Finance Ministry officials said surprised by PM’s announcement of handouts
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Netanyahu: If public heeds rules, Passover ‘could be turning point’

Prime minister warns against complacency as Israel approaches Jewish holiday, says Italy’s leader told him severe action should be taken early rather than late

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu updates Israelis on the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, April 1, 2020 (video screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu updates Israelis on the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, April 1, 2020 (video screenshot)

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

Army chief does not have coronavirus — IDF

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi has tested negative for COVID-19, the army announces.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visits a special forces exercise taking place in Cyprus in December 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Kohavi and two other top generals entered quarantine on Tuesday after it was discovered that they had a meeting with someone who had the virus.

The IDF says Kohavi feels well and will remain in quarantine until the end of the week.

Test results for Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai and head of IDF Operations Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva have not yet been received.

Nine more first responders in DC sick with COVID-19

The District of Columbia has announced nine new COVID-19 infections among first responders.

The first day of “high-volume testing” for first responders revealed five new coronavirus cases among the fire department and EMS, bringing the total to 19. Four new cases were revealed for the Metropolitan Police Department, for a total of 13.

Hundreds of police officers, firefighters and EMS members remain quarantined. Washington has identified 504 positive cases, with nine deaths. Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued a stay-home order for Washington’s approximately 700,000 residents. Neighboring Maryland and Virginia have done the same.

— AP

Number of deaths in US tops 4,000

The total US death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped 4,000, more than double the number from three days earlier, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The number of deaths is 4,076 — more than twice the 2,010 recorded late Saturday.

More than 40% of recorded deaths nationally were in New York state, the Johns Hopkins data showed. New York City alone has over 1,000 deaths.

Paramedics push a gurney with a patient to Brooklyn Hospital Center Emergency Room on March 31, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (Angela Weiss / AFP)

On Tuesday the United States exceeded the number of deaths in China, where the pandemic emerged in December before spreading worldwide.

The number of confirmed US cases has reached 189,510, the most in the world, though Italy and Spain have recorded more fatalities.


Plane had been moving between bases used by Iran before Syria attack — monitor

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, says a cargo plane had been shuttling between the Shayrat and T-4 air bases in central Syria before an alleged Israeli strike on the former, citing reliable sources.

Observers believe Shayrat to used by Iran as a forward base for bringing weapons into the country. T-4 had been seen as a main base for housing Iran-linked fighters and arms and has been allegedly attacked by Israel several times.

Mobile testing centers to open in Rahat, Ashdod

Pop-up drive-thru coronavirus testing centers are slated to open Wednesday in the cities of Ashdod and Rahat, according to media reports.

Rahat, a Bedouin city of 69,000 in the northern Negev, has seen only 4 confirmed cases, according to Health Ministry data, likely due to low testing rates in Arab communities.

View of a road in Rahat on August 18, 2015. ( Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In 2013, the city was the epicenter of a polio outbreak, leading to a major immunization campaign.

Ashdod, home to a large ultra-Orthodox community, is the country’s sixth largest city, but has seen less than 100 confirmed cases.


Coronavirus case tally up to 5,591, in major 24-hour jump

The Health Ministry has upped the tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 5,591.

The tally shows 233 new cases confirmed since the night before and 760 cases in the last 24 hours, the largest single-day jump seen yet.

97 people are in serious condition and 76 are on ventilators.

The report also ups the death toll to 21, but does not provide details.


Number of recovered up to 226

The Health Ministry tally reports that the number of recovered is up to 226, two more than a previous report.

118 people are in moderate condition, according to the release.


Woman, 98, confirmed as 21st coronavirus death

Soroka Hospital in Beersheba announces that the 21st death was a 98-year-old woman who had been hospitalized there.

It says the woman had “complicated and severe” preexisting conditions.

Top generals test negative for coronavirus — IDF

The IDF announces that Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai and head of IDF Operations Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva have both tested negative for COVID-19, joining IDF chief Aviv Kohavi.

Both will remain in isolation until the weekend, the army says.




Print’s not dead, but coronavirus has it on life support

Australia’s biggest newspaper publisher News Corp. says it will suspend printing of 60 local papers due to weak advertising revenue.

Local newspapers in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia will be digital-only from next week. The newspapers depend heavily on advertising related to real estate auctions, house inspections, community events and restaurants — all of which have been closed.

News Corp. Australia’s executive chairman, Michael Miller, said the top priority is to preserve jobs and position its business to counter the coronavirus crisis.

The COVID-19 outbreak has meanwhile brought a surge in new subscriptions to News Corp.’s online publications. The journalists’ union — Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance — has urged the government to help out several rural newspapers in New South Wales and Victoria that have already stopped printing due to lack of advertising.

In the US, the Gannett Company also recently announced it would force employees at its news outlets making over $39,000 annually to take a week unpaid vacation per month during the crisis.

— with AP

Tel Aviv apartment plots sold for record NIS 400 million

The economy is smarting under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, but some are still raking it in.

The Plaza International real estate firm announces that it has signed a preliminary agreement to sell two plots of land in north Tel Aviv to the Hagag Group for a record NIS 400 million ($112 million).

