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Italy now second to China in number of COVID-19 cases

Authorities say the country now has 7,375 cases, 62 more than South Korea, as northern Lombardy region hard hit by outbreak

People wear masks as they walks inside Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, in downtown Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 8, 2020. (AP/Antonio Calanni)
People wear masks as they walks inside Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, in downtown Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 8, 2020. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

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

Birthright cancels remaining winter trips over coronavirus

Taglit-Birthright has announced it is canceling trips to Israel in the short term “out of an abundance of caution due to coronavirus concerns.”

The group, which brings Jewish young adults on trips to Israel, says the decision will only affect a small number of people scheduled to go on trips.

Illustrative: A group of American Birthright tourists visits the dead sea on July 10, 2015. (Matt Hechter/Flash90)

It says 500 people from the US, Germany and the former Soviet Union have had their trips called off.

“We look forward to restarting trips for summer season in May and will be staying in close contact with the Israel Ministry of Health,” the group says in a statement.

Pope gives sermon by video to keep coronavirus crowds away

In an extraordinary measure aimed at discouraging crowds, Pope Francis has not appeared at a Vatican palazzo window to deliver his Sunday noon Angelus blessing and remarks.

Instead, a video of his reading his comments and reciting prayers standing at a lectern near a microphone in the Vatican’s apostolic library has been beamed on large screens set up in St. Peter’s Square to the faithful.

Nuns and faithful watch Pope Francis deliver the Angelus prayer on a giant screen, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 8, 2020. (AP/Andrew Medichini)

The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica tolled as the window opened and Francis appeared for a few seconds to wave to the people below in the square. But he made no comments from the window, having already delivered the broadcast remarks.

The measure — which was announced on Saturday — was aimed at discouraging crowds from gathering in the square, where on days with good weather like this Sunday as many as 40,000 people can turn out to watch the pope in the window. Several thousands of tourists and faithful turned out anyway, scattered across the vast, cobblestone square.

— AP

Health minister: Big announcement may be on way

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman says Israelis should be ready for “big steps” that may be announced later today.

It’s not clear if Litzman intends to announce new border restrictions, possibly encompassing some areas of the US, a possible school vacation extension hinted to by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, or another matter.

Liberman and Gantz agree on forming coalition

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.

Netanyahu to seek delay of trial until early May

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team plans on filing for a 45-day delay to the start of his criminal trial, set to kick off on March 17, the Globes business daily reports.

The attorneys say that they were never given some investigatory material, making it impossible to defend him, according to the news outlet.

Such a delay would push the trial off until early May.

Netanyahu’s associates have said he plans on dragging out the process as long as possible rather than seek a plea deal or speedy judgment.

Airports Authority says most temporary workers to be laid off

The Israel Airports Authority has announced massive cutbacks in response to the coronavirus’s devastating effects on air travel.

The authority says it is putting 70 percent of its temporary workforce on unpaid leave and overtime has been canceled for all employees. Temporary employees are usually defined as those who have been with a company less than a certain number of years.

To protect those with families, it was decided that unmarried employees would be put on leave first. Senior management has announced it is forfeiting 50% of its bonuses as well.

Empty departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport on March 4, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Israel has confirmed 25 cases of the virus, including a 38-year-old man who was in serious condition on Sunday.

The local travel sector has taken a beating, as scores of flights in and out of the country have been canceled.

— AP

El Al says it’s expecting $150 million in lost revenue from virus outbreak

Israel’s national carrier El Al says it is expecting to lose $140 million to $160 million in revenue from the coronavirus, Haaretz reports.

The figure covers January through April. It says it expects $80-90 million in lost revenue for the first quarter of FY20, which covers January 1 to March 31.

The number is up from an earlier estimate of $50 million in losses for the first quarter, made last month.

Israel has banned visitors from several countries and advised citizens not to travel abroad, and airlines around the globe are suffering setbacks from a decrease in travel due to the virus.

Traveling wearing protective masks are seen at the arrival hall of Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The carrier has already begun laying off some 1/5th of its workforce.

Israel announced Sunday a $1.1 billion fund to help companies struggling because of the virus.


Man accused of stabbing baby to death named

A man suspected of stabbing his 10-month-old daughter to death and seriously injuring his wife and another daughter in a rampage on Friday has been named in the press as Barak Ben Ami, 33, from the city of Hod Hasharon, north of Tel Aviv.

