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Labor’s Amir Peretz, Itzik Shmuli expected to join government

Dovish lawmakers said negotiating for economy and welfare portfolios

Labor MKs Itzik Shmuli (L) and Amir Peretz  at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Labor MKs Itzik Shmuli (L) and Amir Peretz at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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

Netanyahu, Gantz wrap up all-night negotiations, creep closer to a government

Interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Resilience party chief Benny Gantz wrap up an all-night meeting aimed at negotiating the formation of a Likud-led government.

A joint statement from the two says they reached “understandings and significant progress” during the talks at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, without elaborating.

Further talks will be held later Sunday with the aim of reaching a signed deal, according to the statement.

Israel Resilience MK Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz’s deputy, also took part in the overnight meeting.

The unity talks came after Gantz — in a shock move — was elected Knesset speaker Thursday, leading to the dissolution of the Blue and White alliance, which had campaigned during the three elections over the past year on replacing Netanyahu as prime minister.

— Times of Israel staff

Swastika sprayed on Sanders campaign office in Florida

A campaign office for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Florida is vandalized with swastikas, a member of his team says.

“Didn’t know if we should share, but one of our grassroots Bernie offices in Florida was vandalized with swastikas. Sheriff sent a team to clean it up,” writes a staffer from the office on the “Florida for Bernie” Twitter account.

Pictures from the scene show a number of Nazi swastikas, as well as the sentence “voting didn’t stop us last time.”

Armed troops to begin patrolling with police to enforce coronavirus restrictions

Some 500 armed soldiers are beginning to patrol Israeli cities and towns with police officers to ensure citizens are abiding by the government’s partial lockdown.

The troops are meant to serve as an auxiliary force to the police, which are formally charged with enforcing the regulations, which require Israelis to remain at home, unless they are visiting an approved location, such as a food market or pharmacy.

Cremation of first Jewish victim of coronavirus in Argentina stirs controversy

BUENOS AIRES — Despite protests from a Jewish community near Buenos Aires, the first Jewish victim of the coronavirus in Argentina has been cremated by local authorities, causing controversy and sparking concern among other Jewish communities throughout the country.

Cremation of the dead is not allowed under religious Jewish law.

Ruben Bercovich, a 59-year-old businessman and father of three, passed away on Thursday in Resistencia, the capital of the northern Chaco province. Bercovich, owner of the BercoMat construction materials company, had returned to Argentina on March 9 after a trip to the United States.

His death and subsequent cremation has started a dialogue between Argentine rabbis and officials over a possible compromise to uphold Jewish law. Authorities say the cremation was a best practice to avoid further spread of the disease.

Bercovich was active in Jewish institutions in the Chaco community and represented Argentina in golf in global Maccabiah Games events.

— JTA

Blue and White MK said to jump ship, join Gantz in forming Netanyahu government

Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata is reportedly planning to jump ship and join with Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz in forming a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Blue and White party does not immediately respond to the reports of Tamano-Shata’s intentions to leave the party, which appeared throughout Hebrew media.

Tamano-Shata, who joined Blue and White’s Yesh Atid faction ahead of the 2013 elections, appears to be the first member to leave the party in order to join with Gantz, who split from Blue and White last week in order to form a government with Netanyahu, despite vowing not to do so during three election campaigns.

3,865 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Israel, Health Ministry says

The Health Ministry reports 405 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus from yesterday, bringing Israel’s total to 3,865 patients, with 66 of them in serious condition.

According to the ministry, another 82 are in moderate condition, while the vast majority — 3,616 — have minor symptoms. Another 89 people have recovered fully from the disease.

The ministry says of the 66 people in serious condition, 54 are on ventilators.

Air force chief: This is a once-a-century event; we’ll keep defending the skies

Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin tells senior officers that the air force must both defend the country’s airspace and protect the health of the troops who serve in it in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a historic event that happens once in a 100 years. The [air] force has gone into a state of emergency,” Norkin tells senior air force officers in a video conference.

“We have made significant adaptations and changes in how we operate. We are aware of our people and we will take care of their health and we will help as much as necessary in the national and civilian effort to deal with this virus. We will continue to defend the skies of the nation. And we will be operationally prepared,” he says.

Man in his 20s with no preexisting illness in serious condition with coronavirus

An Israeli man in his early 20s is in serious condition and on a ventilator after becoming infected with the coronavirus, making him the youngest person to become severely ill from the disease, which has generally more seriously affected older patients, his hospital says.

According to Ashdod’s Assuta Hospital, the man had no preexisting condition before contracting the virus.

“The young man was in home quarantine and after a period of time was brought to the hospital with light symptoms. In recent days, his breathing condition deteriorated and he was treated with an external oxygen mask. However, as his condition worsened in the past few hours, it was decided to anesthetize him and connect him to a ventilator,” the hospital says in a statement.

He is currently being treated in the medical center’s intensive care unit.

Public security minister denounces mass funeral procession in Bnei Brak

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan denounces a mass funeral procession held last night in Bnei Brak, in which hundreds of people took part, in violation of government regulations against all gatherings.

Erdan orders the police to enforce these regulations “without exceptions,” he writes in a tweet.

“The holding of a mass funeral in Bnei Brak is a very serious event that endangers lives,” he says.

“I have ordered an immediate discussion today by the heads of the police regarding enforcement in the ultra-Orthodox community. The vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox public is abiding by the directives, and the police must prevent the extreme parts of the public from endangering the lives of everyone else. This is their mission and there cannot be compromises,” Erdan writes.

