The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
Economy Minister Eli Cohen says Israel is considering dramatically increasing its restrictions on movement for all Israelis in a bid to further slow the spread of the coronavirus and may still introduce a complete lockdown of citizens.
“A general closure is a possibility that is being talked about,” Cohen tells Army Radio.
Cohen’s comments come the morning after the government called on the country to further reduce interpersonal contact by working from home and maintaining physical distance.
The Health Ministry reports six more confirmed cases of the coronoavirus overnight, bringing the country’s total to 304.
According to the ministry, four people are currently in serious condition with the disease, while another 11 are moderately ill.
The vast majority of the confirmed carriers of the virus –284 of the 304 — are displaying only light symptoms. Another five people are no longer sick and are recuperating, the ministry says, up from four yesterday.
The patients are being treated in hospitals across the country and in their homes in some cases.
Israel’s Memorial Day national ceremonies will take place without audiences and the smaller events planned for municipal cemeteries will be canceled outright in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Defense Ministry says.
“In an effort to preserve the health of the public on the one hand and to uphold national traditions, the defense minister ordered the Defense Ministry and the IDF Manpower Directorate to hold the central ceremonies at the Western Wall (on Memorial Day eve) and at Mount Herzl (on Memorial Day) as planned but without an audience, and that they will be livestreamed,” the ministry says.
The smaller ceremonies that were scheduled to take place in military cemeteries across the country will be canceled “and in their place IDF soldiers will hold a candlelight vigil and say the Kaddish (prayer),” the ministry says.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz says that the El Al airline will help bring back hundreds of Israelis stranded in Peru as countries in South America close their borders to try and stem the spread of coronavirus in the continent.
“I have now spoken to El Al’s management and it has agreed that the company will mobilize to find a solution for the return of young Israelis from Peru to their caring families in Israel,” Katz writes on Twitter.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will coordinate the details with the company and with the Peru authorities. El Al’s longstanding tradition as a national airline providing emergency assistance continues even now,” he says.
— ToI staff
The Israel Defense Forces says a sixth service member has been diagnosed with the disease, a 19-year-old female soldier from northern Israel.
The military says she has been hospitalized with light symptoms.
“The Medical Corps, with the Health Ministry, is conducting an epidemiological investigation, whose findings will be published soon. Those who were in close contact with her have been notified and additional people who were in contact with her are being found now,” the IDF says.
As of Tuesday morning, 4,267 soldiers and civilian employees of the IDF are in quarantine.
Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi says that measures allowing security services to deploy advanced digital monitoring tools in an effort to track carriers of the coronavirus, passed by the government overnight without approval of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, which he heads, amount to a “power grab” and must be subject to appropriate oversight laws.
“In the dead of night, in a power grab, the government approved the emergency regulations, even though the Defense and Foreign Affairs and Committee yesterday did not have opportunity to discuss it seriously,” Ashkenazi writes on Twitter.
“It is not appropriate that is how such measures should approved without parliamentary and public oversight,” he says.
The approval of the emergency measure bypassed the Knesset — a move Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said would not be done — after a subcommittee on clandestine services on Monday stopped short of approving the highly controversial surveillance program, pending additional debate.
“I call to convene the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today to hold an immediate discussion of the matter, and to exercise the supervision required by law,” Ashkenazi adds.
— Raoul Wootliff
A pair of rockets hit an Iraqi base hosting US-led coalition and NATO troops, Iraq’s military says, the third attack on installations hosting foreign forces inside a week.
The rockets slammed into the Besmaya base south of Baghdad late Monday night, a statement by the military says, making no mention of casualties.
Spanish forces linked to the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, as well as NATO training forces, are present in Besmaya.
The last week has seen a renewed spike in rockets hitting Iraqi bases hosting foreign forces, with three coalition troops killed on March 11 in a similar attack on the Taji airbase, which was hit again on March 14.
Hard-line Shiite faithful in Iran have broken into the courtyards of two major shrines just closed over fears of the new coronavirus, Iranian state media reports, as the Islamic Republic pressed on with its struggle to control the Mideast’s worst outbreak.
Late last night, angry crowds stormed into the courtyards of Mashhad’s Imam Reza shrine and Qom’s Fatima Masumeh shrine. Crowds typically pray there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, touching and kissing the shrine.
Earlier yesterday, the state TV had announced the shrines’ closure, sparking the demonstrations.
Roughly nine out of 10 of the over 17,000 cases of the new virus confirmed across the Middle East come from Iran, where authorities denied for days the risk the outbreak posed. Officials have now implemented new checks for people trying to leave major cities ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Friday, but have hesitated to quarantine the areas.
Attorney General Avichay Mandelblit responds to the allegation that the government bypassed the Knesset by approving on its own mass surveillance of the Israeli public, saying that the decision to go ahead with the highly contentious measure without parliamentary oversight was made to “save lives.”
“Far-reaching measures must be taken — but even during these emergencies, steps will be taken by law,” Mandelblit says in a statement.
“The content to be collected will be the minimum required to prevent the spread of the virus and the Shin Bet security service is obliged to report its actions,” he explains.
— Raoul Wootliff
Blue and White chair Benny Gantz demands that the appropriate Knesset committees be set up immediately to oversee government decisions to fight the coronavirus.