Two towers are slated to be built on the plots, in the Park Bavli project near the city’s Bavli neighborhood, with at least 190 units each.

Plaza International is owned by the Tshuva Group and controlled by Gal Naor, the daughter of tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva, who lives in the project’s first tower.

A second tower is slated to be completed in 2023.

Illustrative: Residential towers in north Tel Aviv on September 22, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Residents of Beersheba old age home beg for testing after second death

After the second death of a resident of a Beersheba elder care facility, residents there are begging to be tested.

According to reports, at least five people at the Mishan old age home have tested positive for the virus.

“Why do we have to bang on doors and beg to be tested,” resident Esther Halili says in a video published by Ynet. “Indeed, we are not MKs and not even the prime minister’s family, but we are people. We came here to live, not die.”

Relatives of residents of the Mishan assisted living facility in Beersheba protest on March 29, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Earlier, Soroka Hospital in the city announced that a resident of the facility, 98, had died, days after another resident succumbed to COVID-19. Both had preexisting conditions.

According to Haaretz, operators of the Mishan facility said they would test residents after pressure from the Health Ministry.

Meanwhileת Channel 12 news reports that three cases have been discovered at a Bat Yam rehabilitation center.

Police girding for possible crowds at Bnei Brak funeral

Police in Bnei Brak are gearing up for the funeral of the wife of an ultra-Orthodox community leader, days after authorities were criticized for not stepping in to prevent hundreds from attending a procession there in contravention of social distancing rules.

Channel 12 news reports that police officials are attempting to negotiate with community leaders to keep people from congregating at the funeral for Aliza Friedman, the wife of one of the leaders of the hardline Jerusalem Faction sect.

Attendees at a Bnei Brak funeral on March 29, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter)

A midnight funeral for another leader of the group late Saturday and early Sunday drew some 400 people. Police said they did not enforce the rules in order to avoid rioting, which they feared would make the situation worse, but were still reprimanded, and have since stepped up enforcement there and in other ultra-Orthodox areas.

In Modiin Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement, police have arrested six members of the sect Wednesday morning for holding an illegal prayer gathering.

Bnei Brak is seen as the largest virus epicenter in the country, with 571 reported cases in a population of just under 200,000 people.

Officials are reportedly leaning toward closing off the city to prevent the spread of the virus, but have so far only placed some checkpoints around the city to check IDs of some entering the Tel Aviv suburb.

Israeli police talk to a driver at a checkpoint in Bnei Brak, a predominantly ultra-Orthodox city east of Tel Aviv, on March 31, 2020, as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Under Health Ministry rules, only 20 people are allowed to attend a funeral. Prayer gatherings of more than two people are forbidden.

Police minister touts ‘unprecedented enforcement’ in Bnei Brak

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tells the Ynet news website that police are carrying out “exacting and unprecedented enforcement” in Bnei Brak.

He says he is pushing for authority to force anyone in the city who tests positive for the virus, or is required to be in quarantine, to move to a hotel, where their movement can be more easily tracked.

Police in protective masks block the entrance to a mall in Bnei Brak on March 31, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Senior Health Ministry official Boaz Lev tells the channel he is very worried about the city’s outbreak spreading across the country. “This is like a wildfire in a field of weeds.”


Stock market slides at open, ending comeback

After partially clawing back from its historic losses over the last several days, the Tel Aviv Stock exchange’s major indexes have opened April with a return to losing.

The benchmark TA-35 is down 2.65 percent over an hour after the opening bell, and the TA-125 is down 2.88%.

The trend was repeated across East Asia, where shares mostly fell Wednesday, on continuing worries about the economic fallout from the pandemic as reports of coronavirus cases keep surging in various regions.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 4.5% to finish at 18,065.41. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 3.6% to 5,258.60, while South Korea’s Kospi dipped 3.8% to 1,687.97. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 2.6% to 22,989.96, while the Shanghai Composite edged 0.5% lower to 2,736.28.

— with AP

Defense Ministry buying 35 million masks from Sderot factory

The Defense Ministry says it has contracted with a Sderot manufacturer for 35 million face masks for medical staff.

Sion Medical will also manufacture hundreds of thousands of uniforms for medical staff, according to a statement.

Israeli officials are reportedly mulling requiring all who leave their homes to wear face masks, after initially downplaying the effectiveness of the gear.

Deaths in Europe top 30,000

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 30,000 people in Europe, more than three-quarters of them in Italy and Spain, according to an AFP tally using official figures.

A total of 30,063 deaths have been recorded in Europe out of 458,601 cases, making it the continent hit hardest by COVID-19.

A patient is seen through the glass of the door inside the intensive care unit at the CHRU hospital in Tours, northwestern France, on March 31, 2020. (GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP)

The most deaths were recorded in Italy, with 12,428 fatalities, followed by Spain with 8,189 and France with 3,523.

The global death toll stands at over 42,300 according to a Johns Hopkins University count.


Video shows Bnei Brakker turning on congregating scofflaws

A video being shared on social media shows an ultra-Orthodox man in Bnei Brak heckling a group of people who gathered for an illegal prayer, amid widespread concerns of a massive coronavirus outbreak in the city due to some refusing to heed rules against congregating for prayer or many other reasons.