Police say they allowed mass funeral to avoid clashing with participants

The Israel Police says it decided to not enforce the government’s regulations against gatherings during last night’s mass procession and funeral for an important rabbi in the city of Bnei Brak in order to avoid clashing with the participants.

“We had two options: Cause a clash with the participants, thousands of whom came out of their houses in the span of a few minutes, or  wait until the funeral ended quickly and the crowd broke up,” police say in a statement.

“These are the types of events that require the careful consideration of commanders and risk management, and it is good that the event ended in this way,” police say.

The police say they saw it as a victory that “only 400 people came to the funeral of an important rabbi,” instead of tens of thousands.

Police also falsely claim that the participants kept a distance from one another, something that is clearly disproved by videos from the event that showed a dense crowd.

“This shows that the people who came to the funeral were aware of the danger,” police say.

Amid strong backlash — both from the public and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan — police say they will “study the event and learn lessons from it.”

Yesh Atid ‘surprised’ by MK’s decision to join Gantz in Netanyahu-led government

Yesh Atid sources tell The Times of Israel they are “surprised” MK Pnina Tamano-Shata is reportedly planning to jump ship and join Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz in forming a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

They call the move “very disappointing.”

“She has abandoned people who stood with her for years, who fought alongside her,” they say.

— Raoul Wootliff

Jerusalem hospital reports Israel’s 13th coronavirus death: A 92-year-old man

A 92-year-old man has died of the coronavirus in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, making him the country’s 13th fatality from the disease, the hospital says.

The man’s identity is not immediately revealed.

The hospital says the man was brought into the medical center roughly a week ago in very serious condition, with “many serious existing illnesses.”

“Unfortunately, this morning his condition deteriorated and he passed away,” the hospital says in a statement.

He is the 13th known person to die in Israel of the coronavirus, 12 of whom have been over the age of 70.

Litzman said refusing to give up Health Ministry in coalition talks

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is refusing to vacate his position and move to another ministry as part of a deal being negotiated between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz, Hebrew-language media reports.

As part of the talks, Gantz’s party has been demanding the health portfolio even if it means giving up on the Justice Ministry, according to Channel 12.

It is said to be seeking to appoint a non-politician as health minister, such as Prof. Gabi Barbash or Sheba Medical Center director general Yitshak Kreiss.

But Litzman is strongly refusing an offer to become housing minister instead, even if he is handed more areas of responsibility.

— ToI staff

Report: Soldier in elite intelligence unit tests positive for coronavirus

A soldier in Military Intelligence’s elite Unit 8200 has contracted the coronavirus, requiring dozens of her fellow service members to go into quarantine, Army Radio reports.

According to the station, the soldier served in a secret intelligence base in southern Israel. Upon discovering she had become infected with the virus, the facility was sanitized and dozens of soldiers were sent to quarantine.

Finance Ministry director-general says all of Bnei Brak may be quarantined

The government is considering quarantining the entire city of Bnei Brak and its nearly 200,000 residents in light of its high infection rate and issues in enforcing the partial lockdown currently in place, the director-general of the Finance Ministry tells the Knesset’s coronavirus committee.

The comments come after thousands of residents of the mostly ultra-Orthodox city held a funeral procession for an important rabbi and hundreds attended his burial early Sunday morning.

“We are having more than a few problems with ultra-Orthodox society, in areas like Bnei Brak,” says Shai Babad.

“Some of the [government] discussion was talking about how we could put a closure in place and isolate those areas,” he tells the Knesset committee.

Top doctors call for Litzman to be ousted from Health Ministry

A group of senior medical officials in major hospitals in Israel have written a letter to interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz urgently demanding that they appoint a professional figure as health minister instead of Yaakov Litzman, who currently holds the post, as part of their coalition agreement, the Ynet news site reports.

The doctors write in the letter that the coronavirus pandemic “has exposed and caught the healthcare system at a low point from an organizational and operational point of view, which everyone had been aware of.”

They lay out problems in the system, including widening gaps between the quality of health services in the center of the country and in the north and south.

“At this time… it is right for a professional to be appointed to head the Health Ministry — a doctor with a rich experience in Israeli healthcare,” they write.

“Health comes before anything else, definitely before politics.”

— ToI staff

Health Ministry reports issue with its coronavirus-tracking application

The Health Ministry says it discovered a small problem with its coronavirus-tracking smartphone application, Hamagen, resulting in false, unnecessary directives to users to quarantine themselves.

Over 1 million Israelis have downloaded the application, which records the routes of users and cross-references them with the movements of confirmed coronavirus carriers. If a Hamagen user has been in close contact with an infected person, they receive a message telling them to go into quarantine.

“In the past two days we have received reports of erroneous messages. The Health Ministry is fixing the issue with the exposure data,” it says in a statement.

The Health Ministry says the application appears to be using an incorrect method of determining if someone was in close enough contact with an infected person to require quarantine.

“We are working around the clock to fix and improve [the application]. In the meantime, please use common sense if you receive a notification about a place and time where you never were. You can press the button, ‘This is a mistake, I was never there,’ and continue with your lives — just please go outside as little as possible and maintain a distance of at least two meters from other people,” the ministry says.

Health Ministry: 3,637 medical workers in quarantine; 141 have coronavirus

The Health Ministry reports that 3,637 medical professionals have so far been placed in quarantine, and at least 141 have tested positive for the disease.

The ministry’s report comes amid criticism that Israel’s healthcare system has failed to provide sufficient protective gear to its doctors, nurses and staff.

According to the ministry, of the 3,637 healthcare workers in quarantine, 892 are doctors, 1,229 are nurses and the remaining 1,516 are medics, orderlies, secretaries and technicians.

