Hospital chief accuses Health Ministry of publishing inaccurate data on testing
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UK’s Johnson taken to the hospital for coronavirus tests

The office of the British PM, who tested positive for COVID-19 10 days ago, calls the move a ‘precautionary step,’ says it was at the advice of his doctor

In this handout photo provided by Number 10 Downing Street, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs the morning Covid-19 Meeting remotely after self isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus, at 10 Downing Street, London, March 28, 2020. (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street via AP)
In this handout photo provided by Number 10 Downing Street, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs the morning Covid-19 Meeting remotely after self isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus, at 10 Downing Street, London, March 28, 2020. (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street via AP)

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

IDF soldiers say forced to isolate in locked room, abandoned post without water

Two soldiers from an Israel Defense Forces desert patrol battalion say they were sent for isolation to an abandoned military post without electricity or running water, and in a locked room, after they spent time in proximity to an individual with the coronavirus.

The soldiers tell the Kan public broadcaster they were quarantined in a locked room close to the Egyptian border and went for long periods of time without food.

The soldiers say they haven’t seen a doctor since they were sent into isolation.

“I wanted to charge my cellphone, I told them them I was having mental health problems and I wanted to leave but nobody answered,” one of the soldiers says.

In response, the IDF says the soldiers received the same food as the rest of the soldiers, and were allowed to use the bathroom.

“We understand that a feeling of unpleasantness can be created in isolation, but it is designed to protect the company framework with maximum consideration for the combatants’ conditions and concern for their personal needs,” the IDF says.

Sixth resident of Beersheba assisted living facility dies of coronavirus

An 84-year-old woman dies of the coronavirus, the sixth fatality as a result of the infection at the Mishan assisted living facility in Beersheba.

Relatives of the residents are planning to file a lawsuit against the facility’s managers and the Health Ministry for alleged medical malpractice, a representative tells the Kan public broadcaster.

“The Health Ministry as a regulator has not supervised and kept watch. They saved money instead of caring for the elderly,” he says.

1 moderately wounded, 1 lightly hurt in suspected car bombing in Tira

One man is in moderate condition and another is lightly wounded after a car explodes in the central Israel Arab town of Tira, police say in a statement.

The two are receiving hospital treatment.

Police say there are sappers at the scene and they have opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Hebrew media reports police suspect it was a bomb attack.

Man dies at Jerusalem hospital, bringing Israel’s coronavirus death toll to 46

A 63-year-old man dies at Jerusalem’s Haddasah Ein Kerem Hospital, taking Israel’s coronavirus death toll to 46.

The man is said to have had underlying health issues.

There are no immediate details on his identity.

UK Labour chief sends condolences to Jewish community for high virus death toll

Keir Starmer, the British Labour Party’s new leader, in one of his first acts, sends a letter to the Jewish community expressing his condolences over the high death rate from coronavirus, and repeating his vow to stamp out anti-Semitism from the party.

“I have been saddened to learn of the particularly high death rate in the Jewish community. Please be assured of my sympathy and solidarity at this time,” he says in a letter to the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

He reiterates his commitment to stamping out anti-Semitism, and invites the representative body to meet with him to discuss the matter further.

Starmer on Saturday replaced Jeremy Corbyn as party leader and immediately apologized to the Jewish community for anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks, calling it a “stain” and pledging to stamp it out.

Keir Starmer on Aug. 27, 2019 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA via AP)

Virus cases in Israel top 8,000 with 127 in serious condition

The Health Ministry says 8,018 people have now been confirmed infected with the coronavirus in Israel, an increase of 429 from 24 hours earlier.

There are 127 in serious condition and 106 people on ventilators, which appears not to be an increase over the figures from Saturday evening.

There have been 46 fatalities, and 477 people have recovered from the virus.

Small earthquake strikes Eilat region

A small earthquake measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale is felt in the area surrounding the southern city of Eilat.

There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Israel’s last major earthquake shook the region in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude quake that killed 500 and injured another 700. An earthquake in 1837 left as many as 5,000 people dead. Major earthquakes strike Israel once every 80 years or so.

Defense Ministry to begin assisting with nursing homes to try to stop outbreaks

The Prime Minister’s Office announces that the Defense Ministry is to provide help to nursing homes due to the growing number of outbreaks taking place in assisted living facilities.

“The Defense Ministry and Home Front were assigned to assist the Health Ministry with operational aspects of nursing homes,” the statement reads.

The Kan public broadcaster reports the Home Front Command is opposed to the move.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Saturday that management of the coronavirus pandemic should be transferred immediately to his office and the Israel Defense Forces below it.

The Health Ministry should help determine policies. But it’s not designed as an operational hierarchy, he said. “We wouldn’t let a geologist run a [nationwide] operation to save the people from an earthquake.”

Hezbollah leader said close to Soleimani is killed in south Lebanon – reports

Hezbollah leader Ali Mohammed Younis was reportedly assassinated in southern Lebanon overnight.

A Lebanese report cited by Channel 13 news says his body was found by the side of a road with stab and gunshot wounds.

According to reports, Younis was responsible for “tracking collaborators” and was a close associate of Qassem Soleimani, a commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in a US airstrike in January.

National Insurance head says unemployment, stipends won’t be paid before Pesach

The head of the National Insurance Institute says unemployment payments and emergency stipends won’t be transferred ahead of the upcoming Passover holiday.

“Unfortunately and despite great efforts, we will not be able to meet the schedule and deliver the unemployment benefits,” Meir Spiegler tells the Maariv daily, before adding that he hopes that the emergency stipends for children may be processed before the holiday but those for the elderly definitely won’t be.