“We are in an exceptional period where, unfortunately, it is necessary to take exceptional measures to save lives,” Gantz says on Twitter. “However, it is forbidden to do so as a power grab and without supervision.”
Israel’s caretaker government today amended and unanimously approved a measure allowing security services to deploy advanced digital monitoring tools in an effort track carriers of the coronavirus, removing many of the safeguards and oversights that officials had said would be put into place to address widespread privacy concerns about the initiative.
“Blue and White will insist that the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as a special committee on the coronavirus, the Finance Committee and other committees, be set up today to monitor the processes and approve required regulations at this time,” Gantz says.
“The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee must receive all the information about the surveillance procedures approved today. That’s the way it is in democracy,” he adds.
“We will not allow the state to run without a functioning Knesset during an emergency.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Shares rebound in Europe and Asia after a brutal sell-off that gave the US stock market its worst loss in over 30 years, with many economies grinding to a standstill in hopes of containing the spread of the coronavirus.
Paris, London, Hong Kong and Sydney log solid gains while Tokyo’s benchmark is flat.
Australia’s benchmark led the gains, jumping 5.8% after a 7% plunge yestarday as investors snapped up miners and banks. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 climbs 0.8% at one point but barely eked out a gain, adding less than 10 points to 17,011.53.
In early European trading, the CAC 40 in Paris rise 3.4% to 4,012.99 after the government announced $50 billion in aid for individuals and businesses. Germany’s DAX gains 3% to 9,004.71. Britain’s FTSE 100 falls back from early gains, shedding 0.2% to 5,143.06.
US futures also point to gains: the contract for the S&P 500 climbs 3.8% while the future for the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 3.2%.
The rebound in Asia follows news that the Trump administration plans strong support for airlines stricken by the outbreak and is pushing the Senate to enact a massive stimulus package to alleviate losses for businesses and individuals affected by the outbreak, which has infected more than 182,000 people worldwide, 4,661 in the United States.
Turkey is bringing home more than 3,600 of its citizens who have been stranded in nine European countries after Turkey suspended flights to 20 destinations over the coronavirus outbreak.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says that the citizens will be returned to Turkey later in the day, on board 34 Turkish Airlines flights.
He says the returnees will be placed in quarantine for 14 days in Istanbul and in the nearby city of Kocaeli.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected criticism of his cabinet’s decision to bypass the Knesset and unilaterally approve a contentious proposal to allow security services to track carriers of the coronavirus and those required to be in quarantine, arguing that not doing so would have cost Israeli lives.
Rival MKs Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, of the Blue and White party, had accused the government of a power grab by passing such a dramatic measure without the parliamentary oversight that Netanyahu had promised when the concept was first proposed.
“As the pandemic is spreading at a tremendous rate, delaying the use of these tools by even one hour could lead to the deaths of a great many Israelis, as occurred with the deaths of thousands in Italy and other places around the world,” the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement.
“As the discussion in the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was delayed and could have taken many more days, Prime Minister Netanyahu acted quickly, together with the Health Ministry and attorney general, in order to allow the immediate use of the digital tools that can slow the spread of the pandemic in Israel and to save many civilians’ lives,” his office says.
The PMO says the government’s approval for the contentious surveillance program will only last for 14 days, during which the Knesset can comment on it.
Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked comes out against a government decision to allow security services to conduct mass surveillance over Israelis in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus, saying that the Knesset ought to play a role in overseeing such a contentious measure.
“The regulations that were put in place yesterday are extensive and demand close oversight by an open-to-the-public session of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,” Shaked says in a statement.
“Transparency by the government and earning the trust and support of the public during this process are crucial [in general], and they are especially critical at this time. Despite the crisis, it is important to retain checks and balances in order to prevent bad things from happening,” she writes.
Two Palestinians who were recently traveling abroad were infected with the novel coronavirus, Ibrahim Milhem, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh’s spokesman, says in a statement carried by the official PA news site Wafa.
Palestinian authorities say there are a total of 41 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the West Bank — 37 in Bethlehem and 4 in other places. The condition of 20 of them has started to improve, they say.
Milhem said that one of the newly infected persons, who was in Germany, was quarantined in Jericho, the Wafa report says.
He said the other person was in quarantine in Ramallah, the report states, without mentioning where he had previously traveled.
— Adam Rasgon
Doctors warn that Israelis are forgoing necessary treatments at hospitals out of fears they may contract the coronavirus, putting them at greater risk of dying of other causes.
A spokesperson for the Israel Neurological Society tells The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site Zman Yisrael that there has been a marked drop in the number of patients coming to hospitals following the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“There is a dramatic decrease in the number of patients arriving to the hospital, including patients with severe, dangerous illness and people in medical distress who need treatment urgently,” she says.
The spokesperson says this includes a 50 percent drop in the number of patients coming to the hospital because of strokes.
“If someone has a stroke and doesn’t come to the hospital, they’ll die at home,” an official in Israel’s Society of Internal Medicine says.
— with Tani Goldstein
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called on Israelis to keep away from their grandparents in order to protect them from the coronavirus, noting that one in five patients over the age of 80 is expected to succumb to the disease.
Bennett referred to this directive as “Operation Grandma,” a play on an Israeli cult classic film of the same name.
