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In shift, Gantz doesn’t rule out sitting in government with Netanyahu as PM

After his party vowed in 3 election campaigns not to sit with premier due to his criminal indictments, centrist leader says wrong to ‘cling’ to past remarks during virus crisis

A file photo taken on March 7, 2020 shows Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivering a statement in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
A file photo taken on March 7, 2020 shows Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivering a statement in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

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

Health Ministry official: We won’t need a total lockdown if people follow rules

A Health Ministry official says Israel will not require a full lockdown of the country to contain the spread of the coronavirus if the public abides by existing regulations.

“We would have wanted a full shutdown, but if the public listens to instructions, there will be less of a need for one,” the deputy director-general of the ministry tells Army Radio.

“Yesterday, we saw a change in the public,” he adds, indicating that people had indeed begun following the ministry’s orders limiting gatherings and direct contact.

Ministry: Tallying coronavirus cases taking longer due to additional tests

The Health Ministry says the process of counting the number of fresh coronavirus diagnoses is taking longer than normal due to the larger number of tests it has started to perform.

Ordinarily, the ministry publishes such statistics at 8 a.m. each day, followed by an updated sum later in the evening.

“As the number of places where checks are being done has gone up (20 active laboratories) and the very high number of daily checks (upwards of 2,200 tests yesterday and growing), the collection and tabulation of the statistics — the total number of confirmed carriers — is taking more time,” the ministry’s spokesman Eyal Basson says.

“We will publish the updated and confirmed number of patients as we have done throughout this crisis,” he says in a statement.

Australia, New Zealand move to seal borders to curb virus

Australia and New Zealand are moving to seal off their borders today, announcing unprecedented bans on entry for non-residents in the hope of stemming the rise of COVID-19 infections.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the ban on anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident coming to Australia “will be in place from 9:00 p.m. tomorrow evening.”

A similar measure was announced by his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern, who acknowledges: “I recognize how extraordinary this is. In no time in New Zealand’s history has a power like this been used.”

Australia and New Zealand have announced a slew of restrictions to tackle the pandemic, but have so far stopped short of closing schools or instituting wider-ranging lockdowns.

Policymakers hope the bans will slow the rate of infection enough to avoid more draconian measures that would cripple the two economies and transform life for months to come.

Australia currently has 642 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the total doubling roughly every three days. New Zealand has 28 cases.

— AFP

Virus keeps 500 million people home around the world

Some 500 million people are being subjected to lockdown measures around the world because of the coronavirus outbreak that started in China and has quickly ballooned globally, according to an AFP count.

From China to the Czech Republic to Venezuela, governments have told their citizens to stay indoors to try and slow the spread of the pandemic.

The central Chinese province of Hubei and its capital Wuhan, where the COVID-19 virus broke out late last year, have been cut off from the world since late January.

At least seven other countries have followed the Chinese province in enforcing some degree of confinement: Italy since March 10, Spain from March 14, Lebanon on March 15, the Czech Republic on March 16, France, Venezuela on March 17 and Belgium on March 18.

That means 230 million people in these seven countries are obliged to stay at home.

At least five countries — Israel, Austria, Britain, Germany and Iran — have urged people to limit as much as possible their movements and contacts, without going as far as enforcing confinement.

These five countries are home to around 250 million people. These appeals from the authorities have however had limited effect.

At least six countries or territories have imposed curfews banning movements in the evening and overnight: Tunisia, Bolivia, Serbia, the US states of New Jersey and Puerto Rico, and the Philippines’ capital Manila.

These territories hold more than 50 million inhabitants.

— AFP

Report: Mossad brings in 100,000 coronavirus test kits

The Mossad intelligence service brought 100,000 coronavirus test kits to Israel from abroad last night, with plans to bring in millions more, Channel 12 news reports.

The Mossad was brought in to help locate and bring in the roughly four million test kits from several unidentified countries, which will make their way to Israel soon.

According to the TV report, the clandestine service is also helping the Health Ministry develop computer programs and smartphone applications to help it confront the pandemic.

These are the latest in a series of efforts by Israel’s security services to play a more active role in combating the pandemic.

Last night, the Defense Ministry also announced it would be taking over from the Health Ministry all efforts to purchase equipment to combat the coronavirus, following reports of shortages.

Iran state TV: Khamenei to pardon 10,000 more prisoners

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s top leader will pardon 10,000 more prisoners in an apparent effort to combat the coronavirus, state TV reports.

As part of steps to curb the spread of the new virus that has killed more than 1,100 people in Iran, the country has already released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave.

The Middle East has some 20,000 cases of the virus, with most in Iran or originating from Iran.

To encourage people to stay at home in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour writes on social media that the virus infects 50 Iranians on average every single hour and that “one dies every 10 minutes.”

“Make smart decisions about travel, visits and meetings,” he writes on Twitter, as highways remained crowded with people traveling to see family ahead of the Iranian New Year on Friday.

State TV quotes judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili as saying that 10,000 prisoners — among them an unknown number of inmates whose cases are political and related to activism or speech — would be granted amnesty under a decree by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the occasion of the new year, called Nowruz.

