Iran leader refuses US help, citing conspiracy theory that virus man-made
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Knesset officials say MKs will enter plenum to vote Monday in groups of 6

No more than 10 people will be allowed in main hall at any time, while others will watch on video screens; committees will also be split up to adhere to guidelines

A nearly empty plenum, due to restrictions against the coronavirus, is seen at the swearing-in of the 23rd Knesset, March 16, 2020. (Gideon Sharon/Knesset Spokesperson)
A nearly empty plenum, due to restrictions against the coronavirus, is seen at the swearing-in of the 23rd Knesset, March 16, 2020. (Gideon Sharon/Knesset Spokesperson)

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

Virus advances worldwide as medical supplies dwindle

The US and Europe are reporting soaring new cases of the novel coronavirus, prompting a scramble in some regions to set up additional hospital beds and replenish much-needed medical supplies.

Italy announced its biggest day-to-day increase of infections, which rose by 6,600 with nearly 800 new fatalities from the virus that causes COVID-19. The country’s total death toll of more than 4,825 has surpassed the number of deaths in China, where the first cases emerged late last year.

In the US, where multiple states have ordered residents to stay indoors, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the government is “literally scouring the globe looking for medical supplies.” Health care workers from Oklahoma City to Minneapolis are seeking donations of protective equipment. Staff at a Detroit hospital begin creating homemade face masks for workers. Even rural hospitals are strained as people increasingly felt the pandemic closing in.

The contagion is starting to be felt in US cities far from major metropolitan areas, including places that have resisted drastic shutdown measures. About 150 countries now have confirmed cases, and deaths have been reported in more than 30 American states. There are now more than 300,000 confirmed cases worldwide, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

— AP

New emergency virus regulations to take effect at 8 a.m.

New emergency regulations to contain the coronavirus outbreak will take effect this morning at 8 a.m.

The restrictions, which will be enforced by police, require Israelis to remain at home unless going to work or doing other essential tasks such as buying food or medicine.

Global virus death toll passes 13,000; over 1 billion people confined to their homes

Nearly one billion people around the world are confined to their homes today, as the coronavirus death toll crosses 13,000 and factories are shut in worst-hit Italy after another single-day fatalities record.

The raging pandemic has forced lockdowns in 35 countries across the globe, disrupting lives, travel and businesses as governments scramble to shut borders and unleash hundreds of billions in emergency measures to avoid a widespread virus-fueled economic meltdown.

More than 300,000 infections have been confirmed worldwide, with the situation increasingly grim in Italy where the death toll spiked to more than 4,800 — over a third of the global total.

— AFP

Senior Health Ministry official: Tens of thousands in Israel won’t die from virus

A top Health Ministry is skeptical of predictions that large numbers of Israelis will die from the new coronavirus.

“I’m scared. Do I think this will happen? No, I don’t think tens of thousands will die here. There will be death because this is a serious disease,” Dr. Boaz Lev, head of the ministry’s epidemic unit, tells Kan public radio.

In a television interview last night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the virus could kill “tens of thousands” in Israel and claimed it could be the biggest threat to humanity since the Middle Ages.

Lev also says the new requirements for people to remain at hope will help curb the spread of the virus.

“We’ll see the results in another ten days,” he says. “Gloves and masks aren’t the solution, rather distancing from each other.”

Likud warns of fourth elections if Edelstein replaced as Knesset speaker

The Likud party’s Yuli Edelstein tells Army Radio that if he is replaced as Knesset Speaker, Israel will go to a fourth consecutive round of elections.

He also refuses to commit to holding a vote on choosing a speaker tomorrow, when the Knesset will reopen after Edelstein shuttered it last week, citing virus fears and a need for a compromise between Likud and the rival Blue and White party.

Likud MK Miki Zohar, who also speaks with the radio station, echoes that message.

“Blue and White has lost its humanity,” he says. “They’re insane.”

Netanyahu, the head of Likud, warned yesterday that replacing Edelstein would sink the chances of a unity coalition and called on Blue and White to join a “emergency unity government” in which he would serve first as premier.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz rejected Netanyahu’s “ultimatums” and his party vowed to push on with replacing Edelstein.

3rd lawmaker from Shas party enters self-quarantine

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen has gone into self-quarantine after being informed he was near a carrier of the coronavirus last week.

Cohen’s office says he will remain in quarantine until March 28 in accordance with Health Ministry directives requiring a person to quarantine for 14 days from the time of potential exposure.

He is the seventh lawmaker to go into quarantine and third from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen attends a Shas party campaign event in Jerusalem on July 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Number of virus cases in Israel rises to 945; 20 in serious condition

The Health Ministry says there have been 945 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, 62 more than yesterday.