“We usually handle 17,000 unemployment benefit requests every month, but we now have more than a million. This month, we will pay 700,000 – 800,000 advances of NIS 1,000 – 2,000 for workers who were furloughed. The systems are not built for more than that,” he says.

Israel has more than a million jobless citizens for the first time in its existence, as the coronavirus pandemic puts more and more workplaces out of business.

National Insurance Institute’s Director General Meir Spiegler at a conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) on September 3, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week announced that families would receive a one-time payment of NIS 500 per child (approximately $140), up to the fourth child, ahead of the holiday. There will also be stipends for the elderly, he said. He said these payments would be approved via emergency legislation, and that payments will be made directly into bank accounts, with no bureaucratic red tape.

He vowed the payments would be made before Passover.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II to praise virus workers in rare address

Queen Elizabeth II will urge people to rise to the challenge posed by the coronavirus outbreak, in a rare special address to Britain and Commonwealth nations.

In extracts released of what royal officials said was a “deeply personal” speech, the 93-year-old monarch will say she has faith that people will respond, despite the difficulties.

The broadcast, scheduled to air at 1900 GMT on Sunday, is only the fourth time in her 68-year reign that she has made a special televised address outside her annual Christmas Day message.

It comes as daily deaths in Britain hit a record high of 708, including a five-year-old child on Saturday, taking the overall toll to 4,313 — and as the country prepared for a third week of lockdown.

According to Buckingham Palace, the queen will personally thank frontline healthcare staff and other key workers for their efforts during the crisis.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth rides in a carriage to attend the annual Trooping the Color Ceremony in London, June 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time,” she will say in the speech, which was recorded at Windsor Castle, west of London.

“A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.”

— AFP

6th victim of virus at Beersheba nursing home named as 84-year-old Dalia Salmona

The sixth victim of the cornoavirus outbreak at a Beersheba assisted living facility is named as 84-year-old Dalia Salmona.

According to Channel 13 news, Salmona worked as a head nurse at the city’s Soroka Medical Center until her retirement. She reportedly suffered from dementia.

She is survived by three children and her grandchildren.

“She was a wonderful woman and helped a lot,” her granddaughter says.

With the death toll from residents at the Mishan assisted living facility continuing to rise, relatives of the residents say they are planning to file a lawsuit against the facility’s managers and the Health Ministry for alleged medical malpractice.

Head of IDF Central Command goes into isolation after contact with virus carrier

The head of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, has been sent into quarantine after coming into contact with a civilian who is found to have contracted the coronavirus, the military says.

The IDF says he will self-isolate inside his office and will continue to work as usual.

“The general feels good and does not have symptoms,” the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Head of poultry association says farmers working to supply more eggs

The head of the poultry association in Israel addresses the severe egg shortage in the country.

“Everyone is stuck in the house, and a egg can make a full meal, so the consumption is much greater than normal. We will continue to work to supply Israel’s eggs,” Motti Alkabetz tells Army Radio.

Officials have said the shortage was not caused by supply problems, but by panic buying.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Friday Israel will subsidize an emergency airlift of millions of eggs to the country ahead of the Passover festival.

Official tells Knesset public transportation should be stopped between Haredi cities

Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto tells the Knesset committee on the coronavirus pandemic that public transportation between ultra-Orthodox cities should be halted to stop the spread of the potentially deadly pathogen.

“We are working to stop public transportation between the ultra-Orthodox cities to prevent further infection and fatalities,” he says.

Authorities moved early Sunday to tighten a closure on the virus-stricken city of Bnei Brak, cutting off access between the city and the rest of the country and stepping up efforts to provide aid to residents and remove those carrying the virus.

At the same time, officials are reportedly considering similar measures for other cities that have seen major outbreaks of the disease, many of them with large ultra-Orthodox populations.

Jerusalem, Bnei Brak still have highest number of coronavirus cases

According to Health Ministry figures, Jerusalem has the highest number of coronavirus cases with the much smaller predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak in second place.

The capital has 1,302 cases of coronavirus with a population of close to a million residents, but Bnei Brak has 1,214 cases with around 200,000 residents.

Authorities have tightened a closure on Bnei Brak, cutting off access between the city and the rest of the country and stepping up efforts to provide aid to residents and remove those carrying the potentially deadly pathogen.

At the same time, officials are reportedly considering similar measures for other cities that have seen major outbreaks of the disease, many of them with large ultra-Orthodox populations, including some neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

61-year-old woman dies of coronavirus in Holon, bringing death toll to 47

A 61-year-old woman dies of the coronavirus in Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center, the hospital says, bringing the country’s death toll to 47.

The hospital says the woman, whose name has not yet been released, was brought to Wolfson late last month from a geriatric hospital’s rehabilitation ward, suffering from pre-existing conditions.

— Judah Ari Gross

Progress said made in talks for return of prisoners held in Gaza amid virus fears

Sources tell Al Hayat Al Jadeed newspaper that progress has been made in negotiations for the release of Israeli prisoners held by the Hamas terror organization in the Gaza Strip, as both sides struggle to control the coronavirus pandemic.

The group is holding citizens Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are said to have entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014-2015. It also possesses the remains of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

The brother of Avera Mengistu (r) and father of Hisham al-Sayad pose for a picture as they hold a press conference calling for the release of the two Israeli citizens from Hamas captivity, on September 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

The report comes after Hamas chief Yawya Sinwar told the Al-Aqsa network on Thursday that the terror group will reduce its demands in negotiations if elderly, women and child prisoners are released from Israeli prisons in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sources tell Al Hayat Al Jadeed that Israel had asked Egyptian mediators to talk to the Hamas leadership and clarify Sinwar’s statements.