“Get out of here, murderers,” the man yells as people, some in prayer shawls, appear to walk away from a synagogue, though at least one man is seen going back in. “I’ll report you 10 times. From now on, I’ll call the police every time.”

Police have begun to hand out fines of NIS 500 to NIS 5,000 to those breaking social distancing rules against congregating or leaving home for nonessential reasons, and have arrested some.

Beersheba nursing home residents to get tested for virus

Residents of the Mishan nursing home in Beersheba will be tested for COVID-19, after a second person from the facility died overnight, the Walla news site reports.

Residents had begged for mass testing, fearing the virus was running rampant through the home.


Virus case tallies jump in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Bnei Brak has jumped by 159 in the last 24 hours, according to Hebrew media reports citing official figures.

A total of 730 people in the city now have the virus, though it remains behind Jerusalem as the second largest hotspot. At least some of the increase may be the result of increased testing, after swabbing stations were set up in the city.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish walking in Bnei Brak on March 31, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In Jerusalem, a total of 780 people have the virus, up from 650 a day earlier.

Much of the increase is seen as emanating from the ultra-Orthodox community.

According to Channel 12 news, double-digit increases were also recorded in several other cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations.

Over 7,400 virus tests checked Tuesday as effort ramps up

The Health Ministry has released figures on testing levels, showing upped numbers over the last three days.

According to the figures, 7,439 swabs were checked on Tuesday, 6,636 on Monday and 6,489 on Sunday. The five days previous each had daily numbers between 5,000 and 5,700.

Authorities say they are seeking to ramp up testing to at least 10,000 a day. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Defense Ministry to acquire enough kits to perform 30,000 daily checks.

The ministry had not released daily testing numbers since March 25.


Asian virus resurgence portends poorly for recovery hopes

The New York Times looks at the resurgence of virus cases in Asia and notes that the phenomenon is bad news for anyone hoping for a quick return to normal for the world.

A man wearing a face mask as a preventive measure against the coronavirus holds a portrait as he stands outside the Biandanshan cemetery in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on March 31, 2020. (Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

According to the report, China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and other countries in East Asia have snapped back restrictions and tightened borders amid fears of a new wave of cases, as travelers from the West bring the virus with them.

“The moves portend a worrisome sign for the United States, Europe and the rest of the world still battling a surging outbreak: Any country’s success with containment could be tenuous, and the world could remain on a kind of indefinite lockdown,” the paper notes.

The story says that with uneven domestic solutions across the world, flight restrictions may remain in place to some degree for the foreseeable future.

Fifteen new coronavirus cases confirmed in West Bank

The Palestinian Authority says 15 new cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in the West Bank, bringing the total to 134.

Government spokesman Mohammad Milhem does not say what condition the virus carriers are in.

On Tuesday, Gazan authorities confirmed two new cases there, bringing the total to 12.

UK falls short of testing goal, promises to do better

The British government is under fire for failing to keep its promise to increase the number of tests performed for COVID-19.

The UK has restricted testing to hospitalized patients, leaving many people with milder symptoms unsure whether they have had the new coronavirus.

Many scientists have urged wider testing to allow medics who are negative to remain at work, and to better understand how the virus spreads.

That has happened in Germany, which has the capacity to do 500,000 tests a week.

The UK initially performed about 5,000 tests a day, but the government promised to increase that number to 10,000 by the end of last week.

The target has not been met, with just over 8,000 tests performed Monday, the last day for which figures are available.

Officials have blamed a shortage of the chemicals needed to perform the tests.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick says the number of tests should hit 15,000 a day “within a couple of days” and rise to 25,000 a day by mid-April. He concedes, “We do need to go further and we need to do that faster.”

He tells ITV that “it isn’t easy to procure the tests in a global pandemic because there is a great deal of demand.”

— AP

Nearly one in every four Israelis now out of work

Israel now has over 1 million job-seekers, the vast majority of them employees laid off in the last month due to the coronavirus crisis, according to reports citing official figures.

The empty Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Since the start of March, 843,945 people have registered for unemployment benefits, 90 percent of them having been put on unpaid leave.

The new numbers put the unemployment rate at a whopping 24.1 percent.


Spain death toll tops 9,000

Spain announces 864 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the last 24 hours, bringing the total there to over 9,000.

Iran death toll passes 3,000

Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus has crossed the 3,000 mark, the health ministry says, reporting 138 new fatalities within 24 hours.

Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says the death toll now stands at 3,036. He said 2,987 new cases brought the total to 47,593 and 15,473 of those hospitalized had recovered.


UK data shows infection rate below 1 thanks to social distancing

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine says that the UK’s lockdown measures have managed to bring the coronavirus infection rate there down significantly, offering hope for a path out of the crisis.

According to preliminary data, the infection rate for each person who has the virus to pass it on to others, or R-naught, has likely dropped to 0.62 from 2.6 before lockdown measures were put in place, showing a significant flattening of the curve.

The data is based on an online survey asking participants to list their contacts from the day earlier.

“If we see similar changes across the UK population, we would expect to see the epidemic to start to decline,” Professor John Edmunds from the school, who led the research, says in a statement.

