The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursdays’s developments as they unfolded.
The Health Ministry is ordering anyone who was in contact with a New York tourist who recently visited Jerusalem, and who was later diagnosed with COVID-19, into a 14-day home quarantine.
The ministry releases the detailed itinerary of the woman, who visited the city from February 23 to 27.
She arrived on El Al flight LY8 from New York, which departed at 11:50 p.m. on February 22, and left on flight LY27, which left Tel Aviv at 1:05 a.m. on February 28.
On February 23, she visited the Mamilla pedestrian mall, eating at the Rimon Cafe and stopping at the Zara clothing store.
On February 24, between 1 p.m. and 3. p.m., she ate at the Rimon Cafe on Ben Yehuda Street. She then took bus no. 74 from King George Street to Hebron Road. Between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. that day, she visited the Osher Ad supermarket in Talpiot.
On February 25, she ate at the Kitchen Station restaurant between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., at the First Station Promenade.
On February 26, from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m. she was at the Bank Mizrahi on Heleni HaMalka Street. From 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. she was at the Hadar mall in Talpiot, in the Osher Ad supermarket, the Tzomet Sefarim bookstore and Fox Home.
On February 27, at 10 a.m., she took the no. 74 bus from Hebron Road to Talpiot. Between 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., she ate at the Caffit Cafe on Emek Refaim Street.
At 7:30 p.m., she took the no. 74 bus from Hebron Road to the Central Bus Station. She then took the 8:30 p.m. train from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport.
“Anyone who was at these aforementioned places at these times is requested to enter home quarantine for 14 days from the day of exposure and report it to the Health Ministry website,” the ministry said.
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is threatening legal action against the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team for violating home quarantine rules.
The team was ordered on Wednesday to stay at home for 14 days after the Health Ministry expanded the country’s self quarantine rules, which seek to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus, to include returnees from several Western European countries. Some members of the team had recently visited Spain.
The team bucked the warning and played a game yesterday.
“The violation of the order is a violation of the law and may result in enforcement measures against those who breached it,” warns the ministry.
The Palestinian Health Ministry says it is preventing all tourists from entering the West Bank. The ministry does not specify for how long. Most tourists to the West Bank visit the biblical city of Bethlehem, where the Nativity Church is located, and Jericho.
The measures come after suspicions that four Palestinians had caught the new coronavirus. A Palestinian official says the four had tested positive for the virus but that the tests were sent to Israel to verify the results. The official speaks on condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to discuss the issue with the media. They would be the Palestinian territories’ first cases if confirmed.
The Palestinian Health Ministry also says churches and places of worship in Bethlehem will be closed for two weeks.
Palestinian authorities add that the storied Nativity Church in the biblical city of Bethlehem, built atop the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, will close indefinitely later in the day over coronavirus fears. The church was expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors and worshipers next month for the upcoming Easter holiday.
— AP, Times of Israel staff
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is reportedly seeking to ban Friday Muslim prayers at the Temple Mount over fears of the spread of COVID-19.
According to a report by Channel 12, Erdan wrote to the head of the National Security Council asking him to prevent the services from taking place tomorrow, following reports that four Palestinians are suspected of carrying the virus.
The weekly prayers at the holy site draw thousands of Muslim worshipers. Any attempts by Israel to interfere with the prayers at the flashpoint compound, which is under Jordanian custodianship, would likely be met with fierce Palestinian protest.
The Health Ministry says Greek tourists who recently visited Israel and the West Bank have contracted COVID-19.
They visited between February 19 and 27 and were diagnosed after their return, the ministry says.
The Israel Defense Forces says it is forbidding all soldiers from traveling abroad and canceling all international exercises in light of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman tells reporters that these measures and others that are still in the works are meant to “ensure the fitness of the IDF and prevent damage to it.”
So far one soldier has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, while hundreds have been quarantined for either traveling to countries with a high incidence of the disease or coming in contact with an infected person.
Zilberman says the restriction on international travel will go into effect tomorrow at noon and will be imposed on conscripts and career soldiers alike.
A committee may permit some exceptions to this rule on a case-by-case basis, either for specific operational trips abroad or for troops who need to leave the country for pressing medical or family reasons.
The spokesperson says all international exercises — both ones the IDF is participating in abroad and those being hosted in Israel — have been canceled, though some exceptions may be made on an individual basis.
— Judah Ari Gross
The Jerusalem marathon, which was scheduled for March 20, will be held instead in October amid concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, the mayor of the capital says.