Western nations have urged Iran to release dual nationals and others, alleging they are used as bargaining chips in negotiations.

Among those temporarily freed was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British dual national long held on internationally criticized charges. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the charitable Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in 2016 on charges of trying to topple the government while traveling with her toddler daughter.

— AP

Cops break up mass protest outside jail in support of sex offender rabbi

Some 400 followers of sex offender rabbi Eliezer Berland protested overnight outside the prison where he is being held on fraud charges, violating Health Ministry orders against large public gatherings, police say.

Police called to the scene broke up the protest outside the Givon Prison in central Israel, in which his followers sang, danced and prayed for Berland’s release, police say.

Berland’s followers are considered especially devoted to him, with some having allegedly attacked people who have spoken out or testified against the convicted sex offender.

IDF troops open fire at Gazans approaching security fence

IDF troops open fire at five Palestinians who approached the Gaza security fence and attempted to damage it, the military says.

“A hit was confirmed,” an army spokesperson says.

Media outlets in the Strip say one of the men was shot in the leg.

The incident occurs outside of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

With testing surge, number of confirmed virus cases in Israel jumps to 529

The number of confirmed virus cases in Israel climbs to 529 — 96 more than yesterday’s figure.

The jumps of nearly 100 seen in the past couple days come along with an increase in the number of tests. The Health Ministry says it carried out some 2,200 both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Of the 529 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19:

498 are only showing mild symptoms
13 are in moderate condition
6 are in serious condition

12 have fully recovered

279 patients are currently hospitalized.
86 are receiving care at home
36 are receiving care at an isolated hotel
16 are waiting to be told where they will be placed

IDF says 10th soldier has been identified as a COVID-19 carrier

The Israel Defense Forces says another soldier has been identified as a carrier of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the military to 10.

According to the IDF, the serviceman is a 24-year-old career soldier — identified as Patient 432 — who was infected by another confirmed carrier of the disease.

The IDF Medical Corps and Health Ministry are working to retrace the soldier’s movements in order to locate people he may have been in contact with and infected, the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Police bust wedding attended by hundreds in Bedouin town

Police say they busted a wedding in the Bedouin town of Laqiya attended by hundreds of guests last night in violation of the coronavirus guidelines, which bar gatherings of more than ten people.

The person in charge of the event was summoned for questioning, police say.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last night that he is weighing whether to order law enforcement to hand out fines and other punishments to those who violate the coronavirus guidelines.

 

President Rivlin invites children and their families to join in for Facebook Live story time

President Reuven Rivlin has invited children and their families to join his for story time on Facebook Live at 12 p.m.

He’ll be reading “A Flat for Rent” by Leah Goldberg.

Edmond de Rothschild Foundation announces NIS 50 million donation to Israeli hospitals

The Edmond de Rothschild Foundation has announces that it will be making a NIS 50 million ($13.43 million) donation “to increase the readiness of the hospitals in Israel to restrain the spread of the Coronavirus.”

The donation will be dedicated to the purchase of respirators, protective equipment for medical teams as well as to address and other critical needs of the hospitals in Israel, a statement from the organization says.

Medical officials for weeks have reported a lack of protective gear that has risked exposing them to the virus. Thus far, over 1,600 doctors and nurses have been forced into quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 carriers.

Think tank blasts Knesset speaker for ‘unacceptable disregard for basic rules of democracy’

The Israel Democracy Institute has sent an urgent letter to Yuli Edelstein blasting the Knesset speaker for shuttering parliament in the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak and disagreements with the Blue and White faction over the formation of parliamentary committees.

“The outcome of this decision is that at this critical period – during which Israel is in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis that has dramatically affected all areas of life including public health and safety, personal freedom and the economy – the most important democratic institution in our country, the Knesset, is effectively incapacitated.” IDI says.

The group adds that the move “blatantly exceeds the bounds of your office and the duty of trust attached to your position.”

“It constitutes an unacceptable disregard for basic rules of democracy.”

Foreign Ministry urges Israelis looking to fly home to book flights immediately

The Foreign Ministry is calling on all Israelis abroad who are looking to return home to book flights immediately.

Army Radio initially reported that the directive was to all Israelis regardless of their future travel plans.

A spokesman for the ministry says Israelis abroad should not expect the country to provide free charter flights if a decision is made to halt all air traffic.

Yesterday, the Interior Ministry announced that it would only be allowing citizens and those who base their lives in Israel into the country.

IDF joins MDA in testing Israelis for coronavirus

The IDF will join the Magen David Adom emergency service in testing Israelis for the coronavirus, Army Radio reports.

Military vehicles will travel to the homes of those deemed as needing the test, though it is unclear how many have been enlisted in the effort.

Amid reduction of lines, drivers lament packed buses that violate virus guidelines

As the Transportation Ministry cuts dozens of bus lines throughout the country, Army Radio reports that a growing number of drivers are expressing concern over buses that are packed with passengers, in violation of coronavirus guidelines that only allow 10 people in a space at a time.