“This means the virus is cornered – it has nowhere to go and will burn out. Good news,” tweets University of Birmingham Prof. Karol Sikora.


Knesset committee chief says NIS 80b rescue package not enough

The head of the Knesset committee overseeing the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis says an NIS 80 billion rescue package for the economy is not nearly enough.

“This is a preliminary plan, with some parts still missing clear details. And yet even now it’s clear that to actually address the crisis we will need a much broader plan and likewise a shift in the accepted budgetary approach,” Ofer Shelah of the opposition Yesh Atid party says in a statement following a Knesset discussion on the plan.

He calls for officials to take “unorthodox measures” given the size of the crisis and urges the government to make it safer for banks to extend credit to hurting consumers.


In reversal, Netanyahu orders all arrivals to quarantine in hotels

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reinstated a plan to require all arrivals from abroad to be quarantined in a hotel for 14 days, a day after it was revealed that a similar plan had been nixed.

Unlike the earlier plan, all arrivals will seemingly now be required to quarantine under supervision, not just those from hard-hit Italy, Spain, France and the US, effective immediately.

Netanyahu’s office also says arrivals will be tested for the virus, should the Defense Ministry manage to acquire enough tests.

On Tuesday, a top health official had called Netanyahu’s decision to nix the Defense Ministry plan “idiotic.”

Police to beef up enforcement to make sure nobody gets together for Passover

Police plan on stepping up enforcement of restrictions on movements and gatherings on the eve of Passover in order to make sure extended families do not attempt to get together for the traditional seder meal.

A police source tells Walla news that police will set up extra checkpoints on highways and hit the streets in extra large forces to make sure everyone complies.

“We won’t allow leniency,” the source says, adding that fines will be handed out.

A woman shops for matzah at a supermarket in Jerusalem on March 31, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Officials have expressed worries that seemingly innocuous holiday get-togethers could lead to a major flare-up of the virus, pointing to the Purim holiday in mid-March as a major reason for current high numbers of infected people.

A picture taken on March 27, 2018, at the Ramat Gan Safari Park near Tel Aviv, shows an orangutan eating traditional matzah (unleavened bread) in the run up to the Jewish holiday of Passover. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

“We’re very worried people getting together on Passover eve will lead to a spike in infections,” Health Ministry legal adviser Uri Schwartz says during a press briefing.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says the issue is “our biggest fear right now.”

Only members of nuclear families who live together will be allowed to celebrate the traditional retelling of the Exodus from Egypt together. Others will have to hide/find the afikomen and watch “The Ten Commandments” solo.


Google decides a world-stopping pandemic is no time for pranks

Those on the lookout for Google to spring one of its traditional April Fools pranks can stop hitting refresh.

The search behemoth says it’s taking a year off from the tradition to avoid sowing more confusion in a world where grim and scary uncertainty is already rampant.

“Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one,” Google marketing manager Lorraine Twohill wrote in an internal email, according to Business Insider.

Twohill wrote that she feared some in Google’s wide breadth of products may be planning pranks on their own, and urged managers to kill the hoaxes before they could get out.

Google has become legendary for its yearly pranks, like inserting Where’s Waldo into Google Maps, or announcing the release of a bad joke detector for email.

Other corporate outfits have taken to also releasing fake news or products, though many are expected to take the year off as well, according to Slate.


UN warns of catastrophic food crunch; Israel says it’s not worried

The heads of three global agencies are warning of the risk of a worldwide “food shortage” if authorities fail to manage the ongoing coronavirus crisis properly.

Many governments around the world have put their populations on lockdown causing severe slowdowns in international trade and food supply chains. Panic buying by people going into confinement has already demonstrated the fragility of supply chains as supermarket shelves emptied in many countries.

“Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market,” says a joint text signed by Qu Dongyu, head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Roberto Azevedo, director of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, specially to avoid food shortage(s)” from developing, they say in their statement.

An Israeli police officer walks with Israeli soldiers as they patrol in Tel Aviv on April 1, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Despite reports of shortages of eggs, matzah and other staples in Israel, Economy Minister Eli Cohen tells Army Radio that there’s nothing to worry about

“We have no food shortage. We have supplies for several months.”

— with AFP

Video shows Haredi child coughing at cops at Beit Shemesh protest

A video shared online by Channel 13 reporter Yossi Eli shows ultra-Orthodox community members in the city of Beit Shemesh protesting police attempts to force them to comply with social distancing regulations.

The video shows a minor calling officers, unseen, Nazis, and then proceeding to try to cough in their general direction.

Blue and White threatens to push anti-Netanyahu law as talks stall — report

A source involved in coalition talks says the negotiations are on the ropes and could be cut off if no breakthrough is made, Channel 12 news reports.

Despite signaling a willingness to join a Benjamin Netanyahu-led government last week, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has yet to come to terms with his former rival, leading to concern over the fate of the swiftly flagging talks.

A source involved in the talks tells Channel 12 that Blue and White is now threatening to resume a legislative drive to pass a law making it impossible for the indicted Netanyahu to become prime minister again.

“We’re making an effort but we are not sure there will be a government,” the source is quoted saying.