Of the 141 confirmed cases, 39 are nurses and 32 are doctors, the ministry says.

Spain announces 838 virus deaths in 24 hours — a new record for the country

Spain says 838 people in the country have died of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, making it the largest single-day death toll for the European nation.

Spain and Italy have both seen hundreds of people dying of the disease in recent days, with nearly 1,000 succumbing to the virus in Italy on Friday.

— with AFP

Iran reports 123 more coronavirus deaths, toll at 2,640

Iran says that 123 more people have died of the COVID-19 coronavirus, raising the country’s official death toll to 2,640.

A health ministry spokesman tells a news conference that 2,901 more cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing total infections to 38,309.

“Fortunately 12,391 of those who had been hospitalized have now recovered and returned to their families,” he adds, while 3,467 were in critical condition.

— AFP

Rivlin wishes speedy recovery to British, Monaco leaders who caught coronavirus

President Reuven Rivlin wishes a speedy recovery to the British and Monacan leaders who have contracted the coronavirus.

“I sent messages for the speedy recovery of His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, His Serene Highness Albert II and Prime Minister Serge Telle of Monaco who have contracted coronavirus, which ignores national borders,” Rivlin writes.

“International cooperation is vital to beat it. Together, we will overcome,” he says.

Netanyahu, Gantz said to agree Knesset speaker will be from Likud, just not Edelstein

Interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz reportedly agree that the post of Knesset speaker will be filled by a member of the Likud party, so long as it is not Yuli Edelstein, who quit the position last week during a standoff with the Supreme Court.

The agreement — according to unsourced Hebrew media reports — is part of ongoing negotiations between Gantz and Netanyahu for the former to join a Likud-led government.

According to the report, the position will be filled by a member of the Likud party, but Gantz will be able to veto the nominee, making it unlikely that the role will go to Edelstein, of whom Gantz’s party disapproves.

Litzman to stay in Health Ministry under Netanyahu-Gantz agreement — report

Embattled Health Minister Yaakov Litzman will remain in his position as part of a coalition agreement between interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz, according to unsourced Hebrew media reports.

Gantz had been fighting to have Litzman removed from the post — in light of his ministry’s difficulties in addressing the coronavirus crisis — but agreed that he could remain in the position in exchange for other concessions by Netanyahu, according to the reports.

Under the reported agreement, which is still being fleshed out, each side will receive government positions that are important to them, while the other side will be granted veto power over the particular person who will fill the post.

According to Channel 12, Gantz’s party would have control over the Justice Ministry, which will play a key role in prosecuting Netanyahu’s corruption cases; Likud would be able to pick the next public security minister and Knesset speaker.

Haredi leader forbids public prayer, tells followers to abide by virus rules

A senior ultra-Orthodox leader forbids public prayer and calls on his followers to abide by the government’s regulations against gatherings, amid large-scale violations of these restrictions by the country’s Haredi population.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky says that it is a matter of saving lives, known in Hebrew as pikuah nefesh, which in Jewish law overrides almost all other religious requirements.

The ruling comes after a mass funeral procession and burial in Kanievsky’s hometown of Bnei Brak, which was held in clear violation of the government’s restrictions against gatherings.

Kanievsky, a well-regarded rabbi who makes rulings on Jewish legal issues, says all public prayer should cease, including that held in open spaces as is technically permitted under the government’s regulations, as it can risk people’s lives.

Kanievsky had originally opposed the government’s efforts to curb the deadly coronavirus, calling for his community’s schools and Jewish learning institutions to remain open despite the bans.

His reversal follows a large public outcry against the ultra-Orthodox community apparent flouting these rules and amid a large-scale outbreak in Bnei Brak and other Haredi towns.

Israeli billionaire to donate NIS 10m to hospitals fighting coronavirus

Billionaire Eyal Ofer has pledged to donate NIS 10 million to three Israeli hospitals and a non-government organization assisting the elderly as part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, his spokesperson says.

Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer and Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa will each receive NIS 3 million to “help purchase vital medical equipment to prevent the spread of the virus, save people’s lives and protect medical teams from getting infected,” Ofer’s spokesperson says in a statement.

In addition, the Latet organization, which has provided food and other necessities to the country’s elderly population during the crisis, will receive NIS 1 million, according to the statement.

“I have the deepest admiration for the way heroic medical staff and volunteers around the country are fighting this virus on the front line. With this donation today, I hope to support those in need and help the country’s excellent healthcare system save lives and stop the spread of coronavirus,” Ofer says.

Eyal Ofer (Rory Lindsay)

Right-wing-Haredi bloc to control 15 ministries in deal with Gantz — reports

The right-wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc of Likud, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas, which is negotiating in coalition talks as a single bloc with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, is going to get at least 15 ministries, Hebrew media reports.

According to Channel 12, those ministries are: finance, public security, transportation, education, health, interior, Negev and Galilee, energy, environmental protection, housing and construction, religious affairs, intelligence, regional cooperation, Jerusalem and heritage, and — for at least the first period — the premiership.

Separately, other reports say Israel Resilience is to receive the following ministries: defense, foreign, justice, communications, economy, agriculture, welfare, culture, tourism, science, and absorption.

Gantz is reportedly slated to take over as defense minister.

Under the agreement, after 18 months, Gantz would take over from  Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, though many analysts question if this will actually happen.

Should this happen, Gantz’s deputy, Gabi Ashkenazi — who is slated to become foreign minister — would take over for him in the Defense Ministry.