The drivers are calling on the government to either provide additional bus lines or help them enforce the guidelines barring more than 10 passengers on a bus.

Hundreds of Israelis stranded in Peru to depart on flight later today

A flight will depart later today ferrying hundreds of Israelis who have been stuck in Peru due to border closures enacted as a result of the coronavirus, the Foreign Ministry reports.

But Channel 12 shows footage of the passengers huddled together outside the airport, placing themselves at high risk of exposure to the virus.

Police stop drive-by protest against closure of Knesset on Route 1

Police have broken up a protest of a convoy of dozens of Israelis driving down Route 1 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with black flags waving from their cars in protest of Likud Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to close parliament.

It is unclear why the protest was stopped as the drivers were not in violation of coronavirus guidelines.

Blue and White MK intervenes to allow convoy protest against Likud’s Knesset closure to proceed

MK Mickey Levy has intervened to allow the convoy of dozens fo Israelis waving black flags from their cars in protest of the Likud’s Knesset closure to proceed to Jerusalem, fellow Blue and White faction member Yair Lapid says.

95,000 Israelis filed for unemployment yesterday, joining 225,000 others since start of March

Army Radio reports that 95,000 Israelis filed for unemployment yesterday alone.

They join 225,000 others who have done so since the beginning of the month of March.

 

Blue and White MK calls on Gantz to cease unity government talks until Likud allows Knesset to resume

Senior Blue and White lawmaker Ofer Shelah calls on his party’s chairman Benny Gantz to cease all negotiations toward a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party until the latter allows for Knesset activity to resume.

“Against the backdrop the national crisis, Benjamin Netanyahu wants to cancel the election results, paralyze the Knesset and destroy the foundations of the state,” Shelah says in a statement.

“Blue and White must not negotiate with Likud until the Knesset’s activity has been fully restored.

“It is forbidden to discuss anything with Bibi and his representatives until Israel returns to function as a full democracy,” he adds.

After two months in quarantine, final Israeli from ‘corona cruise’ released from hospital

After two months in quarantine, the last of six Israeli passengers from Japan’s Diamond Princess cruise-ship has been released from the hospital.

Shalva Dahan has been allowed to return home from Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center after two consecutive tests came back negative for the virus.

Rights group blasts Israel’s demolition of Palestinian buildings in midst of virus crisis

The B’Tselem rights group blasts Israeli authorities for proceeding with demolitions of Palestinian buildings amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Two buildings were razed this morning in the Bedouin hamlet of al-Muntar outside Jerusalem by the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration body responsible for authorizing West Bank construction.

The troops also demolished a concrete floor on which a family was about to erect a makeshift home, which had been demolished last year.

Israel argues that these buildings are erected without the necessary permits, while Palestinians point out that such approvals are rarely granted to non-Jews in the West Bank.

PA warns that more stringent measures against outbreak could soon be announced

The Palestinian Authority warns that it could take more stringent measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus after it reported that some Palestinians had violated home quarantine.

“I affirm once again that we could carry out stricter measures,” PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem tells a press conference in Ramallah.

— Adam Rasgon

Foreign Ministry clarifies: Those Israelis who want to come home should do so right away

After an Army Radio report said the Foreign Ministry was calling on all Israelis abroad to return home immediately as airlines are cutting flights across the board, the ministry has issued a statement making clear that it is referring to those Israelis who “want to come home.”

The ministry statement reads: “Given the reductions and cancellation of flights worldwide, and the moves by countries to close their airspace and their borders because of the coronavirus outbreak, we are again calling on those Israelis abroad who want to come home to do so as soon as possible.”

The ministry has also published on its website a list of countries that fly to Israel with updates regarding whether such flights still exist.

At least two reportedly arrested as protest convoy against Likud reaches Jerusalem

At least two Israelis from the protest against the Likud party’s shuttering of the Knesset have been arrested after their convoy of cars from Tel Aviv arrived at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Haaretz reports.

Mideast airlines lose $7b as airports shut to combat virus

Seven Middle Eastern countries have suspended all commercial flights due to a fast-spreading new virus as the aviation industry’s largest trade association announces that airlines in the region have already lost more than $7 billion in revenue.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents around 290 airlines worldwide, says the travel restrictions that countries have imposed to slow down the spread of the virus “have more far-reaching implications than anything we have seen before.”

The group calls for emergency aid of up to $200 billion for airlines globally.

In the Middle East alone, 16,000 passenger flights have been canceled since the end of January. The financial losses translate into hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, IATA says.

The Middle East has some 20,000 cases of the virus, with most cases in Iran or linked to travel from Iran. The virus killed another 149 people in the past 24 hours in Iran, pushing the death toll there to 1,284 amid over 18,000 confirmed cases.

Already, major carriers like Emirates have urged pilots and cabin crew to take unpaid leave. Reports have emerged that Qatar Airways laid off several hundred employees. The airline did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Job losses in the Middle East have especially far-reaching consequences to the millions of foreign workers who send remittances back home to families in India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Eastern European countries. Gulf states like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates rely heavily on foreigners to work as airport support staff, pilots, cleaners and cabin crew.