The channel does not say what party the source is from.

A Blue and White source tells the channel that the right wing already has 61 votes — likely referring to Telem mutineers Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser — so the centrist party is “trying to ensure our influence.”

Talks have seemingly snagged over the issue of whether Gantz will support unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank under the contours of the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Israel has been stuck in political deadlock for over a year, with Netanyahu remaining as caretaker prime minister after three inconclusive rounds of voting.

Top health official says carriers with no symptoms less likely to spread virus

Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto tells Army Radio that asymptomatic coronavirus carriers are not as dangerous than those who are already sick, but backs away slightly from his claim a day earlier that they cannot infect others.

“Asymptomatic carriers are half as infectious,” he says after being pressed on the issue.

“I can’t say that for sure on the basis of studies, but i can say it on the basis of other information that I have,” he says, adding that he is using other diseases as a model, such as the flu.

On Tuesday, Grotto insisted to Channel 13 news that those without symptoms could not spread the virus.

While there is no solid medical literature pointing definitively one way or the other, health officials around the world have warned that even those who do not have the disease may unwittingly spread it, especially in the days just before symptoms begin to show.

“The bottom line is that there are people out there shedding the virus who don’t know that they’re infected,” Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious diseases expert at Columbia University, tells the New York Times.


Recovered from coronavirus, Prince Charles lauds healthcare workers, volunteers

Having recovered from coronavirus, the UK’s Prince Charles says he experienced only mild symptoms and praises health practitioners, volunteers and all those working to support society through the pandemic.

“The is a strange, frustrating and often distressing experience when the presence of family and friends is no longer possible and the normal structures of life are suddenly removed,” he says of the illness sweeping the world.

“At such an unprecedented and anxious time in all our lives, my wife and I are thinking particularly of all those who have lost their loved ones in such very difficult and abnormal circumstances, and of those having to endure sickness, isolation and loneliness.”

Charles remains in relative isolation at his home in Scotland.


Bennett urges Defense Ministry be given lead in handling virus crisis

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett calls for his ministry to be given the lead in the national fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need to move logistical command of this crisis from the Health Ministry to the Defense Ministry — yesterday,” Bennett says at a press briefing. “The Health Ministry is a professional department but they’re not experts in crises… To handle a testing system of tens of thousands of tests a day is not something they will be able to so.

“You need advanced information and transportation systems. We won’t be able to bring the economy back on track if the lead does not return to the Defense Ministry.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is interviewed by Channel 12’s Rina Matzliah, February 28, 2020. (Screen capture: Channel 12)

Virus to plunge 8 million into poverty in Arab world, UN warns

The coronavirus pandemic will plunge 8.3 million people in the Arab region into poverty, the United Nation’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia says.

ESCWA also warns that two million people could become undernourished as a result.

“With today’s estimates, a total of 101.4 million people in the region would be classified as poor, and 52 million as undernourished,” the UN agency says.

“Arab Governments must ensure a swift emergency response to protect their people from falling into poverty and food insecurity owing to the impact of COVID-19,” ESCWA executive secretary Rola Dashti says.

A security officer wearing protective gloves and mask amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic approaches a man on a motorbike in front of the Arbil citadel, in the eponymous capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, on March 30, 2020. (SAFIN HAMED / AFP)


UK records over 500 daily coronavirus deaths for first time

Britain reports 563 daily coronavirus deaths today, the first time the national toll has exceeded 500, bringing the total fatalities to 2,352, according to official figures.

“As of 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) on 31 March, of those hospitalized in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus, 2,352 have sadly died,” the health ministry says on its official Twitter page.

A sign informs travelers that they must remain two meters apart to comply with social distancing measures, at a bus stop outside Finsbury Park underground station in north London on March 31, 2020 (Isabel INFANTES / AFP)


US stocks open sharply lower on deepening coronavirus hit

Wall Street stocks fall sharply in early trading on weak jobs data and a downcast warning from US President Donald Trump about the rising US death toll from the coronavirus.

About six minutes into trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 21,174.95, down 3.4 percent or around 740 points.

The broad-based S&P 500 fell 4.0% to 2,496.85, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index tumbled 2.7% to 7,490.27.

Trader Gregory Rowe works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the end of the trading day, March 16, 2020. (AP/Craig Ruttle)


69-year-old dies of coronavirus in Jerusalem, bringing national death toll to 22

A 69-year-old woman has died of coronavirus at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, bringing the number of victims in Israel to 22.

She had significant preexisting medical conditions.

The woman is the second victim of the day, after a 98-year-old passed away in Beersheba earlier.

74-year-old dies of virus, bringing number of victims to 23

A 74-year-old man has died of coronavirus at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

He had been sedated and hooked up to a respirator in very serious condition and had numerous preexisting conditions, officials say.

The case brings the number of victims in Israel to 23.

Arrivals on flight from New York told they’re being sent to mandatory quarantine

Passengers who have just landed on a flight from New York are being sent to mandatory quarantine at Jerusalem’s Prima Hotel, Channel 12 reports.

It shows a soldier with a megaphone informing the new arrivals of the requirement.

Many of the arrivals are “very angry” about this, since they had expected to go into self-quarantine at home.