In a statement, Moshe Lion says the international event will be held after the Jewish holidays in the fall, without specifying the date.
“It isn’t canceled, it’s postponed,” he says.
Lion also announces that the annual Purim street party in the Nahlaot neighborhood on Wednesday has been canceled. “As for the rest of the events, we will do everything to ensure they are still held — while heeding the Health Ministry directives to prevent mass gatherings,” he adds.
In coronavirus-hit Iran, healthcare workers are not just treating patients — doctors and nurses are also lifting spirits with light-hearted dance performances that have spread massively on social media.
In a series of short video clips, medical staff dressed in surgical masks and protective medical clothing can be seen dancing in symbolic defiance of the outbreak that has claimed more than 100 lives in the country.
Iranians have widely shared the videos apparently shot in hospital wards and operating theaters, the dancers’ identities disguised by hospital scrubs and face covers as they wiggle and shake to Iranian pop and traditional tunes.
Multiple clips can be found on Twitter marked in English as “coronavirus iran dancing,” although AFP could not verify the authenticity of the individual videos.
The new dance craze in Iran’s Coronavirus wards. pic.twitter.com/c1zBRGU81U
— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) March 3, 2020
Educational wash your hands ???????? pic.twitter.com/ypKgQH6Juu
— Assal Rad (@AssalRad) March 5, 2020
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) March 4, 2020
Greek health officials on Thursday report 21 new coronavirus infections among a group that had recently traveled to Israel, raising the country’s total to 31.
“Twenty-one out of 24 people tested positive,” Sotiris Tsiodras of the national public health organization (EODY) told a news conference.
South Africa on Thursday confirms its first case of the novel coronavirus, a 38-year-old male who traveled to Italy, health ministry announced.
It is the first case in southern Africa, and the latest confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria and Senegal.
“This morning,… the National Institute for Communicable Diseases confirmed that a suspected case of COVID-19 has tested positive,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says in a statement.
The case is detected in the country’s eastern Kwa-Zulu Natal province.
The patient and his wife were part of a group of 10 people who arrived back in South Africa from Italy on March 1.
Two days later, on March 3, he consulted a private general practitioner with a fever, headache, sore throat and a cough.
Facebook says it’s temporarily closing an office in Seattle after a worker was diagnosed with the new virus.
“A contractor based in our Stadium East office has been diagnosed with the COVID-19,” the company says. “We’ve notified our employees and are following the advice of public health officials to prioritize everyone’s health and safety.”
Facebook says the last time the worker came to the office was on February 21, so it will shut the office until March 9, when the incubation period ends. The company is following guidance from local authorities and encouraging Seattle staff to work from home until March 31.
An Amazon employee at the e-commerce giant’s Seattle office also reportedly tested positive for the virus this week.
President Reuven Rivlin says he’s not shaking hands with anybody — in accordance with government restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The president tweets that during a visit to the IDF Central Command he saluted the soldiers, heeding the government warnings to refrain from physical contact.
“Minister of Health Litzman is the commander-in-chief when it comes to corona[virus]. He decided that we don’t shake hands and we follow his orders,” says Rivlin.
“In quarantine or not, whether you returned from abroad or are here in the country — we must all listen to the Health Ministry directives, for all of our sakes,” adds the 80-year-old president, who recently returned from Australia.
Airline giant Lufthansa says it is canceling all flights to Israel until March 28, after the Jewish state barred entry to almost all non-resident arrivals from five European nations including Germany.
Flights to Tel Aviv and Eilat by Lufthansa and subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines will be canceled from Sunday, March 8, until the end of the winter timetable on March 28, the group says in a statement, while some flights will be halted on Friday and Saturday “for operational reasons.”
Italy places temporary restrictions on visiting relatives in nursing homes and is urging the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.
The Italian government, which closed schools nationwide to try to contain the coronavirus, has opened a campaign to urge ordinary Italians to do their part to limit infections given that Italy’s elderly population risks overwhelming the public health system with virus cases.
Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, has the world’s oldest population after Japan. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The 107 people who have died so far in Italy are all elderly, sick with other complications or both.
In a decree Thursday, the government is limiting access to the elderly in nursing homes to prevent possible contagion.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte justifies the extraordinary measure of closing schools and universities nationwide until March 15 by warning that there might not be enough intensive care units to treat patients if the virus continues its “exponential” spread.
Almost 300 million students worldwide face weeks at home, with Italy the latest country to shut schools over the deadly new coronavirus as the IMF urged an all-out, global offensive against the epidemic.
More than 95,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which has now reached some 80 countries and territories.