— AP

Health Ministry hurries to clarify that Mossad did a great job in bringing testing kits after official pooh-poohed effort

The Health Ministry has hurried to stress that thousands of coronavirus test kits brought to Israel by Mossad overnight from an undisclosed country were “important” and “necessary,” after a top official in the ministry downplayed their relevance to the efforts against the disease.

In a statement Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov thanks the Mossad, as well as all other defense branches helping confront the medical crisis. He says the test kits received Thursday were “important and functional kits which we require for coronavirus tests.” He thanks Mossad chief Yossi Cohen personally for aiding health officials in the matter.

Confirming Mossad’s involvement in bringing the kits to Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office also dismisses claims that the equipment was not required by the Health Ministry.

“The equipment that arrived in Israel was needed and critical,” the office says.

Swiss aid expert to head UN Palestinian refugee agency

Swiss humanitarian relief expert Philippe Lazzarini has been appointed to head the UN agency responsible for aiding Palestinian refugees, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has announced.

Guterres had recommended Lazzarini to lead the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) earlier this month.

“Mr Lazzarini brings to the position more than thirty years of experience in humanitarian assistance and international coordination in conflict and post-conflict areas,” a UN statement says.

Born in 1964, Lazzarini has coordinated the work of the United Nations in Lebanon for the past five years.

His career has taken him to Somalia, Iraq, Angola and the Palestinian territories.

He also has had positions with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East.

Lazzarini replaces another Swiss national, Pierre Krahenbuhl, who was forced to resign in November 2019 amid accusations of mismanagement.

— AFP

Ya’alon blasts ‘Netanyahu police’ after cops arrest demonstrators at anti-Likud protest

Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon calls on the interim police chief to clarify to his cops that “they are Israeli police officers, not the Netanyahu police” after several anti-Likud protesters were arrested outside the Knesset during a demonstration against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to shutter parliament earlier this week.

Police briefly blocked the convoy of protesters making their way down Route 1 without providing a reason.

Sanders calls on Trump to ease Iran sanctions as country struggles to weather virus outbreak

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calls on US President Donald Trump to ease its sanctions on Iran as Tehran struggles to weather the coronavirus pandemic.

“Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic,” Sanders tweets. “US sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster. As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions.”

 

Blue and White MK storms out of coronavirus briefing as row with Likud spikes

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn has left a government briefing on the coronavirus in the middle in protest of Likud Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to close parliament.

Nissenkorn told Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov and National Security Council head Meir Ben Shabbat that while he respected them both and the work that they’re doing, such updates should be made before Knesset committees, which can’t be done until Edelstein re-opens parliament, Blue and White says in a statement.

Gantz condemns arrest of anti-Likud motor convoy protesters

Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz issues a statement condemning police for blocking the motor convoy of Israelis protesting the Likud’s shuttering of the Knesset

Gantz acknowledges that it might have better to have held the protest virtually in order to avoid creating crowds, but adds that “the detaining of drivers is [an] unreasonable [act] for a proper democratic regime.”

“We must not sit quietly in the face of the crushing of our democracy that Netanyahu and [Knesset Speaker Yuli] Edelstein are leading.”

PM’s son blasts Yuval Noah Harari for claiming Netanyahu’s turning Israel into a dictatorship

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair is going after  Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari on Twitter after the latter asserted that the premier is turning Israel into a dictatorship.

High Court hears petition against Shin Bet’s tracking of Israelis’ phones

The High Court of Justice is currently hearing a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel against a government decision allowing the Shin Bet to track Israelis’ phones in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Police dismiss Blue and White accusations that they arrested protesters on Netanyahu’s orders

Israel Police has issued a statement flatly rejecting claims by Blue and White lawmakers that it arrested protesters from the anti-Likud convoy to the Knesset on orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

“We reject in disgust all the futile attempts to drag the police into the political discourse,” the statement reads. “No one is above the law or above the public health orders issued by the Health Ministry, regardless of his or her political views.”

Blue and White petitions High Court against Edelstein’s closure of Knesset

The Blue and White party files a High Court petition against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to prevent the Knesset from convening, stepping up protests on the matter against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu and Edelstein “are not only trying to destroy Israeli democracy, but also to cause the election results to be disregarded,” says Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah.

He claims Edelstein “hijacked” the Knesset by preventing a plenum vote on a new Knesset speaker, knowing there is a majority for replacing him.

“We won’t let that happen,” he adds.

103-year-old Iranian woman survives coronavirus — report

A 103-year-old woman in Iran has recovered after being infected with the new coronavirus, state media reports, despite overwhelming evidence the elderly are most at risk from the disease.

The unnamed woman was hospitalized in the central city of Semnan for about a week, IRNA news agency says.

But she was “discharged after making a complete recovery,” Semnan University of Medical Sciences head Navid Danayi is quoted as saying by IRNA.

The woman is the second elderly patient in Iran to have survived the disease. The other is a 91-year-old man from Kerman, in the southeast of Iran, the news agency said.