His name was ungagged at a hearing during which a judge denied bail and ordered he remain in custody for at least 10 days. He was also ordered to undergo a psychiatric review.

Barak Ben Ami arrives for a court hearing at the court in Petah Tikva on March 8, 2020, (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Ben Ami reportedly told investigators that he went “crazy,” and did not know why.

“I don’t remember what happened to me. I only remember that I took a knife, and started stabbing everyone,” he said, according to Channel 12 news.

Tel Aviv stocks bounce back slightly, remain down

The benchmark TA-35 index on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange has rebounded slightly after taking a nosedive around noon, but remains down almost 3.7 percent on the day as of 3 p.m.

The TA-125 is also down some 3.5 percent on the day.

Exchanges around the world are taking beatings as the coronavirus and government restrictions on movement wreak havoc on markets.

Ben-Gurion to shutter Terminal 1 to international traffic

The Airports Authority announces it is shuttering Terminal 1 at Ben-Gurion Airport to all international traffic.

The terminal, a relic from the airport’s earlier days, had been used by some charter firms and budget airlines for short-haul flights.

View of Terminal 1, at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, March 15, 2015. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

As of March 14, international flights will leave from Terminal 3, and Terminal 1 will only service some domestic flights. The directive is in place until the end of April.

It says the move was decided based on the reduced traffic at the airport, because of the coronavirus. Israel has banned nationals from several countries and a number of airlines have stopped flying to Tel Aviv.

Police set up unit to hunt down quarantine-breakers

A police spokesperson announces the creation of a special unit to help ensure those confined to 14-day home quarantines are not mixing with the rest of the population.

The special police unit will accompany Health Ministry inspectors who have been doing spot visits to make sure those in quarantine are not breaking the rules.

Some 80,000 Israelis are thought to be confined to quarantine, most of them after returning from destinations where there have been outbreaks of COVID-19.

People arrive to vote at a special polling station for voters quarantined due to possible exposure to the new coronavirus in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on March 2, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The police also say they have opened nine probes into people suspected of breaking quarantine rules.

“The police will work with the state prosecution to bring to justice anyone who chooses to ignore the directions of the Health Ministry and causes, intentionally or not, the virus to spread and harm public health,” a police statement says.

The statement does not say if the number includes the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team, which broke a quarantine to play a game after having been in Spain.

Coronavirus cases in UK jump by 67 in single day

The UK says that 67 new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed since Saturday, bringing the total to 273.

Two people have died.

The jump is the biggest in a single day for the UK.

The country remains one of the few in Western Europe not on the list of high-risk destinations requiring quarantine for returning Israelis, though most experts expect that to change.

Earlier on Sunday, Britain’s health secretary outlined emergency plans to deal with the impact of the outbreak, pledging to do “all we can” to contain the virus.

The plans, which will likely go through Parliament by the end of the month, are expected to include measures to allow some court proceedings to be conducted via telephone or video. Volunteers who leave their main jobs to help health care systems will also be given employment safeguards.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he wants “to ensure government is doing everything in its power to be ready to delay and mitigate this threat.”

— with AP

Netanyahu, Pence agree to coordinate on some parts of virus battle

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Vice President Mike Pence have agreed to work together toward battling the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Netanyahu and Pence discussed the virus by phone, according to Netanyahu’s office.

The two “agreed that in the coming weeks an Israeli team would hold continuing talks with an American staff on dealing with the coronavirus,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office says in a statement. “The talks will aim at increasing technology and science cooperation on the coronavirus, and the sides will discuss joint measures to deal with the challenges of the virus.”

US Vice President Mike Pence (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

The announcement comes a day after the Health Ministry hinted it could restrict entry from areas in the US with outbreaks, and then seemingly pulled back those plans.

Minister Yariv Levin told Army Radio earlier Sunday that the matter needed to be discussed soon.

An announcement planned for 7 p.m. is widely expected to include a decision on whether some US entries will be restricted.

The US has seen large outbreaks in the states of Washington, New York and California.

Gaza shutters school for week over virus

The Gazan education ministry says it is canceling school for the next week across the Strip.

Authorities first canceled school on Saturday.