The passengers were met on landing by officials in white protective suits who took their temperatures. They were than gathered — at a safe distance from each other — to be briefed about their journey into quarantine, the report says.

This process contrasts with what has reportedly been the norm on many, if not all, of the few remaining flights into Israel in recent days. Despite assurances last week from Defense Minister Naftali Bennett that arrivals from virus hotspots such as New York, Italy, Spain and France were all being checked on landing for symptoms of the virus, and all being sent to one of the quarantine hotels, they were in fact walking unchecked straight out of the airport and into Israel.

Correcting what former Health Ministry director general Gabi Barabash called “idiotic” management that risked turning Israel into “a branch of New York,” a virus epicenter, those promised procedures are now apparently, if belatedly, coming into force.

Bennett had said Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to cancel his instructions; Netanyahu’s office said earlier today that the PM has ordered mandatory quarantine at the various repurposed hotels for all arrivals in Israel.

Report: Police shutter Bnei Brak synagogue, fine 15 people

Police close a synagogue in Bnei Brak that was open despite coronavirus restrictions forbidding it, the Ynet news site reports.

Fifteen people were at the synagogue, and received fines, officials say. Police have sealed off the building to prevent further violations.

5-week-old baby diagnosed with coronavirus, has mild symptoms

A five-week-old baby from the Galilee has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

The infant is currently hospitalized in Nahariya, and his condition is good.

Dozens riot in Jaffa over arrest of resident who broke self-quarantine

Dozens of people are demonstrating and rioting in Jaffa after police questioning of a man who apparently broke his mandatory self-quarantine led numerous residents to gather and confront the officers.

Protesters are clashing with police, burning tires and blocking roads.

Four people have been arrested while the young man was fined for breaking quarantine restrictions.

El Al says regular passenger flights won’t renew before May 2

El Al says its halt of regular passenger flights will be extended to May 2.

The company says it will continue to operate special flights to locations around the world “according to need and the demands of the Foreign and Defense ministries.”

Cargo flights are also ongoing.

El Al planes seen at Ben Gurion International Airport, file (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Ramat Gan mayor to government: Close off Bnei Brak or I’ll petition High Court

Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen has written a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials demanding a general closure on the neighboring city of Bnei Brak, which has become one of the main coronavirus hotspots in the country.

Shama-Hacohen says the situation in Bnei Brak is placing his own residents in mortal danger.

The mayor says if action is not taken immediately he will petition the High Court of Justice on the matter tomorrow.

Ramat Gan mayor and former Likud MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen at a convention of newly elected mayors and heads of local councils, in Ashkelon, November 27, 2018. (Flash90)

Wimbledon, Edinburgh Fringe festival canceled over coronavirus pandemic

A number of top international events have been canceled in Britain in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The organizers of Edinburgh’s international festivals say they will be canceled for the first time in 70 years. Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy says the decision to cancel The Fringe, International Festival, Jazz and Blues Festival, Book Festival and Military Tattoo was “heartbreaking.” But “having taken advice and considered all the options, we collectively believe this is the only appropriate response.”

And Wimbledon chiefs have canceled the Grand Slam tournament for the first time since World War II as the coronavirus wreaks further havoc on the global sporting calendar.

“It is with great regret that the main board of the All England Club (AELTC) and the committee of management of the Championships have today decided that The Championships 2020 will be canceled due to public health concerns linked to the coronavirus epidemic,” the organizers say in a statement.


Netanyahu to end self-quarantine at 9 p.m. tonight

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will end his self-quarantine this evening at 9 p.m., his office says.

The premier has been isolating for the past two days after an adviser of his tested positive for coronavirus.

Tonight marks 14 days since Netanyahu last met the adviser in question. The prime minister has been tested for infection and found negative.

More footage from Jaffa clashes between police, residents

More footage from the clashes between police and Jaffa residents over lockdown procedures.

24th victim to die of coronavirus was 66

A 66-year-old woman has died of coronavirus at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, bringing the national toll to 24.

The woman is said to have had severe preexisting conditions.

Report: New York arrivals sent to home quarantine after all

The Ynet news site is now reporting that earlier claims that arrivals from New York were being sent to quarantine under government supervision may not have been true.

The website says it spoke with several passengers who said they were held up at the airport for two hours but eventually released after they signed a document promising to enter quarantine at home.

Despite grim projections, Trump resists national quarantine

Even as he warns of a grim few weeks ahead with tens of thousands of Americans likely killed by the new coronavirus, US President Donald Trump is resisting issuing a national stay-at-home order to stem the spread of the disease.

Trump said earlier this week that he and members of his administration have discussed issuing a stay-at-home order but it was “pretty unlikely” for now. Then on Tuesday the White House offered “sobering” new projections that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will likely succumb to the coronavirus even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams today noted in a series of television interviews that the US federalist system leaves much of the authority on how to properly respond to catastrophes to individual state governors and local officials.

The White House’s best-case projection assumes statewide stay-at-home orders, according to a senior administration official familiar with Trump’s thinking and speaking on condition of anonymity. Trump, the official said, is a believer in federalism and that it is up to individual governors to set restrictions for their states. The official noted that states are being hit by the virus with varying degrees of severity and they are best able to adapt the policies for their specific situations.