In addition, the sources say Israel consulted with Egypt on the possibility of resuming negotiations for the exchange of prisoners and in return will allow food and medical equipment into the Gaza Strip and the release of a number of elderly men and women incarcerated in Israel.

A composite photo of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul, left, and Hadar Goldin, right.

Israel, like many other places in the world, is concerned about the deadly ramifications of a virus breakout in a closed prison system.

Sources say that Egypt is eager for the issue to be resolved as it aims to prevent an escalation of the health crisis in the enclave and is working to contain the outbreak within its own borders.

— Avi Issacharoff

Ultra-Orthodox MK says closure of Haredi neighborhoods is an ‘injustice’

United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush says the lockdown imposed on virus-stricken ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods is an “injustice.”

“The imposition of a closure on ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods is an injustice. The army doesn’t have the skills to enter a city with a population it does not know — people will refuse to allow them to evacuate them,” he tells Army Radio, referring to the lockdown on Bnei Brak, where the army is slated to evacuate the elderly.

The lawmaker, who is a member of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s United Torah Judaism party, says the Israel Defense Forces’ involvement in the distribution of essentials to residents of the locked down city, is unnecessary.

“Do you think that they did not distribute food here before the corona? The ultra-Orthodox are laughing at the idea that soldiers need to distribute food to the elderly in the city.”

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush at the opening of the ministry’s crisis center, in preparation for the opening of the school year, August 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The predominantly ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak is seen as a major epicenter of the virus, with almost as many confirmed cases as Jerusalem (which has the largest tally according to Health Ministry data), despite being one-fifth the size of the capital. Thousands more people in the city are thought to possibly have the disease but remain untested.

Ministers are slated to discuss the possibility of declaring other cities with large outbreaks restricted zones, with an emphasis on locales with large ultra-Orthodox populations.

State opposes retrial for man convicted of teen’s murder in 2006

The State Prosecutor’s Office filed its response to a request by a man convicted of the murder of a teenage girl in 2006, saying that after re-examining all the evidence, they believe the conviction is warranted and that he has no recourse.

Prosecutors say the request was “interwoven with allegations of a conspiratorial, baseless nature.”

In October, Roman Zadorov filed an official retrial request with the Supreme Court. The Ukrainian-Israeli handyman is serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of 13-year-old Tair Rada.

Rada was found dead in a bathroom stall in her Katzrin school in the Golan Heights, with slashes to her neck, stab wounds across her body and severe blows to her head.

Zadorov’s lawyers, along with thousands of vocal members of the public, insist that Zadorov was framed for an act he didn’t commit and that the real murderer was a woman whose name is gagged by a court order and who suffers from mental illness.

Tair Rada (YouTube screenshot)

Palestinian Authority announces 9 more virus cases in West Bank

Kamal al-Shakhra, the director-general of primary care in the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry, announces nine more cases of coronavirus in the West Bank.

Thus far, Palestinian authorities have said 226 people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been infected by the virus, including 21 who have recovered and one who died.

— Adam Rasgon

Rivlin on ultra-Orthodox: Don’t attack whole community over individuals’ bad deeds

President Reuven Rivlin comments on criticism of the ultra-Orthodox community in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I want to speak out strongly against the voices I hear criticizing the ultra-Orthodox community: we are brothers and sisters and mutual responsibility is our guiding light,” Rivlin says in a video call with the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Moshe Amar to sell foodstuffs that according to Jewish law may not be consumed or owned by Jews during the upcoming Passover holiday.

“We must not make false accusations that one or another group is spreading the disease, and we must certainly not attack a whole community because of the bad deeds of individuals, which happens in every society. We must also not make generalizations about a whole community, the vast majority of which is carrying out the instructions of the Ministry of Health in these difficult days leading up to Passover,” Rivlin says.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks with Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Moshe Amar, April 5, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Schools, kindergartens to refund parents for unused services due to closures

The Education Ministry says parents are to be refunded for payments they made for services they did not receive after schools and kindergartens were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Refunds will be given for trips, cultural activities, food and extra classes that were scrapped with the closure of educational institutions last month.

No timetable is given for the repayments.

 

Eggcellent news: First shipment of eggs arrives in Israel ahead of Passover

A shipment of eggs from Spain arrives at the Ashdod port, Channel 12 news reports.

The outlet reports that workers aim to get the boat unloaded and its cargo distributed as fast as possible.

A second boatload is due to arrive on Tuesday, just ahead of the Passover holiday.

The demand for eggs is particularly high because many make considerable use of eggs during Passover, particularly at the festive seder meal.

Many serve hard-boiled eggs in salt water at the meal and for others it is a key ingredient of matzah ball soup, matza brei, and other holiday favorites.

The Prime Minister’s Office announced Friday that Israel will subsidize an emergency airlift of millions of eggs to the country ahead of the festival amid severe shortages due to coronavirus restrictions.

Spain sees 3rd consecutive decline in daily death toll

Spain sees its third consecutive daily decline in the number of people dying from the coronavirus pandemic as the country recorded another 674 deaths, official figures show.

The health ministry says the number, the lowest in 10 days, brought total deaths to 12,418 since the pandemic hit Spain.

The number of infections rose 4.8 percent to 130,759.