After being sick for three days, he recovered on Monday despite having pre-existing medical conditions including high blood pressure and asthma, it adds.

The report does not say how the pair were treated.

— AFP

Rivlin asks Likud, Blue and White not to ‘take Knesset hostage’ in coalition talks

President Reuven Rivlin has spoken on the phone with the leaders of the Blue and White party and with minister Yariv Levin, who is conducting coalition negotiations for the rival Likud, Rivlin’s office says.

The president has urged both sides “not to take the Knesset hostage” in the negotiations, as Blue and White has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party of doing, the statement says.

It adds that Rivlin asked the parties to try to convene the parliament immediately without connection to the state of their talks.

“Advance the discourse between you in parallel with ensuring the orderly and continuous functioning of the Knesset,” Rivlin says. “Its opening is important to the citizens of Israel at this time of crisis even more than ever.”

MK Moshe Abutbul quarantines himself after being near virus carrier

Knesset member Moshe Abutbul of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party goes into home-quarantine after being near a coronavirus patient, Hebrew-language media reports.

Abutbul and his son, who has also gone into isolation, were both at the MRI department at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, where one of the staff employees has been confirmed as a COVID-19 patient.

Lebanon frees US man who served in Israel-backed militia

A US citizen who had faced decades-old murder and torture charges as part of an Israeli-backed militia in Lebanon has been freed, a US senator who had pushed for his release announces.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, says in a statement that she spoke with Amer Fakhoury on the phone soon after his release.

Amer Fakhoury holds his granddaughter, Kira, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, June 2016. (Guila Fakhoury via AP, File)

“Anytime a US citizen is wrongfully detained by a foreign government, we must use every tool at our disposal to free them,” Shaheen says in her statement. “I’m very glad that Amer is finally coming home and will be reunited with his family. No family should have to go through what the Fakhoury family has gone through.”

Fakhoury was ordered released on Monday because more than 10 years had passed since he allegedly tortured prisoners at a jail run by the South Lebanon Army militia. But he was not immediately allowed to leave the country after a Lebanese military judge on Tuesday appealed the decision, asking the Military Court of Appeals strike down the decision to free Fakhoury.

A judge of urgent matters in the southern town of Nabatiyeh has issued a ruling preventing Fakhoury from leaving Lebanon for two months.

— AP

Wall Street turns positive after opening down, Dow up 0.5%

Wall Street indices enter positive territory in mid-morning trading, recovering ground after another negative open amid evidence of the growing economic disruption from the coronavirus.

The Down Jones Industrial Average is up 0.5 percent at 20,005.47, crossing the symbolic 20,000 point mark.

The recovery comes after the US Federal Reserve moved to inject liquidity into money market mutual funds and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the country is ready to take on more debt to counteract the outbreak.

The tech-rich Nasdaq is up 2.6 percent at 7,171.38 and the broad-based S&P 500 has climbed by 0.8 percent to 2,417.36.

— AFP

Former senior IDF commander detained at anti-government protest

Shahar Argaman, a former head of the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, was detained by police officers earlier today during a demonstration against the government’s closure of the Knesset.

Footage published by journalist Ronen Bergman shows Argaman being seized on the road at Shoham Junction, east of Tel Aviv. He was reportedly not taken to a police facility.

Argaman is quoted as saying he was accused of disrupting traffic, although three of the four lanes were free. He accused police of targeting the protesters for political reasons, having received “orders” to do so.

Monaco’s Prince Albert II has coronavirus, no concern for his health: palace

Monaco’s Prince Albert II has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the principality says in a statement, adding there are “no concerns for his health.”

The titular head of the Mediterranean enclave is continuing to work from his private apartments at the royal palace, the statement says.

— AFP

Tulsi Gabbard ends long-shot 2020 bid, gives support to Biden

Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is suspending her US presidential campaign, ending a long-shot effort that saw her feuding with Hillary Clinton and raising fears among Democrats that she would mount a third-party 2020 bid.

She’s offering her full support to former US Vice President Joe Biden, making the announcement by email.

“I feel that the best way I can be of service at this time is to continue to work for the health and wellbeing of the people of Hawaii and our country in Congress, and to stand ready to serve in uniform should the Hawaii National Guard be activated,” she says.

— AP

Indian PM Modi orders one-day nationwide virus curfew

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi orders the country’s 1.3 billion population to follow a one-day curfew to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a ceremony to thank the Union Council of Ministers for their contribution in India’s general election, at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, May 21, 2019. (Prakash Singh/AFP)

Modi says in an address to the nation that the curfew will be on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to test the giant country’s ability to take tough measures against what he called a growing crisis.

The measure will be “in the interest of the country to follow and prepare us for future challenges.”

India has reported 173 positive virus cases and four deaths.

— AFP

Bus lines will only run twice an hour starting Monday — ministry

The Transportation Ministry says public transportation will face additional significant curbs starting Monday, with each bus line that hasn’t already been canceled going only twice an hour, and three times an hour in big cities. The changes won’t affect most inter-city lines.