US President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House on March 22, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Eric Baradat/AFP)

— AP

Blue and White, Likud renew negotiations, with talks expected to last all night

Negotiations between Likud and Blue and White have renewed as the sides attempt to reach a deal to form a unity government.

The talks are expected to continue all night.

According to an unsourced Channel 12 report, currently Likud’s Yariv Levin is headed for the Knesset speakership.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attends a conference in Kedem, in the West Bank, on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

If Yamina goes to the opposition, as it has threatened to do, former speaker Yuli Edelstein will be the education minister, the report says.

Meanwhile, the Public Security and Justice ministries will each have a minister and deputy minister.

There is currently no solution on the disagreements between the sides on the potential annexation of West Bank settlements, where Blue and White is said to be demanding veto rights to any potential plan.

A 66-year-old man has died of coronavirus in Holon, bringing toll to 25

A 66-year-old man had died of coronavirus at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, the fifth victim today.

The man had suffered from various preexisting conditions, officials say.

The national death toll is now at 25.

TV report: Likud demanded acting PM receive official state residence

Channel 12 reports that as part of negotiations Likud has demanded that the position of acting prime minister — which Benjamin Netanyahu would ostensibly fill once Benny Gantz becomes prime minister in 18 months — include an official state residence, akin to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

The network says the stipulation appears in a draft agreement between the sides.

Meanwhile, Likud officials tell Channel 12 it is actually Gantz who has insisted on the official residence, rather than Netanyahu.

Government said considering banning cars entry to Bnei Brak, evacuating all sick

The government is discussing possible further restrictions on the city of Bnei Brak as it continues to produce large numbers of coronavirus patients, Channel 12 news reports.

Among the steps being considered are a ban on vehicles entering the city, as well as actions to force all those feeling ill evacuating from the city to receive treatment, to further curb potential infections.

Diagnosed Israelis up by 501 new patients, to total of 6,092

An additional 501 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Israel, bringing the national total to 6,092, health officials say.

Of those 95 are in serious condition.

Likud says report it demanded acting PM receive state residence is ‘fake news’

Likud denies it has demanded that the acting prime minister — basically a deputy with added powers — receive an official state residence, supposedly to accommodate Benjamin Netanyahu entering the position in 18 months’ time.

The party says the claim is “fake news.”

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz’s former political partner Yair Lapid tweets: “So this is what an emergency government looks like: no word on daycares [in Hebrew “day residences”], endless talk about the residence of the prime minister and his deputy.”

Conflciting reports on Gantz and Netanyahu homes: Who will stay where and when?

There seems to be a lot of confusion on the two leaders’ residences.

Haaretz is now expanding on the previous reporting by Channel 12, claiming in a report that the sides have agreed that Benjamin Netanyahu would remain in his current residence, the official Prime Minister’s Residence, after he rotates the job with Benny Gantz in 18 months. Gantz would remain in his residence in the town of Rosh Ha’ayin as prime minister in such a situation, while the public would continue to fund Netanyahu’s residence but not his own.

But Blue and White officials just issued a statement saying Gantz “intends to remain in his home in Rosh Ha’ayin until becoming prime minister” — but supposedly not afterwards.

We’ll give you clarity when we get some.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks at an election event in Tel Aviv, February 17, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Leaving self-quarantine, PM set to unveil new health directives

After leaving his self-quarantine, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to speak at any moment alongside health officials and give an update on the coronavirus crisis.

Netanyahu announces severe limitations to travel in and out of Bnei Brak

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the government will further limit travel in and out of the virus-hit city of Bnei Brak, while ensuring the population there is taken care of.

“We have decided to limit to the bare minimum the entrances and exits from the city,” he says.

Meanwhile, all sick in the city will be evacuated to special hotels for coronavirus and suspected coronavirus cases.

PM says public to wear masks when outside; children, elderly to get stipends

Netanyahu details further steps to be taken amid the coronavirus crisis:

– The public is called upon to wear masks at all times when outside the house. Those who do not have masks should wear a scarf or other facial covering. (Previously, Netanyahu has said that masks are not necessary.)

– All Israelis returning from abroad will from Thursday be taken to hotels for quarantine, and will not be allowed to self-isolate at home.

– All families with children will receive NIS 500 ($140) stipends for each child (up to four children, up to the age of 18) for the Passover holiday. Every elderly person will also receive such a grant. He says these payments will be approved via emergency legislation, and that payments will be made directly into bank accounts, with no bureaucratic red tape.

Netanyahu: If public heeds rules, Passover ‘could be turning point’

The prime minister says if the public adheres to instructions, maintains social distancing and does not fall to the temptation to meet family members for the Passover holiday, “there is a chance that this Passover will be a turning point” in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

“We are still in the midst of an international tsunami,” he says. “This a huge storm. The whole world is on a united front.”

He says he spoke with Italy’s prime minister in recent days, who told him to take severe action early rather than late to prevent replicating the tragedy unfolding in Italy here.

Netanyahu warns that Israel could still find itself joining nations where people are dying in large numbers. “We are doing everything so we don’t get to that.”