“The Education Ministry decided to continue to suspend studies in schools and kindergartens in Gaza until this weekend and to resume studies as usual on March 14 as long as no developments take place,” it says in a statement posted online.

A Palestinian child near the beach in Gaza City, December 1, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority on Thursday announced drastic emergency measures aimed at stemming the spread of the virus after it was found among several people in Bethlehem.

Gazan authorities initially said they would not comply with the measures, and maintain that the enclave has yet to see a single confirmed case of the virus.

— with Adam Rasgon

Police minister says he is mulling declaring state of emergency

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan reportedly says he is considering declaring a civilian state of emergency in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m going to consider the need to announce a ‘civilian state of emergency,’ which will give authorities much wider powers,” he says at the opening of a fire station in Jerusalem, according to Hebrew-language media.

“We are living in challenging times, between the coronavirus and the complicated political situation which we’ve been in for too long,” he says.

New York corona total tops 100

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says there are 16 more cases of coronavirus in the state, bringing the total to 105.

The vast majority are in Westchester County, a New York City suburb where the outbreak has been centered around a Jewish community in New Rochelle.

Twelve cases have also been confirmed in New York City, and a smattering in other counties.

He appears to attribute the rise in numbers to “aggressive testing.”

Rabbi blames virus outbreak on pride parades

In the least surprising development of the whole coronavirus saga, a senior religious figure has blamed the virus on “the gays.”

In this case, it is Rabbi Meir Mazuz, considered by some an influential Sephardic rabbi and the former spiritual leader of the defunct ultra-nationalist and homophobic Yachad party.

Mazuz, who is no stranger to controversy or hateful rhetoric, blames the spread of the deadly virus on the existence of gay pride parades, according to Israel Hayom. He claims that there has only been one case in the whole Arab world, which is flat wrong.

Egyptians gather in downtown Cairo as they wait to get tested for coronavirus on March 8, 2020. (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

According to the newspaper, he earlier claimed that Israel would be protected from the coronavirus, and has blamed many other things on the existence of gay pride.

Israel has thus far had 25 cases.

Netanyahu and Litzman to give statement on coronavirus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman will give a joint statement to the press following a previously scheduled announcement by the Heath Ministry at 7 p.m, the premier’s office announces.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat will also join the press conference, along with Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who had already been scheduled to give a statement.

The presence of the higher level figures ups the likelihood for a dramatic decision or announcement, likely regarding restrictions on travelers coming from the US, according to pundits.

Passengers on Nile cruise where virus detected disembark in Luxor

Egyptian crew and foreign passengers on a Nile cruise ship on which 45 suspected novel coronavirus cases had been detected have disembarked in the southern city of Luxor.

The health ministry has said the 45 would be quarantined even though 11 of them had tested negative in follow-up tests.

The “A Sara” docked in Luxor days after authorities were alerted that a foreign tourist who had previously disembarked had contracted the virus and infected others onboard.

The boat was carrying 171 people — 101 foreigners and 70 Egyptian crew — Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said Saturday.

It was not immediately clear where the other 126 passengers and crew went after disembarking.


Bus driver being given anti-malarial drugs for COVID-19

An East Jerusalem man remains in serious but stable condition after catching COVID-19, authorities say.

He is being treated at Baruch Padeh Medical Center, Poriya in Israel’s north. Dr. Hagar Mizrahi tells Channel 12 news that he is being treated with anti-malaria medication after consultations with doctors from outside Israel.

The man drove a bus of foreign tourists, several of whom have since tested positive for the virus.

German tourist dies of coronavirus in Egypt

A German citizen died of the novel coronavirus in an Egyptian tourist resort on Sunday, the Egyptian Health Ministry said, the first death from the epidemic reported in Africa.

“The 60-year-old German citizen showed symptoms of a fever (and) checked into Hurghada hospital on 6 March,” before testing positive for the COVID-19 illness, it said in a statement.

“He died on Sunday March 8,” it said.


Israel may place general closure on West Bank to keep virus at bay

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett says he is seriously considering completely shuttering crossing between Israel and all Palestinian Authority-governed portions of the West Bank as part of Israel’s ongoing effort to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Bennett’s office says he has requested a detailed assessment of the economic ramifications of such a closure, which will be presented to him tomorrow.