— with Haviv Rettig Gur

Woman in her 90s dies of coronavirus, bringing Israel’s death toll to 14

A woman in her 90s dies of the coronavirus at Bnei Brak’s Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center, bringing Israel’s death toll up to 14, the hospital says.

The director of Mayanei Hayeshua says the woman suffered from a number of existing conditions before she contracted the virus.

The woman’s name is not immediately released.

Israel’s 13th coronavirus victim identified as Mordechai Ben-Michael, 92

The 92-year-old man who died of the coronavirus earlier today is identified by family as Mordechai Ben-Michael, of Jerusalem.

Ben-Michael was pronounced dead this morning at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, after being brought into the hospital a week ago in serious condition, making him the country’s 13th fatality from the coronavirus.

According to his family, Ben-Michael leaves behind four children, 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Bennett calls for his Defense Ministry to take over coronavirus fight

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett calls for his ministry to take the lead on the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Bennett, who has been highly critical of the Health Ministry’s handling of the crisis from the start, makes his plea in a press conference.

“We must move the operation of managing the coronavirus to the Defense Ministry,” he says.

Bennett says the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry are better suited to the task of rapidly purchasing and distributing the supplies necessary for the country to deal with the pandemic.

Earlier today, Bennett released his plan for fighting the pandemic, including aggressive testing to track the virus; recommendations that all Israelis begin wearing face masks; and then a gradual return to normal, beginning with the country’s younger population, which is less at risk of becoming seriously ill.

IDF troops catch two unarmed Gazans in Israel, send them back

IDF troops catch two unarmed Palestinians who crossed into Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, the military says.

“No weapons were found in the possession of the suspects. After an interrogation on the scene, they were sent back into the Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces says.

Health Ministry preparing for 5,000 coronavirus patients needing ventilators

The Health Ministry instructed the country’s hospitals to begin preparing for the eventuality of all their beds being occupied and 5,000 coronavirus patients requiring ventilators, a ministry official says.

Currently, in Israel, there are just over 2,800 available ventilators, according to the Health Ministry.

Dr. Vera Ezra, head of the ministry’s medical department, tells reporters that such a scenario is estimated to occur in the coming weeks based on current trends.

“We saw a jump of 10 more cases of people in serious condition, on ventilators since yesterday. That is a large jump. It shows a trend. I spoke with our model forecasters today, and to them too this was a worrying jump,” she says.

“We won’t know how to deal with a number [of patients] that is larger than the number of [hospital] beds in the State of Israel,” Ezra warns.

TV providers agree to air Education Ministry’s remote-learning broadcasts

The Education Ministry makes a deal with the country’s leading television providers for them to air its remote-learning broadcasts for Israeli children.

Under the agreement, HOT, Cellcom TV, and Partner TV will broadcast the educational programs to make it easier for students across the country to learn remotely despite the closure of the school system.

“The broadcasts are adapted for grades 1-12 and include a rich variety of educational content. In addition to languages, mathematics, sciences and other subjects, films will be broadcast in cooperation with Movieland Academy. In addition to the theater of Orna Porat, performances for children and youth will also be broadcast,” the ministry says in a statement.

The programs are available through Partner TV on channels 500-517, through HOT on channels 401-412, through Cellcom TV under the “national broadcast network” in its channel zone; or directly through the ministry on its website, https://pop.education.gov.il/online-learning/online-learning-hebrew/.

Emergency service to collect plasma from those who recovered from COVID-19

The Health Ministry has instructed the Mada emergency service to begin collecting plasma from Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19, for experimental antibody treatments for those sick with the virus, the service says in a tweet.

“The FDA has approved a similar procedure in the US this week and the use of plasma from those who recovered in the war against the coronavirus is already being carried out in China,” says Prof. Eilat Shinar, who oversees Israel’s blood banks.

Bnei Brak rabbis join call to ban all public prayer

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Bnei Brak join a call by Haredi spiritual leader Chaim Kanievsky to ban all public prayer and heed by Health Ministry rules to stem the outbreak.

In a ruling, the Haredi rabbis prohibit all prayer gatherings. Under current Health Ministry guidelines, prayer is permitted outdoors if it is in a group of 10 or fewer, and participants stand 2 meters apart.

The rulings come after a rabbi’s funeral in Bnei Brak drew hundreds on Saturday night, causing widespread fury and warnings by doctors that the densely populated Haredi city in central Israel, where many were flouting the lockdown rules, would soon become “like Italy.”

Kanievsky, in his ruling, had said those who violate the virus rules fall under the Jewish legal category of a rodef, or one who endangers the public, and against whom sanctions may be taken. He said residents may inform the authorities if they witness violations and suggested that a person who is meant to be in quarantine and infects others, causing deaths, is akin to a murderer.

Husband of Netanyahu adviser tests positive for virus — report

The husband of Rivka Paluch, an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Walla news site.

Paluch was around ministers at the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday, the day her husband was confirmed to be carrying the virus, the report says.

Paluch has taken a test and is awaiting the results, which are expected tonight, it says.

Woman, 94, who died of virus moved to nursing home following elder abuse

The fourteenth casualty of the coronavirus in Israel is a 94-year-old woman who moved into the nursing home where she was infected after undergoing abuse by a caregiver.

Perel Wiesel of Rehovot, a member of the Kretshnif Hasidic dynasty, moved to the Vizhnitz nursing home in Bnei Brak two months ago, as police investigated her Nepalese caregiver for abuse, a relative told the Ynet news site.

Wiesel was born in Sighet, Romania, hometown of Elie Wiesel (unclear if they are related).

She is survived by five children and over 70 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the report says.