“We must protect grandma. There are a lot of things that we need to do, but the information coming in from around the world teaches us clearly that the deadliest connection is between a grandparent and their grandchild, between an elderly person and a young person,” he says, speaking at the opening of a hotel that was converted into a quarantine facility for carriers of the disease.
“I’m saying cautiously based on the information coming from all over the world. The death rate among older people is very high. Among those 80 years old and up, it is above one in five. One in five grandpas and grandmans who get the virus from their grandchild hugging them could die,” he says.
France begins a full lockdown of the population in a bid to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
MADRID — Spain confirms nearly 2,000 new cases of COVID-19, sending the total spiraling past 11,000, with 491 deaths, the health ministry says today.
Over the past 24 hours, the number of people infected rose by 1,987, hiking the overall total to 11,178, the ministry’s emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon says, while indicating the number of people who had recovered stood at 1,098.
The mayor of Modiin says the city may need to lockdown an entire neighborhood in the central city after the number of coronavirus cases there rose to 10.
Haim Bibas calls on people living in Avnei Hoshen not to leave their homes, while the municipality says it is prepared to provide residents under quarantine essential services, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Over 3,000 of the neighborhood’s roughly 11,000 residents are in quarantine.
Police announce the arrest of a man suspected of having the coronavirus who escaped from the hospital where he was being quarantined.
Police say they received a report last night that that the suspect was on a train headed to the southern city of Beersheba. After police contacted Israel Railways, the train the suspect was on stopped near Ben Gurion University in Beersheba.
Officers arrested the suspect and brought him to a hospital, where police stress he was kept at a distance from other people.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 17, 2020
The Magen David Adom emergency service says as part of its efforts to increase testing for the coronavirus, beginning tomorrow it will offer “drive through” testing areas where people can be tested in their cars.
The first stations will be in Tel Aviv and five additional ones will be added in Haifa, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Rishon Lezion and Beersheba, it says.
The stations will operate 24 hours a day, with MDA saying each will be able to carry out hundreds of tests a day.
“The stations will be located in open areas that will allow continuous entry and exit of vehicles,” a MDA statement says.
Those suspected of having the virus who can’t make it to the stations without taking public transportation will be tested at their homes, according to MDA.
It adds that once the first station has been set up, MDA teams will hold a demonstration that will be open to the media.
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, who is tasked with forming the next government, is updated about the government’s efforts against the coronavirus by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, his party says.
“Gantz said to Ben-Shabbat and Bar Siman-Tov that he is full of admiration for their dedicated work and the work of government ministries, in particular the medical teams: the doctors, nurses, members of Magen David Adom and anyone taking part in saving lives,” a Blue and White statement says.
The statement adds that politics aside, Blue and White will back any “correct move” by the government and Knesset.
A separate statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says that Ben-Shabbat and Bar Siman-Tov “summoned” Gantz for the briefing at Netanyahu’s instruction.
The Health Ministry announces sweeping new restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus, requiring Israelis not to leave their homes unless for essential needs.
Those needs include shopping for groceries, picking up medicine, receiving medical care and other essential services. People who can go to their workplaces in accordance with the ministry’s guidelines can do so.
The ministry says going to parks, playgrounds, the beach, pools, libraries, museums, national parks or other public places is forbidden, unless people are taking out their pets or children.
The police are not being asked to enforce these instructions. Rather, the public is expected to act in accordance with them.
Among other orders and guidelines, the ministry advises those at greater risk from the virus to avoid having people over or leaving their homes unless for essential needs and says Israelis should keep a distance of two meters from each other when they’re outside.
The Health Ministry announces 20 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total to 324.
It says five people are in serious condition, nine people are in moderate condition and 299 in good condition. Another eleven people have recovered and been released.
Of those who are sick, 229 are hospitalized, 23 are on their way to medical facilities and 48 are being treated at home. The ministry says it has still not been decided what to do with 13 people who have tested positive for the virus.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran issues its most dire warning yet about the outbreak of the new coronavirus ravaging the country, suggesting “millions” could die in the Islamic Republic if the public keeps traveling and ignoring health guidance.
A state television journalist who also is a medical doctor gives the warning only hours after hard-line Shiite faithful the previous night pushed their way into the courtyards of two major shrines that had just been closed over fears of the virus. Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader issues a religious ruling prohibiting “unnecessary” travel in the country.
Roughly nine out of 10 of the over 18,000 cases of the new virus confirmed across the Middle East come from Iran, where authorities denied for days the risk the outbreak posed. Officials have now implemented new checks for people trying to leave major cities ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Friday, but have hesitated to quarantine the areas.
That’s even as the death toll in Iran sees another 13% increase today. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says the virus has killed 135 more people to raise the total to 988 amid over 16,000 cases.
The Iranian state TV journalist, Dr. Afruz Eslami, cites a study by Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology, which offered three scenarios. If people begin to cooperate now, Iran will see 120,000 infections and 12,000 deaths before the outbreak is over, she says. If they offer medium cooperation, there will be 300,000 cases and 110,000 deaths, she says.
But if people fail to follow any guidance, it could collapse Iran’s already-strained medical system, Eslami says. If the “medical facilities are not sufficient, there will be 4 million cases, and 3.5 million people will die,” she says.