The Ynet website quotes sources within the ministry estimating that public transportation will thus be reduced by an estimated 70%.

Public transportation is already only operating until 8 p.m. every day, and won’t run at all on Friday and Saturday.

Israelis called to go out to balconies now to applaud healthcare staff

Israelis have been called by social media users and some mayors to go out to their balconies at 6 p.m. and clap their hands for two minutes in applause of medical health professionals dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Israelis, including Netanyahu, cheer for medical staff battling pandemic

Many Israelis nationwide have enthusiastically heeded the call to applaud healthcare staff dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

At 6 p.m., many go out to balconies to clap and cheer for several minutes, as called for earlier on social media.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin chime in as well.

Iran furloughs imprisoned US Navy vet amid virus concerns

Iran has granted a medical furlough to a US Navy veteran who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than a year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces.

An undated photo of US Navy veteran Michael White, who was arrested in Iran in July 2018 while visiting his girlfriend. (screen capture: NBC news)

Michael White of Imperial Beach, California, is now in the custody of the Swiss Embassy and must remain in Iran as a condition of his furlough, which was granted as Iran works to curb the spread of coronavirus. The US government will seek his full release, Pompeo says, and he calls on Iran to free other Americans who remain jailed there.

A spokesman for the White family says the family is grateful to the Iranian government for an “interim humanitarian step.”

“We continue to urge them to release Michael unconditionally so that he can return to the United States to receive the advanced medical care he needs,” spokesman Jon Franks says.

White, who has been imprisoned since July 2018, was visiting a girlfriend in Iran when he was detained. White was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, though the State Department says he was serving a 13-year sentence.

— AP

Gantz to agree to unity government with Netanyahu first as PM — report

A unity deal may be in the works with Benny Gantz agreeing to Benjamin Netanyahu going first in a rotating prime minister deal, against the opinion of senior Blue and White members, Channel 12 reports.

Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi are agreeing to the deal, while the party’s No. 2 Yair Lapid and No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon are refusing, meaning Blue and White could end up splitting, the report says.

Trump: US approves anti-malarial drug to treat coronavirus

The US has approved the anti-malarial drug chloroquine for use as a treatment against the new coronavirus, US President Donald Trump says.

“We’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately, and that’s where the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has been so great,” Trump tells reporters.

“They’ve gone through the approval process — it’s been approved. They took it down from many, many months to immediate. So we’re going to be able to make that drug available by prescription.”

— AFP

Gantz said willing to sign unity government even at price of splitting Blue and White

A second report says Benny Gantz is willing to go second as prime minister and join a unity government under Benjamin Netanyahu even at the cost of splitting the Blue and White party amid fierce internal disagreements.

Haaretz says, however, that Gantz is conditioning such a government on changing the law to enforce the rotation agreement; currently such deals are voluntary with no legal way to force a premier to resign at the end of the agreed term.

The sides also haven’t agreed on how long Netanyahu would serve as prime minister if the deal goes ahead, the report says. Netanyahu is demanding two years but Gantz is said to demand less.

IDF ups readiness to state normally reserved for war amid pandemic

Dubbing its efforts against the coronavirus “Ray of Light,” the Israel Defense Forces says it is moving to a higher state of readiness, one normally reserved for preparation for an enemy attack, but which the military stresses is not in light of external threats but because of the pandemic.

The IDF had been at its normal state of routine preparedness, before moving into this heightened level. There are two more states above the current one in the military’s scale. The implication of the higher state of preparedness is mostly in the number of soldiers that need to be at hand as well as the state of each unit’s inventories.

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says the military is working on multiple fronts both to assist civilian authorities to combat the disease and to prepare for the possibility of needing to further intervene and support the public if the situation deteriorates further, as well as ensuring that it can continue to operate as normal despite the pandemic.

Currently 10 soldiers have tested positive for the disease, and roughly 5,600 service members are in quarantine. Yet Zilberman says the military’s operation preparedness has not been affected.

— Judah Ari Gross

Bennett says West Bank outpost hooked up to power grid

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announces that his office has hooked up the power grid in the northern West Bank outpost of Nofei Nehemia.

The wildcat community was established outside of the Rehelim settlement in 2002 only to be razed on the orders of then-defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer and to be rebuilt the next year.

The outpost is now home to some 50 families.

Bennett says in a tweet that the move will allow for the further expansion of the settlement.

“And now on to other places,” he boasts. “We will continue to develop settlement in Judea and Samara [West Bank].”

The Peace Now settlement watchdog blasts the move.

“While an entire country is fighting off coronavirus, a temporary defense minister in a transitional government that has not received a mandate is sacrificing infrastructure for criminals in an illegal outpost. There is no limit to [his] cynicism,” the left-wing group adds.

— Jacob Magid

Blue and White denies unity deal close, says talks with Likud halted

The Blue and White party denies reports that Benny Gantz is willing to break up the party and join a unity government while going second in a rotation deal for the premiership.

“Negotiations with the Likud team were stopped tonight,” the party says in a statement.