 

Knesset panel okays Blue and White breakup; Gantz keeps name

The Knesset Arrangements Committee approves the dissolution of the Blue and White alliance, splitting Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem.

Gantz will keep the Blue and White name, the committee members rule.

Rightist MKs break off from Telem, form new party

Two right-wing lawmakers from Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party that was formerly part of the Blue and White alliance have also broken ranks in the parliamentary committee vote.

As the break-up of Blue and White is confirmed, MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel say their new party is called “Derech Eretz.”

They are expected to join Gantz and enter a coalition led by Netanyahu.

 

United Torah Judaism MK enters quarantine after exposure to virus

United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Tesler is the latest Knesset lawmaker to be placed in quarantine after coming in contact with a person infected with COVID-19.

He will remain in self-isolation until Thursday, Channel 13 reports.

Yesh Atid MK moves over to Blue and White, and vice versa

As part of the shakeup and breakup of Blue and White, there are a few additional changes.

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata leaves Yesh Atid to join Gantz.

And MK Gadeer Mreeh leaves Israel Resilience to join Yesh Atid.

UK lockdown will last ‘significant’ period, government says

The British government admits that the coronavirus lockdown could last a “significant” time as a leading expert warns it could be in place until June.

“I can’t make an accurate prediction but everyone I think does have to prepare for a significant period when these measures are still in place,” cabinet minister Michael Gove tells the BBC.

Britons have been told to stay inside wherever possible to limit the spread of COVID-19, joining millions of people on lockdown worldwide.

The measure was introduced amid warnings that infection rates were spiraling, and new figures on Sunday reveal that 1,228 people with coronavirus have now died in Britain.

This is an increase of 209 on the day before. A total of 127,737 have been tested so far, of whom 19,522 people were found to have coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is infected, initially said the shutdown would be for three weeks.

Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, one of the epidemiologists advising the government, tells the Sunday Times the lockdown could last months.

“We’re going to have to keep these measures in place, in my view, for a significant period of time — probably until the end of May, maybe even early June. May is optimistic,” he says.

AFP

Pelosi warns against reopening US too soon

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says US President Donald Trump shouldn’t be rushing to reopen schools and businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The top Democrat in Congress says the government should be “taking every precaution” and that there needs to be more testing for the virus in place to determine if areas currently showing fewer infections are truly at lower risk.

Speaking to CNN’s State of the Union, Pelosi says Trump’s “denial” early in the crisis was “deadly.”

She says: “As the president fiddles, people are dying, and we have to take every precaution.”

Pelosi says Congress will have to investigate whether Trump heeded advice from scientific experts as part of an after-action report on the pandemic response. She asks: “What did he know and when did he know it?”

AP

Daniel Azulay, renowned Jewish Brazilian artist and educator, dies of virus

Daniel Azulay, one of Brazil’s most prominent children’s artists and educators, died March 27 at 72 in Rio de Janeiro. Azulay was being treated for leukemia when he contracted the coronavirus.

Azulay was the creator of “Turma do Lambe-Lambe,” a group of children’s characters that starred in television shows that a generation of Brazilian children grew up watching. More recently, he focused on painting, displaying his work in exhibitions abroad and illustrating a picture book about a Brazilian child who moves to the United States.

Azulay was also deeply connected to Brazil’s Jewish community, which numbers about 100,000. He was a descendant of the founding members of Rio’s first Sephardic synagogue. At 21, Azulay was a member of the Brazilian tennis delegation to the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem.

JTA

Top government expert predicts 100,000-200,000 virus deaths in US

The US government’s foremost infection disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the US will certainly have “millions of cases” of COVID-19 and more than 100,000 deaths.

As the US tops the world in reported infections from the new coronavirus, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases predicts 100,000-200,000 deaths from the outbreak in the US.

The US is currently reporting more than 124,000 cases and more than 2,100 deaths.

Fauci was speaking to CNN’s “State of the Union” as the federal government is discussing rolling back guidelines on social distancing in areas that have not been hard-hit by the outbreak.

Fauci says he would only support the rollback in lesser-impacted areas if there is enhanced availability of testing in place to monitor those areas. He acknowledged “it’s a little iffy there” right now.

AP

14-year-old boy with COVID-19 dies in Portugal

The Portuguese health minister says a 14-year-old boy with COVID-19 has died. Authorities said the boy had prior health conditions.

Minister Marta Temido says the boy tested positive for the coronavirus but health expert still need to investigate if he died of the disease caused by the virus or other health problems.

Portugal reported Sunday it has 119 total deaths from the virus and 38,042 infections.

AP

15th fatality of virus: Rosa Sherman Arbel, 84, dies in Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital announces the fifteenth death from the virus.

The victim is identified as Rosa Sherman Arbel, 84.

She was hospitalized six days ago in very serious condition, the hospital says.

Family of Jerusalem victim mourns ‘dedicated mother and grandmother’

The family of Rosa Sherman Arbel says she was a “dedicated mother and grandmother who always put the good of her children and their needs above her own.”

“She died before her time as a result of the coronavirus,” the family says in a statement, adding that the 84-year-old was a resident of Jerusalem since the 1960s and a former Health Ministry worker.

Christian group donates $30k to settlement families affected by pandemic

A pro-settlements Christian group has donated NIS 110,000 ($30,850) toward food for Israeli families impacted by the coronavirus in the northern West Bank’s Samaria Regional Council.

“For 22 years we have been connecting Christians around the world to the issue of settlement in Judea and Samaria (West Bank),” says Christian Friends of Israeli Communities director Sondra Oster Baras at a small ceremony marking the donation at the Samaria Regional Council municipality building.