There are now 20 people in serious condition, up from 15 yesterday, and another 24 in moderate condition.

A total of 37 people have recovered from the virus.

The ministry says 297 people are being treated at hospitals, 344 at home and 97 at hotels. It still hasn’t been decided where another 169 people will be treated.

Aryeh Even, 88, died late Friday from COVID-19, the first fatality in Israel from the virus.

15th IDF soldier tests positive for coronavirus

The Israeli military identifies one of the recently diagnosed carriers of the coronavirus as a 19-year-old soldier from northern Israel, making him the 15th servicemember to contract the disease.

The Israel Defense Forces says he has light symptoms and became infected from coming into contact with a confirmed carrier of the virus.

The military says many of those who were in contact with the infected soldier have been informed they need to go into quarantine, and that more will be contacted shortly.

— Judah Ari Gross

Unemployment rate in Israel skyrockets to 16.5 percent

The unemployment rate in Israel skyrockets to 16.5 percent, with over 500,000 people losing their jobs since the start of March, the Employment Service says.

The unemployment rate was 3.6% in the fourth quarter of last year, according to the Bank of Israel.

Military announces another soldier infected with coronavirus, the 16th

The Israel Defense Forces identifies another diagnosed coronavirus carrier as a 22-year-old career officer from northern Israel, the military’s 16th case.

The military says he has light symptoms. The IDF does not immediately indicate how the serviceman became infected with the disease.

The IDF says that many of those who were in contact with the infected soldier have been informed they need to go into quarantine, and that more will be contacted shortly.

— Judah Ari Gross

Iran leader refuses US help, citing conspiracy theory that virus man-made

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s supreme leader is refusing US assistance to fight the new coronavirus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the virus could be man-made by America.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes the comments in a speech in Tehran broadcast live today across Iran marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year. He has called off his usual speech at Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad over the virus outbreak.

He relies on the conspiracy theory to refuse assistance.

“Possibly your (offered) medicine is a way to spread the virus more,” Khamenei says.

His comments come as Iran has over 20,600 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus amid 1,556 reported deaths.

Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the new virus. Across the Middle East, Iran represents eight out of 10 cases of the virus and those leaving the Islamic Republic have carried the virus to other countries.

— AP

In this photo released March 20, 2020, by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei poses for a portrait prior to delivering his message for the Iranian New Year, or Nowruz, in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Up to 20 worshipers allowed in a synagogue under new emergency regulations

Police will not take action against individuals outside of their homes in violation of new emergency regulations meant to contain the coronavirus, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Only those breaking quarantine or refusing to disperse a group of over 10 people could face punishment.

Synagogues will be exempt from a ban on gatherings of over 10 people in synagogues, with up to 20 people allowed in a house of worship at a time, according to the broadcaster.

Police action will also not be taken against synagogues.

Police order closure of Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, despite PM saying it’d remain open

Police order food stands in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market to close in accordance with new emergency regulations against the coronavirus.

The regulations, which took effect this morning, bar open air markets from operating.

The order came despite Prime Minister’s Office saying last night that the Carmel Market and Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda would remain open for now.

AG says virus restrictions don’t prevent Knesset deliberations

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says that Health Ministry directives meant to contain the coronavirus do not prevent the Knesset plenum or committees from holding deliberations.

He also says it’s imperative that the Arrangements Committee, which deals with procedural parliamentary issues, be established right away to allow the newly sworn-in Knesset to function.

Mandelblit is responding to a High Court petition filed against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision last week to close the Knesset until tomorrow, citing disagreements over the formation of the Arrangements Committee and the Health Ministry restrictions.

In a separate legal opinion filed with the court, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon appears to say that Edelstein cannot block a vote on choosing a new speaker.

“A situation in which an unelected Knesset speaker serves only by virtue of the principle of continuity is likely to lead to a result in which the current majority in the Knesset finds it difficult to advance moves that it wants,” Yinon writes.

Police clarify that synagogues limited to 10 worshipers under virus restrictions

Police have clarified that synagogues will be limited to 10 worshipers under new emergency regulations to contain the coronavirus, but religious events such as weddings and funerals can have up to 20 people.

Israeli doctor in Italy says some hospitals not fully treating COVID-19 patients over 60

An Israeli doctor in Italy says colleagues have told him that hospitals in the city of Parma are not providing extensive medical care to people over 60 years old with the coronavirus, due to a shortage of equipment.

“Over 60 there is less antibiotics and full anesthesia, under this age we help until the end and give oxygen,” Gal Peleg tells Channel 12 news.