The vast majority of global deaths and infections are in China, where the virus first emerged late last year, prompting the country to quarantine entire cities, temporarily shut factories and close schools indefinitely.
As the virus spread, other countries have also implemented extraordinary measures, with UNESCO saying Wednesday that 13 countries have closed schools, affecting 290.5 million children, while nine others have implemented localized closures.
While temporary school closures during crises are not new, UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay says, “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.”
The Histadrut labor union is threatening a general strike unless the government provides an economic aid package for workers in quarantine and businesses hurt by the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Channel 13, the union is demanding that employees who are forced into home quarantine be given sick pay from the first day of their confinement, rather than the third. It was also seeking government compensation for businesses affected by the outbreak.
Dr. Boaz Lev, who heads the epidemic treatment unit of the Health Ministry, estimates in an interview with Channel 12 that between 50,000 and 80,000 Israelis are currently in home quarantine after returning from countries where COVID-19 has spread.
That, he says, is assuming they “are acting as model citizens,” signaling the ministry is counting on their cooperation to stem an outbreak.
On Wednesday the Health Ministry announced a series of dramatic new measures and restrictions intended to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country, sending arrivals from five Western European nations into immediate quarantine and limiting mass gatherings throughout the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding an emergency meeting on the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 outbreak.
He announces that the government will create an “emergency fund” to help companies vital to Israel’s economy that have been hurt by the spiraling health crisis.
“The first step I am announcing today is that by Sunday, the finance minister will create an emergency fund to aid businesses that are vital to the economy,” says Netanyahu. “The next step will be that as the crisis develops, the Finance Ministry, in coordination with the Bank of Israel, will offer funds to businesses that are in distress due to the crisis.”
“I think we are dealing with this crisis, both in terms of health and in terms of the economy, in the best possible way. But this doesn’t mean we aren’t facing big challenges,” he adds.
The French health ministry reports Thursday two more deaths from coronavirus infections, bringing the country’s total to six, and 92 new cases since Wednesday.
It is the biggest one-day jump in the number of French cases since the outbreak began, raising the total to 377.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu is expected to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz be tasked with forming a government, according to Hebrew reports.
Sources tell the Haaretz daily the move is aimed at giving Blue and White control over the Knesset speaker position, allowing the opposition parties to advance legislation that would prevent a person facing criminal charges from forming a government — effectively disqualifying Benjamin Netanyahu from doing so.
Liberman’s party announced its backing for the Blue and White bill earlier Thursday. Reports say it is also seeking to oust Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud to ensure he doesn’t torpedo the bill.
Even with Liberman’s backing, Gantz is still expected to receive less support than Netanyahu and it is believed the incumbent premier will be given first shot at forming a government. Though neither mustered majority support in Monday’s election, Likud has the backing of 58 MKs and is the largest party. It remains unclear whether the Joint List will endorse Gantz, as it did following the September elections, or abstain. Yisrael Beytenu in September also declined to endorse a candidate after the national vote.
Israel begins a crackdown on citizens who are violating its far-reaching restrictions, which are designed to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The Israel Police says it has opened eight criminal investigations against Israelis who have violated the state’s home quarantine rules or misled Health Ministry inspectors.
“The Israel Police will work in cooperation with the state prosecution in order to bring to justice anyone who chooses to ignore the Health Ministry instructions and endangers, with their actions — whether through negligence or intentionally — raising the dangers of the spread of the coronavirus,” it says.
According to Channel 12, those who violate the state directives could face up to seven years in prison.
Another Israeli has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the sixteenth case in the country, the Health Ministry says.
He is hospitalized in the Poriya Medical Center in northern Israel in an isolated unit.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether he recently traveled abroad or was infected locally.
A senior US official on Thursday accuses Iran of lying to its own people over the extent of the coronavirus outbreak and expressed dismay Tehran had refused an offer of American help.
Brian Hook, the US State Department’s envoy on Iran, says Tehran’s response to the virus was one reason Iranian authorities were enduring a “crisis of legitimacy.”
“Iran lied to its own people about the coronavirus,” Hook tells reporters on a trip to Paris to coordinate policy with Europe.
“It told them it was not anything to worry about but at the same time the virus was spreading throughout Iran.”
Iranian authorities have put the death toll from COVID-19 at 107, making it one of the worst-hit countries after China.
“Today as a result of the government’s mismanagement and not being transparent with its own people Iran has one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the coronavirus,” Hook says.
NATO says it has confirmed three cases of the novel coronavirus linked to its military headquarters in Belgium — a civilian employee and two family members.