“Beyond the donations we have received, we have created a circle of enthusiastic supporters of the right of the people of Israel to all areas of the Land of Israel,” she adds.

Thanking Baras for the support, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan says, “at such a time when the people of Israel are returning to their land and observing the word of the prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Amos; with the people of Israel once again building up Samaria, every man must ask himself, what side of history he was on during this period: on the side of those who helped the people of Israel to keep the words of the prophets or not.”

Jacob Magid

(From R-L) Christian Friends of Israeli Communities director Sondra Oster Baras, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan and staffers Anat Tzafrir and Sigal Tobi during a ceremony at the municipality marking CFOIC’s donation toward residents impacted by coronavirus on March 29, 2020. (Roy Hadi)

Prominent rabbi Tzvi Tau, 83, hospitalized with COVID-19

Prominent Rabbi Tzvi Tau, head of the national religious Har Hamor yeshiva, has been hospitalized after being infected with the coronavirus, reports say.

Tau is 83 years old.

 

Joining opposition, Yesh Atid-Telem vows to safeguard Israel’s democracy

The new Yesh Atid-Telem faction says it will serve Israelis proudly from the opposition.

It says in a statement: “Yesh Atid – Telem will continue on the path for which it entered politics. From the opposition, we will fight for the citizens of Israel and protect Israel’s democracy. Simultaneously, we will all work together to help the public get through the coronavirus crisis. The crisis isn’t being well managed. The economy is collapsing and decisions aren’t being carried out.

“We will be a clear and loud voice for the millions of Israelis who love this country but are fearful for its future. We will keep a watchful eye over the work of this government and create a real alternative for the State of Israel. We will fight against the slippery slope that leads us to a corrupt government which tramples our democracy.

“We will serve the people of Israel with pride.”

As cameras roll, reporter, 66, meets newborn granddaughter on video for 1st time

Channel 12 surprises its crime reporter Moshe Nussbaum, 66, with footage of his newborn first granddaughter, whom he is unable to see due to coronavirus restrictions.

Nussbaum covers his face as the TV station puts him through, via videoconference, to meet his granddaughter, Mika, for the first time.

The video (Hebrew) is below.

Human rights group to IDF: Halt demolitions of Palestinian homes during pandemic

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has issued a second appeal to IDF Central Command, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and Civil Administration and the head of the Civil Administration, urging them to halt demolitions of Palestinian homes in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

ACRI reports that several demolitions and equipment seizures have taken place in the Jordan Valley in recent days, including a tent that Palestinians say was going to be used as a medical clinic.

“There is no justification for confiscating clinics and medical equipment at this time, and certainly there is no justification a would-be clinic for a community detached from medical resources, while the whole world is dealing with a pandemic whose reach is still not known,” ACRI’s Roni Pelli writes.

Jacob Magid

US Treasury: Reopening country will be a health decision, not economic one

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says a decision whether to reopen the nation back for business as early as Easter will be a health decision, not an economic one.

Mnunchin acknowledges surging unemployment numbers and declining GDP as 1 in 3 Americans remain under government orders to stay at home to slow the coronavirus that has killed over 2,000 Americans.

But he says US President Donald Trump’s top objective is the health of the American public.

Mnuchin tells “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’ “Face the Nation” that his own top focus is getting stimulus money from the just-passed $2.2 trillion aid package from Congress immediately into the hands of workers and businesses.

He says American workers will get direct deposits of money in three weeks, while a federal program aimed at helping half the workforce by encouraging small business to take out loans to hire back their workers for eight weeks will be up and running by Friday.

He says the stimulus package should help keep the economy and workers afloat for 10 weeks, and if more time is needed to stem the coronavirus, the administration will assess what else is needed at that time.

AP

US Embassy warns citizens: If you want to leave Israel, leave now

The US Embassy in Israel warns its citizens to leave the country immediately or face an open-ended stay in Israel.

“US citizens who live in or seek to travel to the United States should arrange for immediate departure to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain in Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza for an indefinite period. Further cancellations and suspensions can occur with little or no warning, making availability limited and unpredictable. Your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe,” it says in a travel advisory.

It notes: “As of March 29, the only available commercial flight departing Ben Gurion Airport to the United States is on United Airlines, but it is subject to change at any time. El Al announced a temporary suspension of flights from March 26 to April 4. To the best of our knowledge, there are no flights available at this time from Ben Gurion Airport to other destinations which may provide connections to the United States.”

2 residents of Jewish nursing home in Cleveland contract virus

Two residents of Montefiore, a Jewish nursing home in suburban Cleveland, test positive for coronavirus.

The facility in Beachwood, Ohio, made the announcement in a statement on Saturday, the Cleveland Jewish News reports. Both of the residents are now hospitalized.

More than two weeks ago the facility put safety protocols and restrictions into place, including only allowing essential staff and vendors into the building and checking the temperature of anyone entering.

JTA

4 in 10 people worldwide confined due to pandemic

More than 3.38 billion people worldwide have been asked or ordered to follow confinement measures in the fight against COVID-19, according to an AFP database Sunday.

That represents around 43 percent of the total world population, which is 7.79 billion people according to a United Nations count in 2020.

AFP

Ministers permit Health Ministry to accept donations of medical equipment

Cabinet ministers approve a decision, via telephone, to allow the Health Ministry to accept donations of medical equipment.

The donations include protective wear for medical staff, it says.

The proposal was introduced by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

Health Ministry to begin random virus testing in supermarkets

The Health Ministry will begin random coronavirus testing at supermarkets around the country on Monday, according to Channel 12.