He stresses this is not the case in all of Italy and that he personally was providing care to everyone, regardless of age.

Hundreds of samples can’t be tested for COVID-19 due to faulty swabs — report

Hundreds of samples taken from Israelis couldn’t be tested for coronavirus due to faulty swabs, Army Radio reports.

The samples have been taken from Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer to the Israel Institute for Biological Research, which will try to process the samples, according to the report.

A Health Ministry source tells the radio station that it will ask the company that made the swabs to provide different ones.

129 more virus deaths recorded in Iran, raising toll to 1,685

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran announces 129 new deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, raising to 1,685 the official death toll in one of the worst-hit countries along with Italy and China.

Health ministry spokesman Kianouche Jahanpour says more than 1,028 new cases have been recorded in the past 24 hours and a total of 21,638 people have now tested positive for the virus.

— AFP

Police now to shutter Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market

Police officers arrive at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda to shutter the market in accordance with new emergency regulations against the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday that markets such as Mahane Yehuda would remain open for at least a few more days, but this morning police ordered stalls in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market to close.

The Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, March 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

91-year-old Israeli woman with COVID-19 in critical condition

Wolfson Medical Center in Holon says a 91-year-old woman with COVID-19 is in critical condition.

The hospital says another four people with the virus are in serious condition, one person is in moderate condition and another eight are in good condition.

There has been a slight improvement in the health of a 45-year-old man in critical condition.

It adds that five hospital employees — two nurses and three medical support staff — have tested positive for COVID-19 and that another 167 of its workers, including 44 doctors, are in quarantine after they returned from overseas or were near a confirmed carrier of the coronavirus.

Spain reports 394 new virus deaths, a 30% rise in a day

MADRID — Spain announces 394 new deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, raising to 1,720 the official death toll in Europe’s worst-hit country after Italy, a 30 percent increase over the previous day.

The number of confirmed cases of the disease rises by 3,646, or 14.6 percent, to 28,572, according to health ministry figures, with officials warning infections will rise further in the coming days.

— AFP

Likud: Replacement of Knesset speaker by Blue and White will blow up unity talks

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud is digging in and insisting that Yuli Edelstein remain Knesset speaker, saying any move by the rival Blue and White to replace him will blow up any chance for a unity government and lead to fourth elections.

Likud claims that having a speaker from another party would prevent Netanyahu from passing legislation and budgets and would allow Blue and White to advance “Iran style anti-democratic laws” blocking a Knesset member under indictment from forming a government, which would apply to the incumbent prime minister.

“This is unbelievable. In no democracy are there laws like this,” Likud fumes. “These steps will lead to tremendous public anger and to the shattering of Israeli democracy.”

The party adds: “If Blue and White ousts the Knesset speakers, the unity contacts will cease immediately. Blue and White will be responsible for the outcome.”

Blue and White: Netanyahu’s ‘ultimatums’ show he wants fourth elections

Blue and White responds to Likud’s warning that the replacement of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will put an immediate stop to talks on a unity government.

“The attempt by Likud to give ultimatums and harm democracy shows Netanyahu wants to drag Israel to fourth elections even at the height of a crisis that requires all of us to act inn the government and Knesset for Israel’s citizens,” it says in a statement.

The party adds: “Since the founding of the state, the Knesset speaker has also been chosen by a majority of Knesset members — and so it’ll be this time.”

Palestinian Authority to impose 14-day lockdown to contain virus

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announces drastic measures, significantly restricting freedom of movement for 14 days, as the Palestinians attempt to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in areas under their administration.

“All citizens are barred from leaving their homes as of 10 p.m. tonight,” Shtayyeh says in a statement to reporters, noting that individuals working in health institutions, pharmacies, bakeries and supermarkets would be allowed to go to their workplaces.

Shtayyeh did not clarify when and how people would be permitted to go to the health institutions, pharmacies, bakeries and supermarkets.

— Adam Rasgon

Kids getting texts from Health Ministry telling them to enter quarantine

The Health Ministry is sending text messages to young children, but not to their parents, telling them they need to enter 14 days of home quarantine because they were in close proximity to coronavirus carriers, Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew site is reporting.

The messages are part of the automated process by which all Israelis’ movements are now being digitally tracked under the controversial system introduced last Wednesday, and text messages ordering self-quarantine are sent to people who are found to have spent 10 minutes or more in close proximity to virus carriers.

Zman cites a text message sent to a 13-year-old girl in central Israel, and says her parents were not informed that she needs to enter quarantine. It says there are concerns that children of all ages are being texted, rather than their parents, and that they might not alert their parents and could ignore the instruction.

The Israel National Council for the Child is contacting the Health Ministry over the issue, it says.