— AFP

Israel detains PA Jerusalem minister for ‘illegal activities’ said linked to pandemic

Israel detains the Palestinian Authority governor of Jerusalem over “illegal” activities, in at least the seventh time Adnan Ghaith has been arrested in less than 18 months.

“Adnan Ghaith was detained this morning for Palestinian activity in Jerusalem, which is illegal,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says.

A video circulating on social media shows Ghaith, wearing rubber gloves and smoking a cigarette, being escorted by police out of his East Jerusalem home.

His attorney Rami Othman says Ghaith, who was taken for questioning, was apprehended primarily due to Palestinian activity related to the coronavirus outbreak.

— AFP and Times of Israel staff

Ukraine battles forest fire in Chernobyl nuclear zone

Ukraine mobilizes aircraft to battle a forest blaze in the restricted zone around Chernobyl, scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident, authorities say.

They say two planes, a helicopter and around 100 firefighters have been deployed to fight a fire that broke out Saturday and spread over 20 hectares in a forested area near the Chernobyl power plant.

On Sunday morning, the fire was not visibly burning and no increase in radiation in the air had been detected, the emergencies service say in a statement.

However, the service pointed to some “difficulties” in fighting the fire due to an increase in radiation in some places, but stressed there was no danger to people living nearby.

Chernobyl polluted a big part of Europe when its fourth reactor exploded in April 1986, with the area immediately around the power plant the worst affected.

— AFP

Police checkpoints cause huge traffic jams on routes toward Jerusalem

Drivers report huge traffic jams on routes toward Jerusalem as police set up roadblocks to check that all travel is for essential purposes.

There are delays of up to two hours, Hebrew media reports.

There are jams on routes 1 and 443 as security officials check there are no more than two people in a vehicle and that individuals are heading to the capital for necessary work or another reason under emergency virus regulations.

Passengers are taken off a bus from Modiin Illit to Jerusalem on Route 443 after a large number of them were caught without justification to leave their homes, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Police officers and Israeli soldiers at a temporary checkpoint in Jerusalem, to check people are not disobeying the government’s orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, April 05, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Modiin Illit and certain neighborhoods in Jerusalem are being considered for further lockdown orders due to a high number of virus cases.

Hospital chief accuses Health Ministry of publishing inaccurate data on testing

There are clashes at the Knesset committee on coronavirus after the head of the Hadassah Medical Organization accuses the Health Ministry of putting out inaccurate data on testing rates.

“Even if we can do a million tests a day — it will not help us to liberate the economy. Do not count on testing getting us out of the crisis,” says Prof. Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry.

“As of now, 103,000 tests have been carried out, a rate that’s among the highest in the world,” Grotto says.

That prompts an interruption from committee chair MK Ofer Shelah, who cites a figure of 75,000 tests provided to the lawmakers by the Knesset’s research department and asked Grotto to explain the gap.

Screen capture from video of Deputy Director-General of the Health Ministry Itamar Grotto. (Twitter)

Grotto notes there were thousands of tests that were repeat tests for previously tested individuals.

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of the Hadassah Medical Center then interjects, saying: “Health Ministry data is inaccurate, to say the least.”

Grotto pushes back: “Ah Rotstein, if you continue this way, believe me, it won’t work well. I think our data is accurate, I have 100 times more accurate data than yours so stop talking nonsense.”

Zeev Rotstein, director of Hadassah, at Hadassah Ein Karem, in Jerusalem, on September 3, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

He asks the committee members not to invite himself and Rotstein to speak to the committee at the same time.

“If this is a dialogue where I just listen to him then I’ll say thanks and leave,” Rotstein says.

“Decide whether you want me or Rotstein, who doesn’t even have a degree in public health,” says Grotto.

Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights amid virus pandemic

Lebanon starts repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus.

The first of four planes touches down at the Beirut international airport bringing in 78 passengers from Riyadh, local television reports.

It shows health personnel in protective gear taking the temperature of disembarking passengers.

The Mediterranean country announced a lockdown and closed its airport on March 18 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 527 people and killed 18 nationwide.

— AFP

Airport worker who was in serious condition, recovers from coronavirus

An airport worker who contracted coronavirus and was in serious condition has recovered from COVID-19, Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital says.

Yehuda Dror had not been abroad or in knowing contact with anyone carrying the virus, so health authorities initially declined to test him for coronavirus, despite the fact that he worked at Ben Gurion Airport.

“Yehuda is already breathing independently and communicating with those around him. In the coming days, he will be the first to be admitted to the Coronavirus Respiratory Rehabilitation Unit which is opening at the medical center,” the hospital says.

Dror’s condition initially deteriorated and he was under sedation and hooked up to a respirator. He was the second person in Israel with COVID-19 to be listed in serious condition. The other was a bus driver who has recovered and was released from the hospital last week.

IDF chief ends isolation, visits troops operating in virus-stricken Bnei Brak

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visits the coronavirus-stricken city of Bnei Brak, meeting the commanders and troops stationed in the ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv.

“The phrase ‘people’s army’ is getting a different importance in light of IDF soldiers performing this life-saving mission. It is an expression of reciprocal responsibility for the people of Israel. We will continue to increase our assistance to local government, to anywhere needed, widely and quickly. I am proud of your action,” Kohavi says during the visit.

Earlier today, two battalions of the IDF’s 98th Paratrooper Division began operating inside Bnei Brak, one of the cities hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, delivering food and other necessities to the city’s elderly residents and others in need of assistance.