The screening will target both workers and customers.

The aim, according to the report, is to gain a better sense of the rates of infection in the general population, with many Israelis believed to be asymptomatic carriers. It also seeks to block a potential outbreak in supermarkets, which remain open under partial lockdown rules.

Most residents at Jerusalem assisted living center test negative for virus

The Health Ministry says most coronavirus tests administered on residents of the Nofim Tower assisted living facility in Jerusalem have come back negative.

It says that of the 166 tests taken, 141 have come back negative and one is indefinite. The remaining 24 samples — all of them of staff — are pending.

It says 9 of 10 staff members whose test results were confirmed have been cleared of the virus. It remains unclear whether the 10th staff member is sick with the virus.

Three residents of the facility have died of the virus.

Unemployment in Israel rises to 22.6%

Unemployment rates in Israel climb to 22.6 percent amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 939,000 have filed for unemployment, 160,000 of them before the outbreak.

Netanyahu to right-wing bloc: Reports on coalition talks are ‘fake news’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to his right-wing and religious political allies to reassure them about coalition talks with Blue and White.

Reports on the distribution of ministerial portfolios, many of them to Blue and White, are “total fake news,” says Netanyahu.

Syria reports first COVID-19 death

A woman in Syria died of the novel coronavirus, the health ministry says, marking the country’s first officially declared death from COVID-19.

“The woman died as soon as she was admitted to hospital,” the health ministry says in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

“After testing, it was found that she was a carrier of the coronavirus,” the statement adds, without providing additional details.

In addition to the death, Syria has officially reported nine other coronavirus cases.

Fears are high that the virus could spread rapidly among the war-battered country’s most vulnerable communities.

The violence-plagued northwest, where around a million people have been displaced by conflict since December alone, is particularly vulnerable.

To slow the spread of the virus, the Syrian government on Sunday bans movement between provinces until April 16th.

It also enforces a decision to prohibit travel within the boundaries of each province until further notice.

AFP

AG said holding up deployment of soldiers to enforce virus lockdown

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is holding up the deployment of hundreds of IDF soldiers to Israel’s cities and towns to help enforce the lockdown rules to stem the pandemic, reports say.

Mandelblit says the move requires a special cabinet decision and vote.

The cabinet decision is expected to be approved by ministers tonight.

Italy’s virus cases showing signs of narrowing

The number of coronavirus cases in Italy shows signs of narrowing again, with officials expressing cautious optimism that the most severe shutdown in the industrialized west is showing results.

Italy’s civil protection agency says 5,217 cases were recorded in the last 24 hours — the lowest number in four days and an increase of just 5.6% — bringing the total number to 97,689. In that period, another 756 people with the virus died, bringing Italy’s total deaths in the crisis to 10,779.

AFP

Ministers to discuss tightening lockdown rules at 10 p.m.

A cabinet meeting, via teleconference, is scheduled for 10 p.m.

Ministers will discuss further restrictions on movement and economic activity, as part of its effort to combat the pandemic.

New York state nears 1,000 coronavirus deaths

New York state’s coronavirus death toll is nearing 1,000.

The state accounts for more than 40 percent of coronavirus deaths in the US.

The number of disease-related deaths in the state jumped Sunday to 965 from 728 the day before, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says. The vast majority have been in New York City. Figures released Sunday morning show 678 coronavirus deaths in the city, which continues to be the epicenter of the pandemic in the US.

Meanwhile, new data is showing which parts of the city are being hit the hardest by disease and that nearly a quarter of the people who have died of coronavirus in the state were nursing home residents.

AP

TV: Almost half of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are ultra-Orthodox

Channel 12, citing unofficial sources, say nearly half of those hospitalized in intensive care for COVID-19 are members of the ultra-Orthodox community (though the community accounts for only some 10 percent of Israelis).

That includes 50% at the Schneider Medical Center; 60% in the ICU at the Sheba Medical Center; 50%-60% at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center; and 40% at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem, according to the network.

Government officials are weighing a possible full closure in Haredi areas, and weighing setting up more quarantine centers for mild cases in the ultra-Orthodox community to prevent outbreaks within large families.

 

Surgeon in Britain dies after contracting virus

A British surgeon has become the first front-line National Health Service worker to die after contracting COVID-19.

The University Hospitals of Derby and Burton say Amged El-Hawrani, 55, died at the Glenfield Hospital in Leicester on Saturday.

El-Hawrani worked as an ear, nose and throat surgeon at the Queen’s Hospital Burton.

A statement made on behalf of El-Hawrani’s family said he viewed his role “as a doctor as one of life’s most noble pursuits.’’

Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, says El-Hawrani’s death “is not just an individual human tragedy, but a stark reminder to the whole country that we all must take this crisis seriously.’’

AP

Health Ministry to ask Israelis to track health with daily survey

The Health Ministry, HMOs and the Mada emergency service will ask Israelis to fill out a daily questionnaire on their health to track the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to Army Radio.

The survey will ask about specific symptoms and will remain anonymous, the report says.

There is no immediate confirmation from the ministry.

Police fine residents of West Bank outpost for violating virus rules

Police hand out fines to three residents of the extremist Kumi Uri outpost near the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank who roamed 100 meters beyond the neighborhood in the direction of a nearby Palestinian village, in violation of the coronavirus guidelines, a Border Police spokesman confirms.

Jacob Magid

France reports 292 new coronavirus deaths, total now 2,606

France has recorded 292 new coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 2,606 since the first was reported in February, the country’s national health service director Jerome Salomon says Sunday.

Among the nearly 19,000 patients now hospitalized, 4,632 are in intensive care, Salomon says.