The employee had recently traveled to Italy, the European country most affected by COVID-19, which has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide, the vast majority in China.
NATO says the employee and family members had not visited its Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) facility in Mons, southern Belgium, since returning from Italy.
“There are three confirmed COVID-19 cases within our wider SHAPE community,” NATO says in a statement.
“The cases were ‘imported’ to Belgium following foreign travel and the affected individuals have not entered the SHAPE site since returning home.”
After testing at hospital, the three were sent home where they are in quarantine, but they are not said to be seriously ill.
Visitor access to NATO headquarters had already been restricted, and military commanders given advice on limiting the spread of the virus.
Democratic contender Elizabeth Warren is ending her campaign for US president, according to US media reports.
The Central Elections Committee publishes the unofficial final results from Monday’s election. These figures exclude six polling stations.
Blue and White: 33
Joint List: 15
United Torah Judaism: 7
Yisrael Beytenu: 7
That leaves the right-wing bloc with 58 seats — three short of a majority.
And the political deadlock persists.
The official final results are set to be released next week.
Saudi Arabia empties Islam’s holiest site for sterilization over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage.
State television relays stunning images of an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba -– a large black cube structure inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which is usually packed with tens of thousands of pilgrims.
The move was a “temporary preventive measure” but the upper floors of the Grand Mosque were still open for prayers, a Saudi official tells AFP.
He calls the measure “unprecedented.”
On Wednesday, the kingdom halted the umrah pilgrimage for its own citizens and residents.
The move came after authorities last week suspended visas for the umrah and barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering Mecca and Medina.
Photos shared on social media also appear to show Waqf officials disinfecting the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
משבר הקורונה: אנשי הוואקף בירושלים מחטים את מקומות התפילה במסגד אלאקסא מחשש להתפשטות וירוס הקורונה במהלך השתתפות אלפים מחר בתפילת השישי pic.twitter.com/LOW2KTwLJS
— sami abed alhamed سامي عبد الحميد (@samiaah10) March 5, 2020
— With AFP
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry confirms that seven employees of a hotel in the Bethlehem area are infected with the coronavirus.
The ministry says the West Bank hotel hosted Greek tourists who were diagnosed with the virus after leaving its premises.
It also says the employees are in quarantine.
— Adam Rasgon
Blue and White MK Yair Lapid says the election results prove “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has failed.”
The prime minister’s Likud party pulled ahead of its rival, the Blue and White party, in Monday’s election, picking up 36 seats compared to its 33. But the prime minister does not have a clear path to a coalition government after Likud and its allies fall three seats of a parliamentary majority.
Monday’s election was the third in under a year.
“For the third time in a row, Netanyahu has failed,” tweets Lapid. “As he has said many times, ‘the majority rules,’ and the majority ruled that he… cannot become prime minister under indictment. We will make every effort to build a wide government led by Benny Gantz.”
He thanks the elections committee that oversaw the vote and pledges, “we will do everything so that we won’t need to come back to it for fourth elections.”
The swearing-in ceremony of the 23rd Knesset on March 16 will be restricted to lawmakers and their partners, the parliament announces.
The step comes amid fears over the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
The Knesset won’t be inviting diplomats, former MKs, or members of the public to the event, it says.
In addition, tours of the parliament will be canceled beginning on Sunday, and those who don’t hold a permanent pass to the building will be asked to declare that they haven’t traveled abroad in the past 14 days, according to reports.
Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon, a hawkish former defense minister who once served under Netanyahu, is reportedly favoring a Benny Gantz-led minority government with the outside support of the predominantly Arab Joint List.
The Haaretz daily says Ya’alon has recently changed his mind about such a scenario after formerly opposing it. He has expressed support for a minority government in two recent meetings, on condition that the hard-line faction of the Joint List, Balad, be excluded.
A top US health official says the overall mortality rate for the novel coronavirus was estimated at one percent or less, lower than previously thought, basing the new figure on a high number of unreported cases.
It came after US President Donald Trump was criticized for saying he believed the World Health Organization’s reported death rate of 3.4 percent to be “false,” based on a “hunch.”
Trump was invoking the fact that the WHO figure is based on reported cases only, and as such the true lethality of the disease may only be understood better over time — a point on which health experts agree.
“The best estimates now of the overall mortality rate for COVID-19 is somewhere between 0.1 percent and one percent,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health says at a news briefing.
“That’s lower than you heard probably in many reports, why is this? Number one is because many people don’t get sick and don’t get tested — this reflects the overseas experience — so probably for every case, there are at least two or three cases that are not in that denominator.