A general closure of the West Bank is currently in place — not because of the virus but due to this week’s Purim holiday — and will remain so until at least Wednesday, when it is due to expire.

So far, several Palestinians have tested positive for the virus, but only in Bethlehem, which Bennett placed under quarantine on Thursday.

A priest walks past the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, a day after spraying sanitizers as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, on March 6, 2020. (Musa Al Shaer/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority put its own emergency measures in place on Thursday, including restrictions on movement across the West Bank.

Bennett makes his announcement during a visit to an exercise by the military’s Home Front Command, which simulated the Israeli health care system’s response to a full outbreak of the virus.

“The exercise dealt with mapping the parameters of a scenario in which there is a maximum load in the health care system, with an emphasis on the involvement of the Israel Defense Forces and the Home Front Command in such a scenario,” Bennett’s office says.

The IDF does not immediately provide additional information about the exercise.

In the case of full-on pandemic causing a major national emergency, Israel’s security services — chiefly the IDF and its Home Front Command — would become responsible for managing the crisis, taking over for the Health Ministry, which is currently leading the effort.

“The coronavirus has spread throughout Israel in recent days, and this requires all of us to take responsibility, including for the possibility of a pandemic,” he says.
“It is important to say that we are not yet there, and we hope that that it doesn’t get there,” Bennett adds.

— Judah Ari Gross

Brace for slowdown in investing, UN report warns

UN economists are forecasting a drop of up to 15 percent in foreign direct investments worldwide as COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on international business.

A fresh report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) warns that regardless of how quickly the COVID-19 outbreak lasted it would significantly drag down global FDI, which is a measure of cross-border private sector investment.

The UN agency points to estimates that growth in the global economy will slow between 0.5 and 1.5 percent this year, depending on whether the outbreak is reined in during the first half of this year or if it rages through the end of 2020.

The corresponding “downward pressure on FDI will be 5-15 percent,” the report says.


Netanyahu says Israel working on home coronavirus testing kit

Beginning a press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it’s important that Israel and the US will cooperate on fighting the coronavirus.

He says Israel wants to develop home testing for the coronavirus, comparing it to a home pregnancy test.

Netanyahu: No decision on quarantine for US flights

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel remains in control of the situation, and says discussions are ongoing regarding quarantine restrictions on travelers from anywhere, amid speculation that Israel would restrict travel from the US.

“If we take more steps, it will be on all countries,” he says.

“We are not talking about closing our gates, we are are taking about quarantine for those who come from abroad,” he says.

He says the US understands the steps Israel is taking.

“This is not an easy decision. Health is first. It ensures the economy,” he says.

Number of those with virus has risen, minister says

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman says the number of cases of COVID-19 has risen, but does not provide details, which he says will come out later.

Health Ministry head Moshe Bar Simon-Tov says Israelis should be prepared for things to get worse, but says Israel is doing its best to remain in control of the situation.

He says he sees more and more countries losing control of the virus, and says Israel’s seemingly draconian measures to restrict entry saved lives.

Italy virus deaths rocket to 366, most in Lombardy

Italy’s death toll from the new coronavirus shot up by 133 to 366 Sunday while the number of infections rose by a single-day record of 1,492 to hit 7,375.

Italy has recorded the most deaths of any country outside China and the second-most COVID-19 infections in the world. The majority of the deaths were in the Lombardy region in northern Italy, the civil protection agency said.


Cruise stranded off Florida coast as test results awaited

A cruise ship is being held off the coast of Florida on Sunday awaiting test results on whether two crew members have contracted the new coronavirus.

The Miami Herald reports that the Regal Princess was supposed to dock in Port Everglades on Sunday morning but was instead sailing up and down the coast. The crew members in question had transferred from the Grand Princess cruise ship in California where nearly two dozen on board have tested positive for the virus, including 19 crew members.

The Coast Guard delivered testing kits to the Regal Princess on Sunday morning and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no-sail order” for the ship.

It is unclear how many people are on board, but the cruise line’s website says it has a capacity of 3,560 guests. Emails and phone calls to the cruise line, Coast Guard and port were not immediately returned Sunday.

The Regal Princess’ next cruise scheduled to leave Port Everglades for a seven-day Caribbean trip was also canceled.