“No meeting took place today and contrary to the reports, there are no agreements,” it adds. “What we have seen throughout the day is cynical spin during a great and difficult crisis for Israeli citizens.

“Next week, Likud will get a functioning Knesset for the benefit of Israel’s citizens.”

Italy overtakes China’s coronavirus death toll

Italy overtakes China’s coronavirus death toll with 427 new fatalities, taking its total since the first case was registered in February to 3,405.

China has officially reported 3,245 deaths since registering the first infection at the end of last year.

— AFP

Netanyahu plans to enforce Health Ministry orders, fine violators — reports

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to announce that Health Ministry instructions to stay at home and only leave for necessary chores will be enforced using emergency regulations, Hebrew-language media reports.

Anyone found to be outside in violation of the orders will be fined, the report says.

The measure is said to be aimed at avoiding the need for a full lockdown.

Coronavirus cases reported in Europe pass 100,000

The number of cases of the new coronavirus reported in Europe has surpassed 100,000, according to an AFP tally.

Europe has at least 100,470 recorded infections, including 4,752 deaths, overtaking Asia with 94,253 cases and 3,417 deaths.

This number of diagnosed cases reflects only a fraction of the actual number of infections as many countries test only those with the most severe symptoms.

— AFP

Health Ministry: COVID-19 cases in Israel up to 573

The Health Ministry updates the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel to 573, an increase of 44 and of more than a hundred in the last 24 hours.

Of them, six patients are in serious condition, 13 are in moderate condition, 14 have recovered and the rest are showing mild symptoms.

A list of activities reportedly to be allowed in rules announced tonight

The new orders to be signed tonight tightening restrictions on movement will reportedly permit citizens to leave their homes for the following activities:

1. Going to work and coming back

2. Stocking up on food, medicine, necessary products and to receive essential services

3. Receiving medical treatment

4. Donating blood

5. Participating in demonstrations

6. Going to court for a legal hearing

7. Unorganized sports activity in groups no larger than five people

8. Brief walks for a short time and to a place close to the person’s residence, without coming close to people they don’t live with

9. Going to a wedding, funeral or prayer (while adhering to rules limiting such activities to just 10 people maintaining a distance of at least two meters, or six feet)

10. Helping a person who due to their age, medical conditions or a disability, requires assistance

In addition, no more than two people will be allowed to be in a car at any time, unless they live in the same household. The restriction will not be relevant to cases when there is a necessary reason for more people to travel together or while driving a person to and from a vital workplace.

Defense minister says he’ll do ‘everything’ to prevent full lockdown

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett says he’ll “do everything” so that Israelis aren’t subjected to a full-blown lockdown barring citizens from leaving their homes.

“A difficult time is ahead of us,” Bennett tells Channel 13, “but I think we are starting to hone in on a strategic plan that will enable us to get out of this mess.”

In shift, Gantz doesn’t rule out joining government under Netanyahu

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz doesn’t rule out sitting in a government under Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, after his party repeatedly vowed it wouldn’t do so during several election campaigns, amid reports he is willing to form a unity government.

“There are principles, but there are circumstances of a financial crisis,” Gantz tells Channel 12 in an interview.

“It wouldn’t be right to cling to a remark uttered here or there,” he adds.

France reports 108 new coronavirus deaths in last 24 hours

The coronavirus epidemic has killed 108 more people in France over the last 24 hours, bringing the total death toll from the outbreak in the country to 372, the top French health official says.

“The number of infections is doubling every four days,” Jerome Salomon tells reporters, adding that the virus is spreading in France “rapidly and intensely.”

— AFP

Netanyahu: Rules requiring Israelis to stay home now tightened

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that the Health Ministry guidelines introduced on Tuesday– notably including the requirement for Israelis to generally stay at home — will be tightened and enforced under emergency regulations to be approved tonight and be in effect for the next seven days.

Netanyahu warns that not enough people have adhered to the current orders not to leave home.

The steps taken so far have slowed the spread of the virus, “but the pandemic continues to spread,” he says.

“In Israel… the numbers of those who are sick is growing daily. Nobody has died, but that unfortunately is not likely to continue,” he says. “There are likely to be many victims.”

He adds: “Two days ago I asked you to stay home. You have responded to this — but not sufficiently.”

Netanyahu: Stay at home — this isn’t a request; this is an order, and it will be enforced

Netanyahu continues: “The government will approve tonight emergency regulations to limit movement. You are ordered to stay at home… This isn’t a request, this isn’t a recommendation, but a binding requirement that will be enforced. The purpose of these instructions is to ensure as few people will be infected and will infect [others].”

Orders will take effect as soon they’re approved, he says. They will be in effect at first for seven days and are already drawn up, he adds.

“This is a step unlike any since the founding of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu says, adding that Israel has never faced anything like the coronavirus.

Israelis can go out to buy food, for medical treatment, and if their work is designated vital

Prime Minister Netanyahu says the tightened rules aim “to save many lives” and “if anyone thinks I’m exaggerating, look at the pictures of what is happening in Spain and Italy” where “teams are piling the dead into special vehicles. That must not happen here. We have to do everything to ensure it doesn’t happen.”