During Kohavi’s visit, he met with the commander of the 98th Division, Brig. Gen. Yaron Finkleman and other officers. He also observed some of the food distribution operations and heard about the unit’s plans for future activities, the military says.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visits troops operating in Bnei Brak after leaving isolation following contact with coronavirus carrier, April 5, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

Kohavi and two other generals entered into self-quarantine last week after taking part in a meeting with an officer who later tested positive for the disease.

— Judah Ari Gross

Jerusalem’s Palm Sunday march scaled back due to coronavirus

A small group of Franciscan monks and Roman Catholic faithful take to the streets of Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter in the Old City to distribute olive branches after the traditional Palm Sunday procession was canceled due to restrictions imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Palm Sunday celebrations start the Holy Week leading up to Easter. Worshipers traditionally carry palm fronds and olive branches and march from the top of the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem’s Old City.

While thousands of pilgrims usually participate in the march, this year is limited to a handful of participants. Clerics and faithful went door to door often throwing the branches to Christians looking on from their balconies.

“This year because of the new situation we are trying to come to all the Christians in our Christian Quarter to bring these branches of olives, the sign of new hope,” says the Rev. Sandro Tomasevic, a Catholic clergyman at the Latin Parish of Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and is the start of the church’s most solemn week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Jesus’ crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter.

— AP

Man with virus arrested on bus near Jerusalem for fleeing quarantine, knowingly endangering public health

Police arrest a man infected with the coronavirus who had allegedly broken quarantine, as he rode on a public bus to Jerusalem.

According to Channel 12 news, the man knew he had the coronavirus but got on the 960 bus in Haifa.

His family called the police to alert them to the danger after he left quarantine and got on a bus to Jerusalem, the network reports.

He had returned from overseas 13 days ago, and this morning was informed that he had tested positive for the virus.

It was unclear if he had been in quarantine at a hospital or a state-run facility.

The 34 other passengers on the bus are sent to quarantine after the bus was stopped on Route 1, police say.

Video footage shows the suspect, an ultra-Orthodox man in his 30s from the Beitar Illit settlement, being led by Magen David Adom paramedics in medical gear to an ambulance. He is reported to be known to the welfare authorities in the settlement.

If the reports are fully accurate, and he knowingly endangered the public, he faces up to seven years in jail, Channel 12 says.

An Israeli man suspected of knowingly taking a bus to Jerusalem after testing positive for the coronavirus is escorted by Magen David Adom medical workers from the bus to an ambulance on April 5, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Police officer Sigal Bar-Tzvi tells Channel 12 this is the third or fourth incident in which someone who knew they were sick left a hospital or another quarantine facility and endangered public health. She says there was another incident in the north in which a patient also used public transportation.

Bar-Tzi adds that the driver of the 960 bus was fined NIS 5,000 because he exceeded a limit on carrying up to 25 passengers on a bus.

3 Jerusalem sanitation workers assaulted in Haredi neighborhood

Three sanitation workers for the Jerusalem Municipality are assaulted in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Shmuel Hanavi.

One of the workers was injured in the chest with a knife and is taken to the hospital, according to the Ynet news site.

Police reportedly arrest three suspects in connection to the attack.

The three workers are residents of the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, the Kan public broadcaster says.

“I condemn violent behavior of any kind, against any group and definitely toward Jerusalem Municipality workers who are doing their jobs faithfully for the city and its residents,” Mayor Moshe Lion says.

Gantz tells Rivlin he’ll likely request extension of mandate to form government

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will likely seek an extension of his mandate to form a government, which will expire over the Passover holiday.

He informed President Reuven Rivlin of this in a phone call between the two, Blue and White says in a statement.

Rivlin said he would consider this in light of the circumstances when the April 13 deadline gets closer, according to the statement.

Blue and White says Gantz also updated Rivlin on the talks to form “an emergency government and national unity.”

Gantz’s party has been holding coalition talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud on forming a government in which the two would rotate as premier, with Netanyahu serving first. The negotiations picked up after Gantz was elected Knesset speaker with the backing of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, causing Blue and White to split.

The move appears to be aimed at maintaining some leverage in coalition talks, as under Israeli law, the Knesset member tasked by the president with forming a government is the one who heads it.

Iran to soon restart ‘low-risk’ economic activities, as new infection rate slows

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says it will allow “low-risk” economic activities to resume from April 11 as its daily coronavirus infection rates slows for a fifth straight day.

“Restarting these activities does not mean we have abandoned the principle of staying at home,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says at a meeting of Iran’s anti-coronavirus task force.

The president, whose country has been battered by US economic sanctions, doesn’t specify what qualifies as “low risk” activities but says bans will remain on schools and large gatherings.

A “gradual” return of “low-risk” economic activity will be permitted from next Saturday in the provinces and from April 18 in Tehran, Rouhani says.

The coronavirus pandemic claimed another 151 lives over the past 24 hours, raising Iran’s declared death toll to 3,603, health ministry spokesman Kianouche Jahanpour says today at his daily press briefing.

He also reports 2,483 new cases of COVID-19 infection, the fifth straight day of declining numbers, compared to a record number of 3,111 infections on March 31.

Iran, the Middle East country worst affected by the pandemic which originated in China, has declared a total of 58,226 infections, a figure which some foreign experts suspect is an underestimate.

After resisting a lockdown or quarantine measures, Iran imposed an intercity travel ban late last month.

