Knesset speaker

The Blue and White party issues a response to Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein’s response to the High Court of Justice that he will not agree to the justices’ position on holding a vote for a new Knesset speaker by Wednesday.

“Yuli, don’t dig in. The Knesset can choose a Knesset speaker, otherwise you’ll forever be remembered in disgrace as someone who was a partner to Netanyahu’s mission to destroy democracy,” the party says in a statement.

Blue and White and other parties that together have 61 seats in the Knesset are seeking to name a new Knesset speaker, but Edelstein has blocked a vote, arguing, among other reasons, that it would blow up talks between Likud and Blue and White on a unity government.

High Court immediately tells Edelstein he must hold vote on new Knesset speaker by Wednesday

The High Court of Justice rules unanimously that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein must hold a vote to choose a new Knesset speaker no later than Wednesday.

The decision comes barely an hour after Edelstein rebuffed the court’s position that he should call the vote by then.

If Edelstein now chooses to defy the court, as fellow Likud MK Justice Minister Amir Ohana is urging him to do, Israel would be facing a constitutional crisis.

Chief justice: Edelstein’s refusal to hold vote on new speaker undermines democratic process

Chief Justice Esther Hayut issues harsh criticism of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in the High Court of Justice ruling that he must hold a vote to elect a new Knesset speaker no later than Wednesday.

“The continued refusal to allow the Knesset to vote on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process,” she writes.

Hayut says that Edelstein’s refusal to hold such a vote hurts the Knesset’s status as “an independent authority [while also harming] the process of government transition,” and that his position increasingly lost its validity as more time passed since the new parliament was sworn in.

Therefore, there is no escaping the conclusion that, in the circumstances created, this is one of those exceptional cases where this court is required to intervene to prevent a violation of our parliamentary system,” she says.

UTJ MK on High Court ruling: ‘This is a watershed’

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni reacts furiously to the High Court of Justice’s ruling that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein must hold a vote to elect a new Knesset speaker no later than Wednesday.

“This is a watershed event,” Gafni says in a statement. “The Supreme Court judges must remember that they are going with part of the nation, but more than half of the nation is against them.”

Parties that hold a majority of seats in the Knesset — 61 out of 120 — back a vote on choosing a new speaker.

UK orders 3-week lockdown to tackle coronavirus

LONDON — Britain orders a three-week lockdown to tackle the spread of coronavirus, shutting “non-essential” shops and services, and banning gatherings of more than two people.

“Stay at home,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson says in a televised address to the nation, as he unveils unprecedented peacetime measures, after the death toll climbed to 335.


260 Israelis returning from Italy to be quarantined at IDF-run hotel

Some 260 Israelis who returned from Italy tonight will be isolated at a hospital in Tiberias that the military converted into a quarantine facility, the Defense Ministry says.

“Defense Ministry officials will receive the travelers as they get off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport and will escort them — in accordance with medical protocol — to the Kinar Hotel, which is in Tiberias,” the ministry says.

The hotel is one of three to be opened by the military and Defense Ministry to house those requiring quarantine and carriers of the coronavirus who have light symptoms.

The Defense Ministry says the decision to use the hotel to house the Israelis returning from Italy, which has seen one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, was made in coordination with the Health Ministry.

— Judah Ari Gross

State asks High Court to allow use of cellphone locations to enforce quarantines

The state asks the High Court of Justice to lift an injunction on police using Israelis’ cellphone locations to track whether people are breaking quarantine.

“The Health Ministry sees great importance in the existence of this inspection activity as a part of the state’s entire treatment of the epidemic, particularly in light of the apparent existence of widespread violations, both of the quarantine orders and the new limitations on activity (even though these won’t be enforced under these ordinances),” a statement from the State Prosecutor’s office says.

Postponement of Tokyo Olympics inevitable, official says

LOS ANGELES — Senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) official Dick Pound says a postponement of this year’s Tokyo Olympics is now inevitable, as the world reels from the coronavirus pandemic.

The IOC said yesterday the body would wait four more weeks before announcing its decision on the fate of the July 24-August 9 Games, amid mounting calls for them to be rescheduled.

Pound however believes the IOC — which ruled out a cancellation of the Games — is now laying the groundwork for a postponement.

“My interpretation of the IOC’s communications is they don’t want to cancel, and they don’t think they can continue with the July 24 date,” Pound tells AFP. “So you’re looking at the ‘P’ word – postponement.

“They’re going to explore options with the Japanese of course, and then there all kinds of stakeholders — international federations, NOCs, athletes.

“And then in four weeks, they’re going to try and come out with a plan B and make it as specific as they can make it in that time period.”

Pound, who is Canadian, says the “astonishing” spread of COVID-19 across the globe left the IOC with no other choice.

“This is not something that’s going to clear up by July 24,” Pound says.

“And this thing isn’t going to go away by September or October. A lot of the biggest countries in the world are just about overwhelmed, and it’s just starting to take root in Africa. It’s a no-go in my view.”

A one-year postponement to 2021 remained the most likely option, Pound adds.


Arrangements Committee approves formation of defense, finance panels

The Arrangements Committee votes to approve the establishment of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as well as the Finance Committee.

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will be headed by Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi, who held that post during the short-lived 22nd Knesset.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer will head the Finance Committee, which was previously led by UTJ MK Moshe Gafni.

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