Pharmacists warn Israeli health system ‘will collapse’ if they’re not given protective gear

The Pharmaceutical Society of Israel is protesting the Health Ministry’s decision that pharmacists do not need protective equipment, warning of far-reaching consequences for the health system if they contract the coronavirus.

The group is also asking the ministry to provide pharmacists with protective equipment, according to the Walla news site.

“We do our work with all our hearts and are only asking that they take care of us. If we get sick, the entire health system will collapse,” it says.

Premature baby at Jerusalem hospital diagnosed with coronavirus

Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center says a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The baby is severely underweight and already has difficult complications arising from premature birth.

The hospital says in a statement the baby was tested after a worker who appears to have contracted the virus through contact with an infected person outside the hospital, worked a number of shifts last week, including one in the unit for premature births.

A number of staff members and parents to newborns hospitalized in the unit are now in isolation.

Yuval Noah Harari on shuttering of Knesset: ‘This is an attempted coup’

Influential Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari writes an op-ed in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily titled: “This is an attempted coup.”

“How do you know that a coup attempt is taking place in the country? It is not easy. No big address appears in the sky ‘Coup!’ The sun continues to shine, children continue to play, people continue to eat. Everything looks normal,” he writes.

“The coronavirus will ultimately pass, whereas we will have to live with the repercussions of decisions that are being made at this point in time for many years to come,” writes Harari, author of the bestseller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”

“These are decisions about life and death, the limits of our freedom, and the distribution of tens of billions. These decisions are currently being made by one person who is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and who has failed in the last year in three attempts to gain the trust of the people. And the people’s elected officials do not supervise what this person decides, because that person has disabled the Knesset,” he charges.

“As long as the Knesset isn’t functioning, we are living in a dictatorship,” he adds.

High Court to hear Blue and White petition against Edelstein at 4 p.m.

At 4 p.m. the High Court of Justice is set to begin discussing the Blue and White party’s petition demanding that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein immediately allow the legislature to convene, vote on a new speaker and allow committees to be formed to begin oversight of the government.

Edelstein has stalled on the matter and last week shuttered the Knesset without allowing panels to be manned, citing virus fears and a need to try to reach compromises between the parties before setting up committees and moving forward with the legislative agenda.

He has said he will allow committees to be formed Monday, but he seems to want to further delay any vote on his potential replacement until a new government has been formed.

Blue and White proposes using video calls, other means to allow Knesset votes

Blue and White has suggested several solutions to allow Knesset votes to take place despite restrictions on gatherings brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

MK Izhar Shay has proposed convening the MKs in a mass online videoconference call to hold debates and cast votes.

According to the Walla new site, another party proposal would see MKs driven to the Knesset in special vehicles and each casting a vote from a separate room.

Arrivals from NY diagnosed with virus, authorities tracking down passengers

A number of ultra-Orthodox Israelis who were on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv last week have been diagnosed with coronavirus, Channel 12 reports.

Many, but not all, of the people on the flight were lodged at Tel Aviv’s Dan Panorama Hotel — now transformed into a quarantine facility — upon landing, due to their arrival from a virus hotzone.

Now authorities are working to track down those who were allowed to self-quarantine at home, the report says — probably in order to test them as well.

Illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport, August 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Eden Alene will remain Israel’s representative in 2021 Eurovision

Young Israeli singer Eden Alene will represent Israel in 2021’s Eurovision contest after the cancellation of this year’s competition due to the coronavirus crisis, the Kan Broadcasting Corporation has decided.

Alene was to represent Israel this year in Rotterdam with the song “Feker Libi,” and was to be the first Ethiopian Israeli to do so. Alene did not hide her disappointment when the show was canceled, but said it was “minor compared to what’s happening” around the world.

Alene will need to choose a different song next year, however, as Eurovision officials have said contestants will not be allowed to keep this year’s selections.

Ahead of court hearing, Blue and White MKs says Knesset must be allowed to work

Representatives of the Blue and White party spoke a short time ago outside the High Court in Jerusalem, ahead of a debate over their petition to force Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to allow the Knesset to begin functioning.

“At this difficult time it is particularly important to have a functioning Knesset, for the good of the people and for Israeli democracy which is in true danger,” MK Avi Nissenkorn said.

MK Ofer Shelah said the court must give backing “to what is clear to every citizen: that a functioning Knesset is not only necessary for democracy, it is also necessary for Israel’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.”

Blue and White MKs Avi Nissenkorn (left) and Ofer Shelah outside the High Court in Jerusalem, March 22, 2020 (Courtesy)

Weekend saw Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate sealed, in rare occurrence

Another example of the remarkable scenes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic: Friday saw Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City used by countless locals and tourists, shuttered — an exceedingly rare occurrence.