In this Saturday, March 14, 2020 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech from his Jerusalem office amid the coronavirus crisis. (Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP, File)

First and foremost “we must save the lives of thousands in Israel.”

Top health official: You can make a mask from cloth and rubber bands

The director-general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, says the new instruction to wear masks while out in public does not necessitate buying masks, particularly as there appear to be shortages.

“You can improvise one at home. Save the masks for medical teams. You can take some cloth and two rubber bands and cover your face.”

He says the ministry will issue a video explaining how masks can be made at home.

Netanyahu: Trump’s talk of 100,000-250,000 dead in the US is an optimistic forecast

Netanyahu, who has just emerged from voluntarily quarantine after an aide tested positive for the virus, says Israel is at a fateful juncture in the battle against the pandemic.

It can join the countries “that appear to have braked the coronavirus,” he says. “But it risks, heaven forbid, a slide toward those countries that already have thousands of dead.”

“In the past day in New York, someone is dying every four minutes,” he says.

Noting President Donald Trump’s warning that the US faces 100,000 to 250,000 deaths in the next few weeks, Netanyahu says: “That’s the optimistic forecast.”

In Israeli terms, “that would be equivalent to 5,000 dead here.”

“We’re starting to see signs that maybe… we’re on the path to gaining control of the pandemic,” he says, “but it’s too early to say that with certainty.”

He also calls again for a “national emergency government.”

In message to supporters, Gantz admits unity bid could end his political career

In a statement sent to supporters Wednesday evening, Benny Gantz reiterates his assertion that he had no choice but to join forces with Benjamin Netanyahu, and acknowledges the “disappointment” among some of his erstwhile supporters.

But most Blue and White voters, he asserts, favor the idea of an emergency coalition.

But he sounds pessimistic about how the move may play out, acknowledging that it might mark the end of his relatively brief political career.

Benny Gantz in Ramat Gan on March 9, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“The true narrative, which is more challenging than a ‘House of Cards’ script, obligated me to act in this way,” he says. “And if this is my political end, but I properly serve the State of Israel — then I will have done something.”

Sixth victim of the day: 72-year-old dies of virus, raising toll to 26

A 72-year-old man has died of coronavirus at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, raising the national toll to 26. He is the sixth victim of the day.

Officials say he was brought in yesterday in serious condition and died in the morning after a coronavirus test was taken. It has now turned up positive.

Health ministry issues video explaining how to make homemade masks

A new video issued by the Health Ministry explains how the public can make simple masks at home in order to comply with the latest regulations, which require everyone to wear masks when venturing outside.

The video is in Hebrew, but can probably be understood well enough even without a strong grasp of the language.

IDF says 97 soldiers have been diagnosed so far, all with mild symptoms

The IDF says 97 soldiers have so far been diagnosed with coronavirus, and all have experienced mild symptoms only.

Twelve of the soldiers have already been cleared as healthy following their bout with the illness.

Coronavirus cases top 900,000 worldwide, AFP tally shows

More than 900,000 cases of coronavirus have been officially detected worldwide since the pandemic emerged in China late last year, according to an AFP tally using official sources.

At least 905,589 infections including 45,719 deaths, have been recorded in 187 countries and territories globally, with 203,608 cases and 4,476 deaths in the United States where the pandemic is spreading rapidly.

Italy with 110,574 detected cases has the highest number of fatalities with 13,155 deaths. Spain has 102,136 cases including 9,053 deaths and China has 81,554 cases and 3,312 deaths.

Austrian medics take care of two French patients infected with the novel coronavirus upon their arrival at Salzburg’s airport to be treated at a hospital on April 1, 2020 (BARBARA GINDL / APA / AFP)


13 EU nations ‘deeply concerned’ after Hungary power grab

Several EU member states including powerful Germany and France warn that coronavirus emergency measures taken by bloc countries should not violate fundamental rights, after Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban took on sweeping powers.

While not specifically naming Orban or Hungary, 13 members of the 27-country European Union clearly target the premier’s move to assume strongman powers that critics call dictatorial.

“In this unprecedented situation, it is legitimate that member states adopt extraordinary measures to protect their citizens and overcome the crisis,” a statement says. “We are however deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures.

The statement is also signed by Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

No Eastern European country, however, backed the document.

Finance Ministry officials said surprised by PM’s announcement of handouts

Channel 12 news reports that officials in the Finance Ministry were surprised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that the government would give NIS 500 handouts to elderly Israelis and families with children.

Senior officials tell the network they heard about the decision from the media and have not been told where the money for the move will come from.

Meanwhile, associates of the prime minister tell Channel 12 the proposal for the stipends was made by ministry officials and the Treasury was a full partner in the decision.

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Finance Ministry officials said surprised by PM’s announcement of handouts

Channel 12 news reports that officials in the Finance Ministry were surprised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that the government would give NIS 500 handouts to elderly Israelis and families with children.

Senior officials tell the network they heard about the decision from the media and have not been told where the money for the move will come from.

Meanwhile, associates of the prime minister tell Channel 12 the proposal for the stipends was made by ministry officials and the Treasury was a full partner in the decision.