“It certainly could be higher than normal flu, it probably is, but it’s not likely in the range of two to three percent.”
The seasonal flu mortality rate is 0.1 to 0.15 percent, says Giroir.
Two international trade unions have used a UN list of companies working in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to attempt to press the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund to disinvest.
The United Nations last month released a list of 112 companies that allegedly operate in Israeli settlements. The publication of the list sparked Israeli fury, while the Palestinians welcomed it.
The UNI Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation wrote a joint letter this week to an ethics committee overseeing the huge Government Pension Fund of Norway, accusing it of investing in 28 of the firms listed.
TripAdvisor and Motorola Solutions, as well as Israeli banks and other companies, are among the firms on the UN list.
The letter, a copy of which has been seen by AFP, is believed to be the first time the UN list has been used in such a fashion.
Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of the UNI Global Union, tells AFP the UN list prompted the letter.
“We want to make the fund change its ethical rules to ban investment in any company that works in the settlements,” she says.
“I believe we are the first to use the UN list in this way.”
The sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, invests Norway’s oil revenues across the globe and has more than $1 trillion in assets. It was invested in 9,200 companies at the end of 2019, according to its annual report.
Documents on its website confirmed it had millions invested in companies on the UN list, including $33 million in TripAdvisor and $257 million in Motorola.
In Israel it invested $91 million in Bank Leumi and $73 million in telecoms firm Bezeq, among others.
The fund did not comment on the specific allegations but says it has ethical safeguards in place regarding all investments.
“We expect companies to respect human rights and take this into account in their operations,” spokeswoman Marthe Skaar tells AFP.
The Likud party is asking Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate Avigdor Liberman in the so-called Yisrael Beytenu corruption case.
Netanyahu’s party claims testimonies at the ongoing trial involving former lawmakers have implicated Liberman.
This was Liberman’s official response, as conveyed by a spokesperson:
Italy reports 41 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, its highest single-day total to date, bringing the number of fatalities in Europe’s most affected country to 148.
The number of cases also jumps by a new high of 769, reaching 3,858 over the past two weeks.
The latest figures mean Italy has the second-most deaths behind China, where the new virus was first detected at the end of last year.
All of Italy’s 22 regions have now been affected, with the data showing the virus had reached the Aosta Valley on the French border.
The number of COVID-19 patients receiving intensive care also rose to 351 from 295 on Wednesday.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren says after dropping out of the Democratic presidential race that she is not ready to endorse either of the remaining candidates — Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.
“Not today,” Warren tells reporters outside her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when asked if she was ready to endorse fellow progressive Sanders or the moderate Biden.
“We don’t have to decide that this minute,” she says. “I want to take a little time to think a little more.”
Warren dropped out of the race after failing to win a single state on Super Tuesday, including her own.
A man from central Israel who recently returned from Italy has become the seventeenth person to be diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the Health Ministry.
He returned to Israel from Venice on February 29, on Easyjet flight EJ3342.
All passengers on board that flight must enter a 14-day home quarantine, the ministry says.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York state has doubled overnight, from 11 to 22.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives the figures Thursday. The newly diagnosed cases include two hospitalized patients in New York City and a hospitalized man in Long Island’s Nassau County.
The other positive tests were in people with mild symptoms — or none at all — in Westchester County, where a cluster of cases emerged earlier in the week. One of the previously diagnosed patients from Westchester County has been hospitalized.
Overall, the US has 11 deaths among the over 3,300 people worldwide who have died from the new coronavirus.
The Jerusalem Winner Marathon will accept requests to refund registration fees from Sunday, after the event was postponed by seven months due to fears surrounding the coronavirus COVID-19.
Earlier, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said the marathon will be held in October, after the Jewish holidays. It was set for March 20 before the delay.
In response to queries on its official Facebook page, marathon organizers say they’ll begin taking requests for refunds on the website on Sunday.
Blue and White head Benny Gantz says he has agreed to demands set forth by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to join a coalition, passing a major hurdle in his bid to cobble together a government.
In a Facebook post earlier Sunday, Liberman listed his conditions for joining a coalition, including upping stipends for pensioners and several religion and state matters.
“Agreed. We must move forward,” Gantz writes on Twitter, sharing Liberman’s post.
It remains to be seen if the Arab-led Joint List will back Gantz’s government given the inclusion of Liberman, an ultra-national hawk. The group is meeting to discuss what it may do ahead of a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin over whom it will recommend for prime minister, if anyone.