The gate was shut as police limited gatherings in the area in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines, only allowing residents in.

Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate to the Old City, which was closed at the weekend, reportedly for the first time since 1967 (Kikar HaShabbat video screenshot)

UK virus ‘accelerating’ amid fears country on same path as Italy

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns the coronavirus outbreak is “accelerating,” as fears grow that the crisis in Britain is following the same path as the one devastating Italy.

Johnson’s plea coems after latest health department figures showed that 233 people have died from COVID-19 in the UK, with the number of those testing positive for the virus standing at 5,018.

That death toll mirrors the figure declared in Italy on March 7. On Saturday, Rome said that 4,825 people had perished in the country, a third of the world’s total.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses a news conference on the government’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, inside 10 Downing Street in London on March 20, 2020 (JULIAN SIMMONDS / POOL / AFP)

“The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating,” Johnson says in a statement ahead of a planned press briefing later in the day. “We are only a matter of weeks — two or three — behind Italy. The Italians have a superb health care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand.”

— AFP

Blue and White rebel MK: ‘Don’t know about the party — unity is good for country’

Yoaz Hendel, a rebel Blue and White MK, tweets: “I don’t know what’s good for the party, but I know a unity government is good for the State of Israel.”

Hendel and another right-leaningMK, Zvi Hauser, have become thorns in the party leadership’s side in recent days due to their stark opposition to forming a minority government with outside support from Arab legislators.

The two have reportedly told party leaders they would not vote for such a government — likely dooming any such vote to failure due to the tight majority margins in the Knesset.

Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser (R) seen at the Knesset , ahead of the opening session of the new government, on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Report: Likud asks allies to sign new loyalty pledge against Edelstein’s ouster

Likud faction chairman MK Miki Zohar is circulating a new “loyalty” document among members of the prime minister’s right-wing bloc, the Walla news site reports.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies are reportedly being asked to vow that any negotiations for a unity government will be halted if Blue and White appoints a Knesset speaker of its own to replace Likud’s Yuli Edelstein.

Likud MK Miki Zohar chairs a House Committee meeting on a bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold fresh elections on May 28, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protest against police lockdown measures in Jerusalem

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood are protesting against new restrictive measures to curb the spread of coronavirus and police efforts to enforce them.

Police are said to be attempting to force the closure of businesses that have opened in spite of Health Ministry guidelines.

Some demonstrators were said to be hurling rocks at officers. A policeman was lightly injured after receiving a blow to the head. Three protesters have been arrested.

Rivlin speaks with Spanish king about coronavirus crisis

President Rivlin has spoken with King Felipe VI of Spain in light of reports of hundreds of fatalities each day due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rivlin said the Israeli public identifies with the Spanish people as they tackle the virus, his office says. He thanked the king for Spain cooperation with Israel in recent days as Spanish airports have become a transit point for many returning home from South and Central America.

Knesset legal adviser: Replacing Edelstein now is ‘planting a bug in the system’

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, addressing High Court judges as they review a petition against the closure of the Knesset and the speaker’s attempt to prevent a vote to oust him, says the appointment of a Knesset speaker who could potentially remain in the opposition would be highly problematic.

Current speaker Yuli Edelstein has asserted he has a right to put off a vote on the identity of the next speaker until a government is formed following the March 2 election.

Yinon appears to back him up, saying appointing a speaker now “could harm democracy,” since if the eventual government does not include the speaker’s faction, the coalition would have difficulty bringing its proposals to a vote in the plenum.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon at a meeting of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, February 23, 2016.
(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We’ll have a crisis every other day of opposition factions trying to foil the government. It will be impossible.”

He says that without knowing what the government will look like, appointing a Knesset speaker ahead of time is akin to “planting a bug in the system, and that too constitutes harm to governance.”

IDF bringing back Navy sailors from training in Germany

The Israel Defense Forces is bringing back some 30 Israel Navy sailors who had been deployed to Germany to prepare for the acquisition of new Sa’ar 6 corvettes, which were being built in the German port of Kiel, after the German government ordered closed all hotels in the country.

The military says it sent a 16-person Israeli Air Force team on a C-130 transport plane to Germany to retrieve the conscripted sailors, who were training to operate the ships, which are meant to begin arriving in Israel later this year.

“The soldiers will enter quarantine upon their return in accordance with Health Ministry directives,” the IDF says.

A Sa’ar 5-class corvette of the Israeli navy. (YouTube screen capture)

A team of career officers and non-commissioned officers will remain in Germany for the time being to continue training on the ships, the military says.