Eslami doesn’t elaborate on what metrics the study used, but even reporting it on Iran’s tightly controlled state television represents a major change for a country whose officials had for days denied the severity of the crisis.
The director-general of the Health Ministry issues a statement after instructing Israelis not to leave their homes.
“These aren’t simple instructions. We are asking you to minimize as much as possible leaving your home,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov says in a video.
“It could be that in every place you’re going to there is a sick person who could infect you. It could be that you’re sick and you still don’t know this and you can infect other people,” he adds.
Bar Siman-Tov acknowledges Israel is facing a “difficult period” and says the country’s ability to halt the spread of the virus depends on the conduct of its residents.
The Shin Bet security service confirms it has begun using cellular data to retrace the movements of carriers of the coronavirus.
“These activities began after permissions were received from the attorney general and the government,” a Shin Bet official tells The Times of Israel.
— Judah Ari Gross
The following are the new Health Ministry instructions:
1. Do not leave home except when absolutely necessary (for work, in accordance with the restrictions set out below and in accordance with separately published regulations regarding purchase of groceries and medicines, medical services and other essential services).
2. Do not leave home to go to parks, playgrounds, the beach, pool, libraries, museums, nature reserves and parks or other public spaces, except with children in a family framework or with a pet (by yourself).
3. Do not hold classes and extracurricular activities, not even with a minimum number of participants, including sports classes and gyms. This regulation applies to both private and public classes and extracurricular activities. Sporting activities may be held in a group of up to 5 people on condition that a distance of two meters is maintained between them.
4. Social connections should be maintained by remote communication. Avoid hosting friends and family who do not reside in your home.
5. Guidelines for at-risk populations — The elderly and people of any age with severe chronic diseases; long-term respiratory illnesses including asthma; autoimmune diseases; cardiovascular disease; diabetes; immune system disorders and conditions; malignant illnesses should all avoid leaving their homes as far as is possible and hosting people at home, except for essential services. Seek assistance from friends and family to bring supplies.
6. Reducing the need to leave home by employing the following tools:
a. Remote work, video calls and conferencing
b. Every employer must make sure a distance of two meters between employees is maintained and ensure personal and environmental hygiene rules are also maintained.
c. Delivery services — only as far as the doorstep
d. Dental care — It is recommended to postpone all treatments and perform only absolutely necessary and emergency treatments.
More on this to follow…
The Israel Defense Forces says the Hezbollah terror group and Syrian army were behind an attempted sniper attack against Israeli soldiers on the Golan Heights earlier this month.
The military says Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers were seen preparing to carry out the attack, filming the border with smartphones and professional cameras and measuring wind-speed — steps that are often taken ahead of time to improve snipers’ accuracy.
“When there was an operational opportunity, the car being used by the cell was attacked by an IDF helicopter,” the military says.
“The State of Israel sees sovereign Syria as responsible for all that happens in its territory,” the IDF says.
— Judah Ari Gross
As the Health Ministry issues sweeping new restrictions, President Reuven Rivlin implores Israelis to show patience and remain at home to prevent further spread of the new coronavirus.
“I know very that being closed up at home is not at all easy. I understand that the children need open spaces and that you parents also need some breathing room. But, nevertheless, we must not turn these days into leisure days… The danger is real!” he says in a statement from his office.
Rivlin urges Israelis to maintain physical distance from one another and avoid gatherings.
“If we follow the instructions, they will keep us safe. Patience and deep breaths – this is our spirit, and if we keep it up, it will keep us strong,” says.
The following are the rest of the new Health Ministry instructions:
8. Using health services:
a. If you do have a health problem, it is advisable to use remote medical services and to avoid going to the clinic as far as possible in accordance with HMO guidelines published online and in the media.
b. Immediately upon commencement of quarantine, establish communication channels with your HMO. Check online or with family members what to do if you require medical services (you need to make sure you know how to contact the HMO and follow the HMO guidelines).
c. If you feel that you are developing illness, fever, with or without respiratory symptoms, you should go into home isolation and avoid contact with family members. Temperature should be measured twice a day. If you are concerned, contact your doctor or the referral center of the HMO you are a member of.
d. If you have a febrile illness, you should remain in isolation for up to two days after the fever has ended. The rest of the family should be isolated only in the event that you have been found positive for coronavirus.
Further rules of conduct:
Avoid physical contact including hugs and handshakes
Do not open doors with the palm of your hand
Avoid touching your face
Wash your hands frequently
Ventilate your home as much as possible
Disinfect handles and doors
Do not kiss mezuzot and other sacred objects
Do not smoke cigarettes, e-cigarettes or hookahs – this is a good opportunity to stop smoking!
Do not use shared utensils for eating and do not share food from mouth to mouth.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise while staying at home.
More on this to follow…
The Transportation Ministry announces it is curbing public transportation following the new Health Ministry restrictions to combat the coronavirus.
Public transportation (buses, trains and light rail) will cease operating at 10 p.m. tonight before resuming tomorrow morning. After tonight, public transportation will stop at 8 p.m. each evening.
The ministry says public transposition will no longer operate on weekends, meaning it will stop at 8 p.m. Thursday before beginning again Sunday morning.
Only lines that provide service to locations offering essential services will continue to operate.