The toll over the past 24 hours was below the 319 deaths reported on Saturday, but the figures include only deaths reported in hospitals, and not at retirement homes or assisted-living facilities.

AFP

COVID-19 cases climb to 4,247, with 74 in serious condition

The Health Ministry says 4,247 people are infected with the novel coronavirus, including 74 in serious condition.

Of the serious cases, 59 are attached to ventilators, it says.

Another 82 people are in moderate condition.

There have been 15 deaths from the virus.

Israeli startup: Virus prompts surge of hate speech toward Chinese on Twitter

The coronavirus outbreak has led to a 900 percent uptick in hate speech toward China and Chinese people on Twitter, according to a report by a tech startup.

“People are spending more and more time on social networks, communication apps, chat rooms and gaming services, and the problems endemic to these platforms — hate, abuse, toxicity and bullying — have become accentuated,” the Israel-based company L1ght says in its report.

“According to our data, much of this hate and abuse is being directed towards China and its population, as well as individuals of Asian origin in other parts of the world,” adds the startup that uses artificial intelligence to detect harmful content in social networks.

It said although there are some uplifting stories being shared online as people confined because of the pandemic first detected in China turn to the Internet, there is also plenty of hate being shared.

“Toxic tweets are using explicit language to accuse Asians of carrying the coronavirus and blaming people of Asian origin as a collective for spreading the virus,” the study finds.

It says that a lot of people are using racist hashtags such as #Kungflu, #chinesevirus and #communistvirus, as they tweet about the pandemic.

AFP

Maryland nursing home hit by virus outbreak

One resident of a Maryland nursing home died after contracting COVID-19 in an outbreak that has sickened dozens of the facility’s residents and strained its staff, health officials say.

A man in his 90s, who was a resident at the Peasant View Nursing Home, died Saturday night after testing positive for COVID-19, Carroll County Health Health Officer Ed Singer says at a news conference. Singer says 66 residents have tested positive and 11 were hospitalized, the same numbers that were reported the previous night.

Singer says that to his knowledge, no staff members have tested positive for the virus, but some say symptoms are keeping them from coming in.

AP

Cabinet to convene (virtually) at 11 p.m. to discuss further restrictions

The cabinet meeting to vote on further restrictions on movements and the economy will now be held at 11 p.m.

Ministers are expected to approve, via teleconference, the deployment of soldiers to enforce lockdown rules and may green-light further curbs on the economy, or even order a full closure of the country.

According to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, 700 unarmed soldiers will aid police in enforcing the government’s pandemic regulations.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro gathers crowds in defiance of health directives

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro continues to defy calls from health officials looking to prevent gatherings that might spread the new coronavirus, posting videos of himself gathering small crowds in several neighborhoods in the capital of Brasilia.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, Bolsonaro has downplayed the risks of COVID-19, calling it a “little flu” that largely threatens the elderly and most vulnerable. He has urged them to self-isolate, but otherwise has stressed the need to keep Brazil’s economy running. He has clashed with several state governors who have introduced quarantine measures, such as in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.

“The virus is here, we’re going to have to confront it. Confront it like a man, not a boy!” Bolsonaro tells supporters outside his official residence on Sunday. “We’re all going to die one day.”

As of Sunday, the Brazilian Health Ministry had reported 3,904 confirmed cases and 114 deaths linked to COVID-19.

AP

4 hotels in Jerusalem to be set up for quarantine, mild virus patients

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion are working to set up four hotels in the capital to house coronavirus patients with mild virus symptoms and to be used for quarantine for suspected cases.

Two of the hotels will be located in the western part of the city and two in the eastern part.

 

Think-tank head urges Gantz to use coalition deal to protect judiciary

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, urges Benny Gantz to hammer out agreements to safeguard Israel’s judiciary, as part of his coalition negotiations with Netanyahu.

“For Gantz and his party, the coalition negotiations are an opportunity to introduce much needed clarity when it comes to the balance of powers between Israel’s different branches of government. This means including in the coalition guidelines their opposition to an [High Court of Justice] override clause and any change in the status of the attorney general and that of the legal advisers in the various ministries operate.

“All proposals for new Basic Laws, or changes to the existing Basic Laws, should only be proposed and legislated if there is a consensus among all the parties in the coalition. If a member of the coalition nevertheless defies this agreement, all the other members should be obligated to vote against the proposal,” Plesner suggests.

In reversal, Health Ministry won’t conduct COVID-19 testing at supermarkets

The Health Ministry has decided against conducting random coronavirus tests at supermarket chains, according to reports.

The pilot program was called off over fears that Israelis seeking a COVID-19 test would flock en masse to the stores, Channel 12 says.

The TV network also quotes senior health officials as saying they were not informed about the project.

Labor’s Peretz and Shmuli expected to join government

Labor’s Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli are expected to join the government being negotiated by Likud and Blue and White, which will be led by Netanyahu for the first 18 months, reports say.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the two dovish lawmakers are expected to receive the economy and welfare ministerial portfolios.

Cabinet meeting postponed

The cabinet meeting on further restrictions has been postponed until tomorrow.

According to reports, health officials were seeking to make changes to the proposals.

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Health Ministry to begin random virus testing in supermarkets

The Health Ministry will begin random coronavirus testing at supermarkets around the country on Monday, according to Channel 12.

The screening will target both workers and customers.

The aim, according to the report, is to gain a better sense of the rates of infection in the general population, with many Israelis believed to be asymptomatic carriers. It also seeks to block a potential outbreak in supermarkets, which remain open under partial lockdown rules.