Chief justice: Court to focus its decision on vote for new Knesset speaker

Chief Justice Esther Hayut says the High Court will focus its deliberations on the matter of a new Knesset speaker, as other issues raised in Blue and White’s petition are close to being solved.

“The issue of forming an Arrangements Committee [which will lead the formation of other committees] will come to the plenum tomorrow,” Hayut says as the court weighs the petition against Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s actions.

And she notes that solutions are also being discussed to bypass the limitation on gatherings due to the coronavirus crisis — so it does not appear the legislature stands to be shuttered over it.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut at a High Court preliminary hearing on whether a lawmaker facing criminal indictment can be tapped to form a coalition, December 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I think in light of these answers we received, we can focus on the matter of electing a Knesset speaker,” she says.

The representative of the attorney general in the proceedings says Avichai Mandelblit’s position is “at this time it is necessary to enter into the agena of the plenum as soon as possible the request by 61 MKs to elect a speaker for the 23rd Knesset.”

Iran rejects virus aid offer from US ‘charlatans’ as cases soar

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei says his country will never accept any aid to fight the novel coronavirus from arch-enemy and “charlatans” the United States, as Tehran announces 129 new deaths.

Speaking in a televised address, Khamenei charges in a message directed at Washington: “No one trusts you. You are capable of bringing into our country a drug that will keep the virus alive and prevent its eradication.”

Iran has been one of the countries worst hit by the COVID-19 illness along with Italy, Spain and China, and the latest fatalities raised the official death toll to 1,685, the health ministry said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with army’s air force and air defense staff, in Tehran, Iran, February 8, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“Today America is our most ferocious and vicious enemy,” Khamenei says. “The American leaders are liars, manipulators, impudent and greedy … They are charlatans,” he says, also labeling them “absolutely ruthless” and “terrorists.”

— AFP

Health ministry official: Our worst case-scenario is 20,000 dead

The Health Ministry’s deputy director general Itamar Grotto says the ministry’s worst-case scenario was a situation where “between 10 and 20 thousand people die of coronavirus in Israel.”

Speaking to reporters, Grotto says of his past comments that Israel is facing a shortage of swabs required for coronavirus test kits: “The moment things began we started buying more. Starting tomorrow the problem of swabs is supposed to end.”

NYC to run out of ventilators in days, mayor says

New York is days away from running out of essential equipment needed to keep hospitals running because of the coronavirus pandemic, the city’s mayor warns.

The Big Apple has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and Bill de Blasio says the city’s hospitals are at breaking point.

“Bluntly, we’re about 10 days away now from seeing widespread shortages of ventilators, surgical masks, the things necessary to keep a hospital system running,” de Blasio told CNN.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies during a joint legislative budget hearing on local government, February 11, 2019, in Albany, NY. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

He pleads with President Donald Trump to mobilize the military to help spur production and distribution of urgently needed medical supplies. “If we don’t get more ventilators in the next 10 days, people will die who don’t have to die. It’s as simple as that,” says de Blasio.

— AFP

Israel, Jordan said discussing possibility of closing Temple Mount

Israel and Jordan are discussing the possibility of closing the Temple Mount due to the viral outbreak, though they have not reached agreements as of yet, Haaretz reports.

Source in Israel and in the Jordanian Waqf, which administers the site, tell the paper that if Israel closes the Mughrabi Bridge, through which Jews enter the site, it will make it easier for the Jordanians to close their side.

The mosques at the site are closed, but the plaza itself remains open for prayer. Friday saw several scuffles at the site, as police attempted to enforce restrictions on gatherings on Muslim worshipers.

A young man wearing a protective mask against the coronavirus walks in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, ahead of the Friday prayers, on March 6, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Sheba Hospital opens new coronavirus critical care unit

The Sheba Medical Center says it is opening a new coronavirus critical care unit, which it has been working on for the past week, in the hospital’s parking garage.

The unit “features over 40 additional beds, advanced technologies and robust
medical capabilities, including orthopedics and a birthing area.”

It was built “in response to the growing numbers of critically ill coronavirus
patients, whose numbers are expected to spike in the coming days.”

Beds at a new coronavirus critical care unit at Sheba Medical Center (Courtesy)

The hospital says “a special medical team consisting of high-ranking doctors and nurses have been trained for this new facility.”

Netanyahu, health, finance officials answer questions on Facebook

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and Finance Ministry director general Shai Babad are answering questions on the coronavirus crisis on Facebook.