The Transportation Ministry also implores Israelis to avoid using public transportation.
The following is the remainder of the new Health Ministry instructions:
Rules for conduct outside of the home
1. When is it permissible to go out
a. If urgent medical care is required – Patients with fever and respiratory symptoms are prohibited from leaving the home except in medical emergencies.
b. Employees – in accordance with government directives and regulations to be published separately.
c. You may go out for essential supplies if supplies cannot be delivered or brought to you by a family member (in the case of elderly or chronically ill patients).
d. Funerals – reduce as much as possible to the absolute minimum; only close family members and maintain a distance of 2 meters between people. Avoid staying in confined spaces.
e. You may leave the house for a 10-minute walk in isolated locations or out in the yard. Take the elevator by yourself or without proximity to other people.
f. Looking after children – Two families may look after each other’s toddlers on condition that it is the same two families.
2. Rules for conduct outside of the home
a. Exit in a private vehicle – Only one person should be in a vehicle – unless they are family members of the same household – except when there is a need to escort someone; for example, evacuation for non-urgent medical care.
b. Public transport should be avoided as far as possible – detailed instructions will be issued separately.
c. Keep a distance of two meters from other people when you are in a public place.
d. Ensure hand and respiratory hygiene.
3. Rules of conduct at work
a. Employees should maintain a distance of at least two meters apart.
b. Take your temperature before leaving for work. If you have a fever or signs of respiratory illness, do not go to work and follow self isolation rules. It is recommended to maintain a temperature log (take your temperature morning and evening).
c. Wash your hands when arriving and before leaving work and at intervals of no more than 3 hours.
d. Do your best not to touch your mouth and nose. Wash hands after every time to you do make contact of this kind.
e. Tissue / toilet paper should be available close to all employees.
4. As of Sunday, March 22, elective procedures in public hospitals will be suspended. A detailed announcement will follow.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman assails Prime Minister Netanyahu over his response to the coronavirus outbreak, accusing him of leading Israel to “total collapse.”
Noting complaints over a lack of protective gear for medical workers and ability to carry out a large number of tests for the virus, Liberman also labels as a “failure” the budget deficit and the struggles of the Israeli Employment Service to handle a large number of applications, with unemployment expected to rise.
“Who’s responsible for all this? Who was prime minister for the last decade?” Liberman writes on Facebook. “One man whose name is Benjamin Netanyahu, who at the the moment instead of leading a brave move of unity and getting out of the crisis, is leading us toward collapse.”
He adds: “All of us must internalize, Netanyahu’s public relations campaign won’t eradicate the coronavirus and won’t solve the economic crisis.”
Liberman was a former ally of Netanyahu but fell out with the premier after the first of three elections this past year, helping trigger the current political deadlock. This week he recommended that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz form the next government.
The deputy director-general of the Health Ministry says the coming week will be “critical” to halting the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.
“The coming week will be the most critical and during it we’ll monitor the number of newly tested people. I assume that after two weeks we’ll know how we’re progressing. If there’s a jump like in Italy we’ll move to more severe steps,” he is quoted saying by the Ynet news site.
He adds: “The general message is to remain at home. The more severe the lockdown is, the shorter it will be. It’s preferable that someone who wants to buy food do this by delivery rather than going to the supermarket.”
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett approves a call-up of an additional 2,500 reservists for the Israel Defense Forces in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
This comes days after the minister approved a similar call-up of 2,000 reserve troops.
The military has largely been bringing in these reservists to serve in the IDF Home Front Command, the military unit that works closely with civilian authorities for disaster preparedness and response.
— Judah Ari Gross
GENEVA — This year’s European Championship for soccer is postponed for one year because of the coronavirus outbreak.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin says the spreading virus currently “makes football and all life in Europe quite impossible.”
The tournament is now scheduled to be played from next June 11 to July 11.
The UEFA executive committee makes the decision after hosting a video conference call with its 55 national member federations.
The European Championship final typically attracts a broadcast audience of 300 million worldwide and made UEFA a profit of 830 million euros ($912 million) four years ago.
“Moving Euro 2020 comes at a huge cost for UEFA,” Ceferin says in a statement.
The decision is taken during an intense day of talks with member federations and the leaders of European club soccer, which is in a near-total shutdown.
It is still far from clear when the public health crisis could ease enough for European soccer to resume. Still, taking Euro 2020 off the calendar clears valuable weeks in which domestic leagues and cups, and the Champions League and Europa League, could be completed.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee says today it is not the time for “drastic decisions” over the staging of the Tokyo Olympics, the year’s biggest sporting event and as yet not postponed because of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“The IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive,” the IOC says in a statement after its executive board met in Lausanne.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to run July 24-August 9.
The Health Ministry launches a “special public relations mission” in which cars equipped with loudspeakers are dispatched to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to implore residents to obey instructions aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.
The messages, relayed over the loudspeakers in both Yiddish and Hebrew, are “to clarify the unprecedented urgency of obeying Health Ministry instructions,” a ministry statement says.
— חדשות 13 (@newsisrael13) March 17, 2020
Talks between political factions on setting up parliamentary committees after the new Knesset was sworn in yesterday appear to break down, with the Likud and Blue and White parties blaming each other for the impasse.