— AP

Rabbi condemned for blaming virus on homosexuals

The Anti-Defamation League is condemning remarks by Rabbi Meir Mazuz blaming gay pride parades for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Rabbi Meir Mazuz attends a press conference of the Yahad political party in Bnei Brak, December 25, 2014. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

“It is regrettable that in times like these when the whole world comes together to eradicate coronavirus, Rabbi Mazuz finds it appropriate to blame the virus’ outbreak on the LGBTQ community. We harshly condemn his statements and urge him to apologize,” the ADL’s Israel branch says in a statement.

The modern Orthodox Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah group also condemns Mazuz’s remarks.

“Using this time of need to incite against the LGBT community is something that cannot be done. Trying to get people to return to religion cannot come at the expense of harming others,” it says in a statement.

Israel confirms 26th coronavirus case

The Health Ministry announces that one new case of COVID-19 has been confirmed, bringing Israel’s total to 26.

Like most other cases, it involved a person who flew through Europe, in this case Tenerife, Spain.

The Haifa resident took off on Iberia Airlines from Israel to Madrid and Madrid to Tenerife starting at 6 a.m. on February 25. The person flew back to Tel Aviv, also via Madrid, on March 3, and landed at 10:45 p.m.

The ministry says the Haifa resident is in good condition.

Number of Israelis with coronavirus rises to 28

The Health Ministry has now announced two more coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 28.

Case #27, a man from the north of the country, flew to Vienna on February 29, and returned on March 5, landing in Israel at 5:15 p.m.

He then took the 6:05 p.m. train straight to Acre.

Case #28 involves a 60-year-old Jerusalem man who came in contact with a French tourist who tested positive after leaving.

The man spent most of his time at the Optika Yona Koren glasses store on Malchei Israel Street in Jerusalem on March 3 and 4.

On March 5, he visited the BIGA restaurant in an Ariel shopping center from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

He went into quarantine on March 6.

Netanyahu was supposed to announce restrictions, but pushed it off — report

The Kan network reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was supposed to announce restrictions on those coming from the US and all other locations abroad at his press conference earlier Sunday.

Instead he pushed it off by a day, so he could discuss it with ministers at a meeting on Monday, according to the report.

Italy surpasses South Korea in most coronavirus cases

Italy’s total number known number of COVID-19 cases crept past that of South Korea, becoming the country with the second-highest number of infections Sunday after China.

Italian government authorities say the country now has 7,375 cases. That is 62 more than South Korea.

China has more than 80,000 cases.

Early in the outbreak, Italy was zealous in testing those living in hotbed areas, even if they had no symptoms or close contact with someone known to be infected. So far, Italian health personnel have performed some 50,000 tests.

Most of Italy’s deaths and cases have occurred in Lombardy, a populous northern region which the government ordered under lockdown Sunday until April 3.

— AP

Entire daycare forced into quarantine after visit by sick dad

Some 10 toddlers in the Haifa area have been forced into self-quarantine after the father of one of them was found to have coronavirus.

The man, confirmed Friday to be case #21, visited a daycare center his child attended after returning from Austria, according to Walla News.

According to the report the man took his daughter to her daycare on March 3, after returning from Austria on March 1. Rules requiring him to quarantine were not put in place until March 4.

Two daycare workers who were also present at the time have also been forced into quarantine.

Italian prisoners riot over coronavirus restrictions

Inmates in four Italian prisons have revolted over new rules introduced to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which include a ban on family visits, a prison officers union said Sunday.

Prisoners at jails in Naples Poggioreale in the south, Modena in the north, Frosinone in central Italy and at Alexandria in the northwest had all revolted says the union, Osapp.

At Modena, near Bologna, two prison officers were injured and around 20 staff members had to leave the prison after the inmates revolted. The prison was now being guarded by police officers, the Ansa news agency reports.

At Frosinone, south of Rome, police had to be called in to restore order after about a hundred prisoners barricaded themselves into a section of the prison.

The protesting inmates drew up a list of demands, including the right to have visits from their loved ones, and tried to negotiate with the prison management, the Agi news agency reports.


Report ups number of quarantined toddlers to 18

Channel 12 news reports that the number of children who have been sent into quarantine by the father who visited the daycare near Haifa is actually 18, plus staff.

The channel says the decision to send them into quarantine came from local officials and the Health Ministry.

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