Go here to watch the livestream.

https://www.facebook.com/Netanyahu/videos/162366501531387/

30,000 sign up for unemployment in past 6 hours

In the past six hours some 30,000 people have signed up for unemployment payments at the Employment Service, bringing the total number of signups this month to over 550,000.

The head of the Employment Service has said that the number of unemployed people in Israel could reach one million if the coronavirus pandemic causes layoffs to continue at the same rate.

Government considering delaying daylight saving time to encourage distancing

The government is considering delaying the switch to daylight saving time to discourage public traffic in the streets in the evening hours and promote social distancing, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman says.

Temple Mount to close to visitors starting tonight

The Temple Mount will close to worshipers starting Sunday night, after Israel and the Jordanian Waqf reach agreements on the issue.

The plaza will be closed to both Muslims and Jews to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the area.

FBI report: Neo-Nazi groups encouraging members to spread virus to Jews

An FBI report says members of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have been encouraging each other to spread coronavirus to Jews and police, ABC News says.

Messages in groups say if a member contracts the virus, he should seek to spread it to targets “through bodily fluids and personal interactions,” the report says.

Sick members were told to go to “any place [Jews] may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.”

German leader Merkel enters quarantine after contact with sick person

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gone into quarantine after being informed that a doctor who administered a vaccine to her has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Merkel’s spokesman says the German chancellor was informed about the doctor’s test shortly after holding a news conference Sunday announcing new measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, says Merkel had received a precautionary vaccine Friday against pneumococcal infection.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, February 5, 2020. (Jens Meyer/AP)

Seibert says in a statement that Merkel will undergo “regular tests” in the coming days and continue with her work from home for the time being.

— AP

Police plans for potential closure: roadblocks, patrols and crime response teams

Interim Israel Police commissioner Motti Cohen approves plans for a potential full national lockdown if the virus crisis continues to deteriorate.

The plans include reinforced police and IDF forces, with security forces spread out across the country to patrol, enforce the closure and limit movement.

Police would block major roads in accordance with government decisions and set up roadblocks in the entrances and exits of towns and cities. Areas of public gathering would be closed off. Special response teams would be on hand to treat extraordinary events including potential vandalism, violence and other crimes.

Illustrative. Police stand guard in Jerusalem in an undated photograph. (Israel Police)

“Police are ready for any task it is given… as part of its responsibility for public safety,” Cohen says. “I expect the public to continue to show discipline, personal responsibility and mutual care.”

Attorney general okays potential delay to start of daylight saving time

The attorney general’s office says he has approved, in principle, emergency ordinance to delay daylight saving time beyond April 1, to encourage social distancing.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem on February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

IOC looking at postponing Tokyo Olympics in upcoming talks

The IOC will look at postponing the Tokyo Olympics during four weeks of talks announced Sunday amid mounting criticism by athletes and sports officials during the coronavirus pandemic.

Consultation with Japanese public authorities and global sports officials will deal with “scenario planning” for the July 24 – August 9 games, the International Olympic Committee says.

“These scenarios relate to modifying existing operational plans for the Games to go ahead on July 24, 2020, and also for changes to the start date of the Games.” the Olympic body says in a statement, adding “cancellation is not on the agenda.”

A man wearing a protective face mask attends the Olympic flame handover ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, in Athens, in front of an empty stadium due to coronavirus fears. (Aris Messinis/Pool via AP)

The change in strategy follows IOC president Thomas Bach leading a conference call with executive board members.

— AP

PM assails Blue and White, Lapid: They’re trying to bar me with Iranian laws

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacks Blue and White’s plan to replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. “On one hand, they speak of unity and on the other they’re trying to oust the Knesset speaker. That’s not unity.”

He claims Blue and White no. 2 Yair Lapid is “trying, with the help of [Arab MK] Heba Yazbak and the Balad party to pass Iranian laws that will prevent me from running for office, and to carry out [new] elections during the coronavirus.”

He asserts that Blue and White’s conduct will “necessarily lead Israel to a fourth election and we will not be able to care for public health and the lives of Israeli citizens.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers an speech at his Jerusalem office on March 14, 2020. (GALI TIBBON / POOL / AFP)

Report: Yamina, UTJ refuse to sign latest Likud loyalty pledge

Yamina and United Torah Judaism have refused to sign the latest Likud document pledging allegiance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Walla news site reports.

Netanyahu’s allies are reportedly being asked to vow that any negotiations for a unity government will be halted if Blue and White appoints a Knesset speaker of its own to replace Likud’s Yuli Edelstein.

The report says some in Yamina were uncomfortable with the wording in the document, including claims that Blue and White was seeking “Iranian-like anti-democratic laws” and “dictatorial laws.” Meanwhile UTJ sources say “We don’t like the style of signing [something] every other day.”