“It could be that it doesn’t really interest you with all the coronavirus in the air, but as of today you’re not living in a democracy,” Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid writes on Facebook.
He continues: “The judicial branch was closed four days ago, with an order issued at one in the morning, without anyone knowing about it. The legislative branch was closed today illegally. The speaker of the last Knesset [Yuli Edelstein], who wasn’t chosen for his position, closed the Knesset. Before that he refused a request of a majority of Knesset members — 62 in total — to choose a new Knesset speaker.”
Lapid accuses Edelstein of refusing to choose members of numerous Knesset committees which he says could assist in fighting the coronavirus.
Likud MK Miki Zohar says it’s Blue and White that is to blame.
“Blue and White is again trying to break the rules of the Knesset. They’re behaving brutally and are disconnected from reality out of their hatred for the prime minister,” he tweets.
Zohar claim Likud offered to establish 10 Knesset committees that Blue and White refused.
Echoing Lapid, fellow Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon accuses Prime Minister Netanyahu of using the coronavirus to neuter Israeli democracy.
“Blue and White will establish as broad an emergency government as possible, even if we start with a narrow government, to save the country. We won’t allow Netanyahu turn Israel into a dictatorship,” Ya’alon, a former member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, tweets.
LONDON — The brother of a suicide bomber who killed 22 people in the British city of Manchester is found guilty of 22 counts of murder over the 2017 attack.
Hashem Abedi is not in court to hear the jury deliver their verdict on his involvement in the attack by his older brother Salman, one of the deadliest terror attacks ever witnessed in the UK.
US President Donald Trump is insisting that the US can be “rolling again” quickly after the coronavirus outbreak if “we do this right.”
Trump speaks as he opens today’s daily coronavirus briefing at the White House. Yesterday, Trump urged the American public to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. He also urged the elderly to stay at home and practice social distancing for the next couple of weeks.
Trump says that Americans’ public health and the US economy can be protected through what he says are “shared sacrifices” and “temporary changes.”
The president adds that, “if we do this right, our country and the world frankly, but our country can be rolling again pretty quickly.”
Across the United States, over 4,660 people have been infected by the COVID-19 virus and 95 people have died.
The Trump administration is urging US construction companies to donate their inventories of safety masks to hospitals and forgo new orders as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic.
US Vice President Mike Pence says the single-use N95 masks, which are designed to filter 95 percent of airborne particles and commonly used in the construction industry, are “perfectly acceptable” for hospital use.
Pence, who is heading up the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited the Minnesota headquarters of 3M, the maker of the N95 mask, earlier this month to discuss the production increase.
Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams have said the average American does not need to go out and buy a mask. They have urged Americans to leave the masks for medical professionals.
The Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip begins building a pair of facilities to house individuals who need to be quarantined due to the coronavirus outbreak.
There have yet to be any COVID-19 cases in the coastal enclave, but authorities over the past week have begun taking steps to prepare for the possibility that the virus could reach the crowded Strip.
The new facilities, one in the enclave’s north and another in the south, will contain 500 rooms for individuals requiring quarantine.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who had not been seen publicly in recent weeks, was at the southern facility himself today monitoring the progress of the construction.
Yesterday, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which runs hospitals and clinics in Gaza, announced that it was beginning to separate those with respiratory issues from other patients in order to prevent exposing those who might have contracted coronavirus to others.
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz joins his fellow party members in accusing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud of blocking the formation of key parliamentary committees after the new Knesset was sworn in yesterday.
“Likud… is trying to prevent the work of the Knesset. If it isn’t enough that the Knesset hasn’t functioned for a full year, now the also want the new Knesset to do the minimum required work in a time of crisis,” Gantz writes on Facebook, referring to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The moves by Likud are a dangerous precedent for democracy and we’ll fight this with all our strength,” he adds.
SEOUL — A South Korean hospital has introduced phone booth-style coronavirus testing facilities that allow medical staff to examine patients from behind the safety of a plastic panel, the latest innovation in the country’s drive to track down infections.
The row of four booths — which use negative air pressure to prevent harmful particles from escaping outside — stands under a tented shelter outside the H Plus Yangji Hospital in Seoul.
The hospital dubs them the “Safe Assessment and Fast Evaluation Technical booths of Yangji hospital” — or SAFETY for short.
Each patient steps into the box for a rapid consultation by intercom with a medical professional who, if necessary, takes their samples by swabbing their nose and throat using arm-length rubber gloves built into the panel.
The whole process takes about seven minutes and the booth is then disinfected and ventilated.
The smaller SAFETY boxes are “significantly easier” to disinfect than the usual negative-pressure rooms and so are a “much safer space to be tested in,” hospital president Kim Sang-il tells AFP.
South Korea was once the hardest-hit country outside China, where the virus first emerged, but appears to have brought its outbreak under control thanks to a huge testing and contact-tracing effort.
By midnight yesterday almost 300,000 people had been tested — processes that are free to anyone who has been told to have a test by a doctor, or who tests positive.
Early in the epidemic it introduced drive-through testing for the virus, with medical staff in protective suits swabbing noses through car windows, a practice now adopted internationally.
President Reuven Rivlin releases a video statement addressed to Jewish communities worldwide on the coronavirus pandemic.
Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Foreign Ministry says.
Aharon Sagi, a diplomat at the embassy in Berlin, also has the virus.
“The two are feeling well and at their homes,” the Foreign Ministry says in a statement.
Issacharoff and Sagi were tested after meeting with a member of the Bundestag who tested positive for the virus.
The embassy has now been shuttered and the diplomatic staff sent to home quarantine, according to the ministry.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says he’ll call a plenum vote to establish parliamentary committees if the parties cannot agree on their makeup.
“We won’t remain without parliamentary oversight of the government,” he writes on Twitter.
He also says he has applied the Health Ministry’s instructions against the virus, which limits public events to 10 people, to the Knesset.
“I won’t, not even for Knesset members, endanger the workers and visitors to the [Knesset],” he says.
Separately, Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz, who earlier accused Likud of preventing the Knesset from functioning, speaks with Edelstein.
“The Knesset is a national and vital institution that must continue to function, all the more so in times of crisis, and it’s expected of someone [Edelstein] who for years was a statesmanlike actor who served all Israeli society to allow this,” a statement from Blue and White says.
The statement also says that MKs should serve as an example to the rest of the public by following Health Ministry instructions and therefore lawmakers should use videos conferences or “other creative solutions” to do their work.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia suspends prayers inside all but the holiest two mosques in Islam as the kingdom steps up efforts to contain the new coronavirus, state media reports.
Mosques will be temporarily shut for the five daily Islamic prayers as well as the weekly Friday prayers, the official Saudi Press Agency says, citing the council of senior scholars — the kingdom’s highest religious body.
It says mosques will continue to issue the ritual call to prayer.
The decision seeks to direct worshipers to pray at home but does not affect prayers in Mecca’s Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, it adds.
The announcement risks riling fringe hardliners for whom religion trumps health considerations.
Saudi Arabia has reported 171 coronavirus cases, but no deaths so far.
The first person in Israel to test positive for the coronavirus who wasn’t already in quarantine has recovered and been released from the hospital.
Meir Cohen tells Channel 12 news that his wife, who was also infected, has also recovered from the virus.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud hits back at political rivals accusing him of using the coronavirus outbreak to undermine Israel’s democracy by charging that it is they who are undemocratic.
“While the prime minister is working around the clock against coronavirus, Blue and White MKs and [Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor] Liberman are busy with political dealings aimed at carrying out a hijacking of the government with undemocratic legislation,” the party says in a statement.
It is referring to a series of bills that would block Netanyahu from forming the next government due to his indictment on graft charges.
“Instead of showing national responsibility and joining an emergency government, they’re busy with petty politics,” Likud adds.
A man who attended a conference with three Knesset members has tested positive for the coronavirus, Channel 12 news reports, likely sending them to home quarantine.
The three lawmakers are Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Blue and White MKs Ram Ben-Barak and Alon Shuster. Hanegbi was at the Knesset yesterday for the swearing-in ceremony despite being told to stay away.
The Knesset is now considering emergency measures and possibly testing all MKs for the virus, according to the network.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will again give a televised statement on the coronavirus at 9 p.m.
A “senior source” involved in setting Israeli government policy tells Channel 12 news that Israel may be at an inflection point in terms of the number of coronavirus cases in the country.
“We are not Italy or Spain yet. But we are walking along the edge; one misstep and we’ll fall into the abyss,” the source says. “The public needs to be aware that there will be an increase in contagion in the coming days, and fatalities will come.”
The source adds: “In 24 hours it will be too late. If we can locate all those who are infected, and the necessary distancing, we will beat the pandemic.”
LONDON — A British-Iranian woman serving a five-year prison term in Tehran for sedition was released from jail for two weeks on today, her husband says.
“The Free Nazanin Campaign is pleased to confirm — as has long been promised –- that Nazanin (Zaghari-Ratcliffe) was this afternoon released temporarily on furlough for two weeks until 4 April 2020,” Richard Ratcliffe says in an emailed statement.
The 41-year-old last month warned she was in danger of contracting the new coronavirus inside Evin Prison, as Iran struggles to contain the global epidemic within its own borders.
She was subsequently tested and found not to have the virus, which has killed nearly 1,000 people inside the country.
Her husband says that Zaghari-Ratcliffe will be required to wear an ankle tag and that her movements will be restricted to 300 meters from her parents’ home in west Tehran.
“This makes her release more comparable to house arrest than the standard furlough arrangement that has been granted to other prisoners in Evin this week,” he says.
But Richard Ratcliffe says her temporary release has still brought joy to her family as she spent her first hours outside prison with her mother and sisters.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 after visiting relatives in Iran with their young daughter.
She worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organization’s philanthropic arm — at the time.
Iranian authorities convicted her of sedition — a charge Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always contested — and she is serving a five-year jail term.
Prime Minister Netanyahu begins his statement on the coronavirus.
“Happily we haven’t lost anyone. This won’t last,” he says at his office. “This isn’t a kids game… it’s a matter of life and death.”
Netanyahu says he’s announcing three more steps.
These include a better ability to track down those who might have been exposed to the virus, which the government will be able to do after having approved “digital tracking” measures yesterday. Those who have been exposed will be required to self-quarantine.