— AFP

Iranians buy fruit at a market in the capital Tehran amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 5, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Unemployment rate in Eilat skyrockets to 70% since end of February

The unemployment rate in Eilat has risen to nearly 70 percent, making it the city hardest hit economically by the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Employment Service data, 3.3% of Eilat residents were unemployed at the end of February, a figure that rose to 69.3% during the month of March.

Eilat, a popular resort city on the Red Sea, has a large number of hotels and other industries related to tourism, which have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cities with the next highest employment rates after Eilat were Beitar Illit and Nazareth, with 52.1% and 46.3% of workers out of jobs respectively.

As of this morning, 25% of the Israeli workforce was unemployed, with 1,050,000 out of work.

US surgeon general tells Americans to brace for ‘the saddest week’

WASHINGTON — US Surgeon General Jerome Adams is bracing Americans for what he says is going to be “the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives” because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Adams tells “Fox News Sunday” that “this is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment.”

He wants to make clear that “it’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.”

Adams also has a message to governors who haven’t yet imposed shelter-in-place orders in their states. He says the handful of states in that category are states where a large amount of food is produced for the country, and that’s been part of the struggle when it comes to stay-at-home restrictions.

But Adams has a message for those governors: “If you can’t give us a month, give us what you can. Give us a week. Give us whatever you can to stay at home during this particularly tough time when we’re going to be hitting our peak over the next seven to 10 days.”

— AP

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, April 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

98-year-old woman in Jerusalem dies from COVID-19, bringing death toll to 48

A 98-year-old woman hospitalized at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem dies of the coronavirus.

The hospital says in a statement that the woman, who was brought there yesterday in serious condition, had “complicated preexisting diseases,” without elaborating.

The results of the test on the woman for COVID-19 came back positive this afternoon, according to the hospital.

She is 48th person in Israel to die from the coronavirus.

Parliamentary workers from Bnei Brak to be barred from entering the Knesset

Beginning tomorrow, parliamentary aides and workers who live in Bnei Brak will no longer be allowed into the Knesset.

The Knesset says the move, which comes after the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city was declared a “restricted zone,” was at the instruction of Health Ministry officials.

Debate grows over whether Defense Ministry should be tasked with handling virus response

Reflecting the ongoing debate about how well Israel is dealing with the coronavirus crisis, and whether the Defense Ministry ought to take charge, the defense and health reporters on Channel 12 join the argument.

Roni Daniel, the network’s military analyst, says it is “time to end the pathetic handling” of Israel’s response to the outbreak and calls for the IDF’s Home Front Command to be put in charge.

Yoav Even, the health reporter, says he doesn’t “agree with the ‘pathetic’ description” and that it’s up to Prime Minister Netanyahu to decide whether the Health Ministry or Defense Ministry should be in charge.

Israeli who recovered from virus donates blood plasma so antibodies can help patients

An Israeli doctor who recovered from COVID-19 is donating blood plasma in the hopes that it contains antibodies that can help those infected overcome the coronavirus.

“I’m donating plasma for future use in treating coronavirus,” Dr. Ofer Rak, an orthopedic surgeon, tells Channel 12 news from the Magen David Adom blood bank, where MDA’s Prof. Eilat Shinar is supervising the process.

Rak contracted the virus during a ski trip in Italy and was treated at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, where he works.

Channel 12 notes that a major Israeli hospital is already using plasma from patients who have recovered from the virus in treating patients, and that numerous hospitals worldwide are doing so. It says four major drug companies are working to manufacture the treatment.

Visiting Bnei Brak, Bennett says IDF ready to operate in other cities as needed

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett visits the city of Bnei Brak, meeting with the IDF officers responsible for overseeing the military’s assistance effort in the coronavirus hotspot, his office says.

Bennett says the IDF has so far delivered 12,000 hot meals to the Bnei Brak’s elderly population, to those receiving welfare support and to people who are otherwise unable to leave their apartments.

“The IDF and Home Front Command are prepared to operate in any city where they are needed. This warms the heart. Together we will overcome to the coronavirus,” Bennett says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (R) visits the virus-hit city of Bnei Brak on April 5, 2020. (Courtesy)

Military helicopter forced to make emergency landing due to technical problem

A Yasur heavy transport helicopter makes an emergency landing in central Israel following a “technical malfunction,” the military says.

No one is injured.

The IDF says a maintenance team is working to repair the helicopter and get it flying again.

This is the latest in a series of malfunctions in the IDF’s aging fleet of Yasur helicopters, which are due to be replaced in the coming years.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu condemns alleged ‘wild incitement’ against ultra-Orthodox

Prime Minister Netanyahu condemns what he calls “wild incitement” against Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Netanyahu says the Haredi public has “internalized” the danger of the virus and the Health Ministry restrictions meant to curb its spread.

“The coronavirus epidemic doesn’t differentiate between ultra-Orthodox and secular, between Arabs and Jews. We don’t either. This war is all of ours,” he says in a statement.

The statement doesn’t name the source of this alleged incitement but it appears aimed at Rina Matzliah, a Channel 12 news presenter who has come under fire for her criticism of the community during a live broadcast Friday.

New York state virus death toll passes 4,000, with 594 new fatalities

NEW YORK — The coronavirus death toll in New York state spikes to 4,159, Governor Andrew Cuomo says today, up from 3,565 the day before.

The toll increase of 594 deaths shows a slight decrease in the day-to-day number of lives lost compared to the previous day.

Governor Andrew Cuomo tells journalists it is too soon to tell whether the decrease from the previous record of 630 deaths in one day was statistically significant.