Number of sick in Israel passes 1,000 — with 1,071 now diagnosed

Another 126 Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus, with the total number of sick now at 1,071, the Health Ministry says.

Of those 18 are in serious condition, 30 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

France coronavirus death toll jumps by 112 to 674: official

The number of people killed in France by the coronavirus outbreak has increased by another 112 to a total of 674, the top French health official says.

The rise in the death toll was identical to that of the previous day. “The virus kills and it is continuing to kill,” says top French health official Jerome Salomon as he announces the new numbers at a daily briefing.

He says that a total of 16,018 cases of infection have been recorded in France, while warning this is an “underestimate” as not all of those with the virus have been tested, even though 4,000 tests are now being done every day.

A cyclist rides on the empty rue de Rivoli in Paris, on March 22, 2020, on the sixth day of a strict lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

France has been in lockdown since Tuesday, with only essential trips outside allowed, but Salomon urges the French to show “patience” before the daily figures show the effect of the measures.

— AFP

Levin: Justice system working for the left ‘to take over Knesset’

With the High Court yet to rule on whether Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein should be forced to allow a vote on his removal and replacement, a top ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already attacking the court as a tool of the left.

Tourim Minister Yariv Levin accuses the justice system of working for the left in order “to take over the Knesset in an anti-democratic way.”

He is referring to the opposition’s wish to use its Knesset majority to appoint its own choice for speaker — a move Edelstein has so far blocked by refusing to allow it on the agenda.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attends a conference on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

Levin lambastes Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for telling the court he believed the Knesset should be allowed to vote on the manner. Mandelblit, he seethes, “has suddenly become an expert on Knesset affairs with a so-called professional opinion on the correct way the Knesset must act.”

Knesset officials say MKs will enter plenum to vote Monday in groups of 6

Knesset director general Albert Saharovich announces the planned measures to allow the Knesset to open for business tomorrow and vote on forming committees.

At any given time no more than 10 people will be allowed inside the plenum. Speakers will sign up in advance and will be called to enter when it is their turn to speak. Waiting areas will be designated for those slated to speak. Those outside the plenum will be able to view the goings-on inside on screens.

Voting in the plenum will take place in groups of six MKs at a time, according to alphabetical order.

A nearly empty plenum, due to restrictions against the coronavirus, is seen at the swearing-in of the 23rd Knesset, March 16, 2020. At left is Benny Gantz. Center, with back to camera, is Benjamin Netanyahu (Gideon Sharon/Knesset Spokesperson)

With committees expected to be formed, most will be split between two rooms, with members of the panels communicating with each other on video conference.

As for the six MKs currently in quarantine, they will be allowed to vote, though the manner in which they will do so has not yet been finalized.

Report: Right-wing bloc could boycott Knesset proceedings tomorrow

The right-wing bloc is considering boycotting tomorrow’s proceedings at the Knesset to protest the center-left bloc’s expected wins in votes throughout the day, Ynet reports, as the legislature convenes for the first time since the election amid the coronavirus crisis.

Blue and White plans to vote on the formation of the 23rd Knesset’s committees, including the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Finance Committee and a special committee to oversee the handling of the pandemic.

Blue and White is also planning to try to appoint one of its own MKs ad the new Knesset Speaker, though current speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud is at the moment blocking such a vote. The High Court is deliberating whether to force him to allow it.

Egypt senior military officer dies of COVID-19

Egypt’s military says a senior officer died today, following his infection from the coronavirus.

The military says in a statement that Major General Khaled Shaltout was infected while participating in sterilization which the military has been carrying out across the country.

The military says it has sterilized and disinfected public institutions and several squares in the capital, Cairo, and other cities, to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Shaltout was the highest official infected by the virus to date in Egypt, which has around 300 cases and 10 deaths.

— AP

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Iran leader refuses US help, citing conspiracy theory that virus man-made

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s supreme leader is refusing US assistance to fight the new coronavirus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the virus could be man-made by America.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes the comments in a speech in Tehran broadcast live today across Iran marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year. He has called off his usual speech at Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad over the virus outbreak.

He relies on the conspiracy theory to refuse assistance.

“Possibly your (offered) medicine is a way to spread the virus more,” Khamenei says.

His comments come as Iran has over 20,600 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus amid 1,556 reported deaths.

Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the new virus. Across the Middle East, Iran represents eight out of 10 cases of the virus and those leaving the Islamic Republic have carried the virus to other countries.

— AP

In this photo released March 20, 2020, by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei poses for a portrait prior to delivering his message for the Iranian New Year, or Nowruz, in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)