He says Israel will also significantly ramp up its testing for coronavirus, to 3,000 tests per day, and ultimately a possible 5,000 tests a day.
He says Israel’s hospitals are bracing for an influx of patients, and have ordered an additional 1,000 respirators.
He also asks Israelis to demonstrate “discipline and responsibility” to help curb the spread of the virus.
He says too many Israelis evidently don’t recognize the gravity of the situation. All the measures Israel is taking will be worthless if people do not follow the restrictions.
He says he sees Israelis at the beach, crowding in lines, even sitting one on top of each on the sofa at home. In this pandemic, he says, “love means keeping your distance.”
If you don’t have to go to work, he adds, stay home. The expression “my home is my castle” applies here, he says.
Taking the podium after Netanyahu, Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov warns there could be a large rise in infections if people do not adhere to instructions meant to curb the spread of the virus.
“We estimate that scenarios like in Italy or Spain can happen here,” he says.
In the coming days, come what may, the rate of new cases will rise — to 100 a day or more.
“We may get to a situation in which hundreds more [new cases are confirmed] each day.”
Ultimately, while there have been Israeli deaths to date, “people will die — possibly even in the next few days.”
He adds: “To our sorrow, in our scenarios, many thousands [of Israelis] could die.” Thus the goal of Israel’s measures is to keep that number down by minimizing contagion.
He also calls on Israelis not to visit their elderly parents or grandparents, who are at greater risk from the virus, and says those who feel unwell must stay home.
“We’d rather you follow our instructions,” he says. “If necessary, we’ll enforce them.”
Moshe Bar Siman-Tov vows doctors and nurses will receive sufficient medical gear, amid complaints they lack enough protective equipment while dealing with the coronavirus.
Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, says tests for the coronavirus are not a “solution” to the coronavirus but a “tool” in helping to stop it.
She says social distancing and quarantines is what will beat the virus.
BERLIN — The European Union will impose an entry ban on travelers from outside the bloc for 30 days to battle the spread of the coronavirus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says today.
Member states “agreed to impose an entry ban” into the bloc, with only nationals of EFTA countries and Britain exempt from the restriction, says Merkel, adding that the bloc was taking “coordinated action to bring back stranded travelers.”
New York City residents should be prepared for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order within days, Mayor Bill de Blasio says.
De Blasio says no decision had been made yet, but he wants city and state officials to make a decision within 48 hours, given the fast spread of the coronavirus.
“New Yorkers should be prepared right now for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order,” de Blasio says at a news briefing.
Officials in six San Francisco Bay-area counties issued a “shelter-in-place” order that went into effect today, requiring nearly 7 million residents to stay inside and venture out only for food, medicine or exercise for three weeks.
At least 100 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Borough Park, a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency confirms the number with an official at Asisa, an urgent care clinic in the New York City neighborhood that caters to the Hasidic community.
According to the official, who asks to remain anonymous because of restrictions on speaking to the media, the 100 positive tests have come since the clinic began testing on Friday morning. Asisa has conducted 1,000 total tests, the official says.
As of Tuesday, there are 814 total coronavirus cases in New York City, according to its Department of Health.
French health authorities say that 27 more people have died over the last 24 hours from the coronavirus in the country, bringing the total death toll in France to 175 people.
There are now 7,730 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country, France’s top health official Jerome Salomon tells reporters, a jump of over 1,000 on the day earlier.
His comments come as France enters the first day of a lockdown ordered by President Emmanuel Macron which orders people to stay at home and prohibits all non-essential movements.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Israel hits 337, the Health Ministry says.
Five of the infected are in serious condition, and another 10 are in moderate condition, it says.
Belgians must stay at home from midday on Wednesday until at least April 5 in case they spread the coronavirus further, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes says on Tuesday.
The only residents allowed out will be those heading for medical attention, solo exercise or work in some businesses deemed essential such as food markets and pharmacies, she says.
The number of novel coronavirus cases globally stood at 189,680 with 7,813 deaths, across 146 countries and territories at 1700 GMT Tuesday, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.
Since 1700 GMT on Monday there were 806 new deaths reported and 14,159 new cases globally.
The tallies, using data collected by AFP offices from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), take into account the fact that criteria for counting victims and coronavirus screening practices vary from country to country.
The countries with the most new deaths in the past 24-hour period are Italy (345), Spain (182) and Iran (135).
China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — where the outbreak emerged in late December, has to date declared 80,881 cases, including 3,226 deaths, with 68,869 people recovered. The country declared 21 new cases and 13 new fatalities since Monday.
Four Brooklyn Nets players test positive for the new coronavirus, bringing the total to seven known players in the NBA.
The team announces that one player is exhibiting symptoms, while the other three are asymptomatic. All four players have been isolated and are under the care of team physicians.
The Nets adds that all players and members of their travel party are being asked to remain isolated and closely monitor their health.
According to the Health Ministry, the source of the COVID-19 infection in two more patients remains unknown and is under investigation.
The two are men from central Israel, one is in his 70s and the other in his 80s.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and two Blue and White MKs Ram Ben-Barak and Alon Shuster will enter immediate home quarantine after contact with a virus carrier.
The four met with head of the Merhavim Regional Council Shai Hajaj in recent days. On Tuesday Hajaj was diagnosed with coronavirus.