— AFP

A patient arrives to Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood on April 5, 2020, in New York City. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

Italy records lowest daily virus death toll in over 2 weeks

ROME — Italy records its lowest daily death toll from the novel coronavirus in over two weeks and sees the number of critical care patients decline for the second day.

The 525 official COVID-19 fatalities reported today by the civil protection service are the lowest since 427 registered on March 19.

— AFP

Parish priest Don Antonio Lauri (L) celebrates the Palm Sunday mass from the rooftop of the San Gabriele dell’Addolorata church in Rome on April 5, 2020, during the Italy’s lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Tiziana Fabi/AFP)

Airlift of medical equipment from China headed for Israel

Eleven airplanes containing millions of pieces of medical equipment, including ventilators, face masks and protective suits, will arrive in Israel from China in the coming days, with the first having just taken off, the Defense Ministry says.

The ministry says it coordinated the effort alongside the Foreign Ministry, El Al and Israel Chemicals.

The first plane, which is due to arrive tomorrow morning, contained 900,000 surgical masks, half a million protective suits and other medical gear. Additional protective equipment will be coming in the coming days, alongside several ventilators.

Two El Al planes will fly to Israel from China each day through the rest of the week, the ministry says.

— Judah Ari Gross

In this photo sent out by the Defense Ministry on April 5, 2020, an El Al plane in China is loaded with medical equipment to bring to Israel. (El Al)

Magen David Adom says just 5,000 virus tests performed Sunday, far below daily goal

Eli Ben, the head of the Magen David Adom emergency service, says MDA performed 5,000 coronavirus tests today, many fewer than the over 7,000 it was able to do in a single day last week and far fewer than the daily targets set by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The drop in testing comes amid a shortage of reagents used to process the tests, though the Health Ministry said earlier today that it had found an unspecified “solution” to allow for more testing.

Barbash: Situation ‘much better’; new cases doubling only every 11 days

Prof. Gabi Barbash, the former director general of the Health Ministry, says the current overall situation in Israel’s battle against the coronavirus “is much better” than it was.

“We’ve gone down from a doubling of new cases every six days to a doubling every 11 days,” he explains on Channel 12.

That’s despite what’s been happening in Bnei Brak and other hard-hit areas, he clarifies, and is “thanks to the closures… I hope people will maintain” the stay-home discipline, he says.

The concern is to avoid another rise because of Passover. If the numbers stay like this, “This gives the authorities a much better starting point,” he says, to consider easing some of the restrictions after Passover.

Prof. Gabi Barbash (Weizmann Institute screenshot)

Cabinet said set to tighten restrictions in parts of Jerusalem, other cities with high contagion

The government has agreed on a list of areas with a relatively high number of coronavirus infections that will be subject to further restrictions on movement, Channel 12 news reports.

The list includes several unspecified neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Elad, Migdal Haemek, Beitar Illit, Ashkelon, Tiberias, Or Yehuda and Modiin Illit, according to the report.

It says the IDF will step up its operations in those areas.

The network says the new restrictions will be less strict than those in Bnei Brak, which the cabinet declared a “restricted zone” at the weekend, and will likely come into effect tonight or tomorrow.

Deri says general lockdown may be imposed countrywide on first night of Passover

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri tells Channel 12 news that the government is considering imposing a general lockdown on Israel during the first night of Passover, which begins Wednesday evening.

Deri calls on Israelis to prepare for this potential closure and says anyone driving that evening will have to give an explanation for why they are out.

He also says under new restrictions on movement that are expected to be introduced in a number of areas with high rates of infections, Jerusalem will be divided into eight regions, with residents only allowed to shop within the borders of the regions.

Ultra-Orthodox settlement to bar entry to non-residents

The Beitar Illit Municipality announces that beginning this evening, only residents of the ultra-Orthodox settlement will be allowed into the community.

Beitar Illit has recorded a relatively high number of COVID-19 cases and is reportedly set to come under further travel restrictions.

Israel’s biological research institute ‘makes progress’ on treatment for virus

The Israel Institute for Biological Research has made “progress in the last few days” in work toward a treatment for the coronavirus, Channel 12 reports.

The state’s defense biological research institute has been working to extract antibodies from blood samples taken from patients who have recovered from serious condition, it says, with the aim of utilizing them to treat the disease in new patients.

The IIBR has also been working on a vaccine, and last week claimed “significant progress” in that effort. Tonight’s Channel 12 report says a vaccine, in the best case scenario, will not be ready before the winter. Progress toward the hoped-for treatment might prove faster than that, it says, quoting unnamed knowledgeable sources.

Numerous researchers worldwide have also been working toward a treatment utilizing plasma from recovered patients.

Number of virus cases in Israel rises to 8,430; 139 in serious condition

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 8,430, up 412 from this morning.

The Health Ministry says 139 people are in serious condition, 106 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 182 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms. So far, 546 Israelis have recovered from the virus.

According to the ministry’s figures, 49 Israelis have died from COVID-19.

France reports 357 new virus deaths in hospitals, total now 8,078

PARIS — France reports 357 coronavirus deaths in hospitals in the last 24 hours, lower than the previous two days, bringing the country’s total death toll to 8,078.

The tally includes 5,889 patients who died in the hospital, and 2,189 people in old age homes and other medical facilities, a government statement says.

— AFP

IDF troops in Bnei Brak given list of Yiddish words to help speak with locals

IDF soldiers operating in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak have been equipped with a list of Yiddish words and phrases to help them communicate with residents who regularly speak the language, according to Army Radio.