Everyone must stay home unless their work has been officially deemed vital.

“You can go out to buy food and medicines, and for medical treatment and other exceptions,” he adds. “If you do go out, don’t gather, maintain hygiene, and keep the 2-meter minimum distance from each other.”

Regarding a potential shortfall of medical equipment in Israeli hospitals, Netanyahu says the entire world is lacking protective medical equipment. He says it is “impossible” to hold such equipment for years on end to prepare for a virus outbreak, adding that Israel is working to fill all the gaps.

He says he aims to reach 3,000 tests a day by Sunday, and 5,000 the following week: “This will put Israel among the leading countries in the world.”

There were no immediate details on what the punishment would be for violators, although multiple reports earlier said it would be fines.

“All of you are warriors in the fight against the coronavirus,” Netanyahu tells the nation. “Don’t say this won’t happen to me, because if you don’t act properly, it will happen to you. Don’t say, it’ll be alright, because if you don’t act properly, it won’t be alright.”

High Court issues temporary order preventing police tracking of coronavirus patients

The High Court of Justice issues an interim order temporarily preventing the Shin Bet and Israel Police from digitally tracking coronavirus carriers, a controversial measure approved to find people whom they might have infected and to ensure they don’t leave quarantine, which has raised privacy concerns.

The interim order against the emergency regulation prevents police from using the tracking technologies without a court order.

It says that the regulation granting the Shin Bet authority to track the patients will only be in effect until next Tuesday at 12 p.m., and only if a Knesset subcommittee on secret services isn’t formed by then to monitor the tracking.

US urges citizens to avoid all international travel, return if possible

The United States warns against any international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic and advises citizens to come home if possible.

Upgrading its travel alert to the highest possible level, the State Department says that Americans who do not return “should be prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.”

— AFP

Cannes Film Festival falls victim to coronavirus

The Cannes Film Festival will not take place as planned in May because of the coronavirus, its board says, with its directors looking at postponing it until late June.

The world’s biggest film festival was due to take place between May 12 and 23.

But its board says in light of the pandemic they are now looking at rescheduling it to “the end of June-beginning of July.”

Several other film festivals, including Tribeca, SXSW and Edinburgh have already been canceled or pushed back.

— AFP

The specifics of the new regulations: when are people allowed to leave home?

The document to be approved later tonight will fasten emergency regulations, ordered by the Health Ministry, not to leave home.

The regulations permit citizens to leave their homes only for the following activities:

1. Going to work and coming back;

2. Stocking up on food, medicine, necessary products and to receive essential services;

3. Receiving medical treatment;

4. Donating blood;

5. Participating in demonstrations;

6. Unorganized sports activity in groups no larger than five people;

7. Brief walks for a short time and to a place close to the person’s residence, without coming close to people they don’t live with;

8. Going to a wedding, funeral or prayer;

9. Helping a person who due to their age, medical conditions or a disability, requires assistance;

10. Going out for a vital need that hasn’t been specified in articles 1-9.

During all those activities, people should maintain a distance of two meters, or six feet, from anyone, as much as possible. People staying in the same household do not need to keep that distance from one another.

In addition, no more than two people will be allowed to be in a car at any time, unless they live in the same household. The restriction will not be relevant for driving a person to and from a vital workplace.

Deliveries are required to be placed outside the building, next to the entrance.

The document does not specify what the punishment for violators will be.

The regulations bar people from opening malls and other leisure venues or national parks, except places selling food, pharmacies or hygiene product stores. The punishment for those who keep their business open is six months in jail or a fine.

Even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his speech that the regulations will be in effect for seven days, the document says they will be in effect for a full month, until April 20.

Health Ministry: COVID-19 cases in Israel up to 677

The number of confirmed coronavirus carriers in Israel has jumped to 677, the Health Ministry announces, an increase of more than 100 over the tally published two hours ago.

Six of them are in serious condition and 13 are in moderate condition, the ministry says. Fourteen have recovered.

89-year-old Israeli woman in critical condition due to COVID-19 — hospital

For the first time, an Israeli COVID-19 patient is listed as being in critical condition.

The condition of an 89-year-old woman who caught the virus is deteriorating quickly, the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital says.

Government unanimously approves new movement-restricting measures

The government has unanimously approved the emergency regulations announced last night, making restrictions on movements legally binding, the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement.

Ministers unanimously approved the measures during a cabinet meeting held by phone, the statement says.

It adds that the measures are in effect for seven days, and that the Health Ministry will publish detailed instructions for business activity.

It also says that the right to demonstrate will be preserved, as long as people adhere to the guidelines requiring to maintain a distance of two meters from one another and refrain from gatherings of more than 10 people in one place.

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Hundreds of Israelis stranded in Peru to depart on flight later today

A flight will depart later today ferrying hundreds of Israelis who have been stuck in Peru due to border closures enacted as a result of the coronavirus, the Foreign Ministry reports.

But Channel 12 shows footage of the passengers huddled together outside the airport, placing themselves at high risk of exposure to the virus.