Among the terms included in the list are greetings such as “hello” (“sholem-aleykhem” in Yiddish) and how are you (“vos makht ir”), as well as other phrases such as, “Does anyone here speak Hebrew” (“iz ez do emets vos redt do ivrit”) and “I’m sick” (“ikh bin krank”).

The soldiers are helping to provide food and other necessities to elderly residents of Bnei Brak, after the government declared the city a “restricted zone” due to the high number of coronavirus cases there.

In rare TV address, Queen Elizabeth II vows UK ‘will succeed’ against coronavirus

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II thanks healthcare workers on the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus, urging a united effort to overcome the crisis but vows: “We will succeed.”

In a rare special televised address, the 93-year-old monarch draws on her experience in World War II, telling people forced to separate from family and friends: “We will meet again.”

— AFP

Fauci warns coronavirus could become seasonal

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says there a very good chance the new coronavirus “will assume a seasonal nature,” because it is unlikely to be under control globally.

Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He says the virus is unlikely to be completely eradicated from the planet this year. That means the US could see the “beginning of a resurgence” during the next flu season.

Fauci says the prospect of a resurgence is the reason the US is working so hard to get its preparedness “better than it was.” He says that includes working to develop a vaccine and conducting clinical trials on therapeutic interventions.

Fauci also says states that do not have stay-at-home orders are not putting the rest of the country at risk as much as they are putting themselves at risk.

Fauci speaks on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

— AP

Bennett says he’s okayed deployment of 700 more troops to enforce virus restrictions

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett says he has given approval for the deployment of another 700 IDF soldiers to help police enforce emergency restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

It is unclear when the troops would be deployed and there is no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces.

The statement from Bennett comes as the cabinet was set to reportedly approve imposing further restrictions on movement in a number of areas with high rates of infections.

PM, Health Ministry said seeking to declare 15 Jerusalem neighborhoods ‘restricted zones’

The Kan public broadcaster publishes a list of cities and neighborhoods that Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Health Ministry are seeking to have declared “restricted zones,” effectively locking down these areas, due to the high number of coronavirus cases there.

The list includes the cities of Elad, Modiin Illit, Migdal Haemek, Beitar Illit, Ashkelon, Tiberias and Or Yehuda, as well as the central and southern parts of the city of Beit Shemesh.

In Jerusalem, the neighborhoods of Har Nof, Bayit Vegan, Givat Mordechai, Ramot, Ramat Shlomo, Sanhedria, Shmuel Hanavi, Beit Israel, the Bukharim Quarter, Mea Shearim, Geula, Zichron Moshe, Makor Baruch, Givat Shaul, and Kiryat Moshe will all be declared restricted zones, according to Kan.

The broadcaster also reports that during tonight’s cabinet meeting, ministers will also be asked to consider declaring “restricted zones” in West Bank settlements.

Infected UK PM taken to the hospital for precautionary virus tests

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken to the hospital today for tests, his office says, 10 days after he tested positive for coronavirus.

“On the advice of his doctor, the prime minister has tonight been admitted to hospital for tests,” Downing Street says in a statement, calling it a “precautionary step.”

— AFP

Ministers to rule on locking down 8 cities, Haredi parts of Jerusalem

Ministers will rule today on enforcing a tighter closure over eight cities and 15 ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

The cities are: Tiberias, Elad, Migdal Haemek, Beitar Illit, Ashkelon, Or Yehuda, Modiin Illit, and parts of Beit Shemesh.

The Jerusalem neighborhoods that are to be sealed include Har Nof, Bayit Vegan, Givat Mordechai, Ramat Shlomo, Sanhedria, Shmuel HaNavi, Beit Yisrael, Mea Shearim, Geula, Bucharim, Zichron Moshe, Ramot, Makor Baruch, Givat Shaul, and Kiryat Moshe,

It remains unclear what the new guidelines will be, though they will likely include a broader military presence to enforce the restrictions. Israelis are already banned from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes, with exceptions made for work and purchasing essential supplies.

The restrictions would be less severe than those currently in place in Bnei Brak, with the Ynet news site terming them a “breathing closure.”

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Hospital chief accuses Health Ministry of publishing inaccurate data on testing

There are clashes at the Knesset committee on coronavirus after the head of the Hadassah Medical Organization accuses the Health Ministry of putting out inaccurate data on testing rates.

“Even if we can do a million tests a day — it will not help us to liberate the economy. Do not count on testing getting us out of the crisis,” says Prof. Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry.

“As of now, 103,000 tests have been carried out, a rate that’s among the highest in the world,” Grotto says.

That prompts an interruption from committee chair MK Ofer Shelah, who cites a figure of 75,000 tests provided to the lawmakers by the Knesset’s research department and asked Grotto to explain the gap.

Screen capture from video of Deputy Director-General of the Health Ministry Itamar Grotto. (Twitter)

Grotto notes there were thousands of tests that were repeat tests for previously tested individuals.

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of the Hadassah Medical Center then interjects, saying: “Health Ministry data is inaccurate, to say the least.”

Grotto pushes back: “Ah Rotstein, if you continue this way, believe me, it won’t work well. I think our data is accurate, I have 100 times more accurate data than yours so stop talking nonsense.”

Zeev Rotstein, director of Hadassah, at Hadassah Ein Karem, in Jerusalem, on September 3, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

He asks the committee members not to invite himself and Rotstein to speak to the committee at the same time.

“If this is a dialogue where I just listen to him then I’ll say thanks and leave,” Rotstein says.

“Decide whether you want me or Rotstein, who doesn’t even have a degree in public health,” says Grotto.