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Defense Ministry takes over buying corona-related gear amid claims of shortages

Decision comes after reports of insufficient protective gear and testing kits; Health Ministry will say what’s needed, while Defense Ministry makes the purchases

An Israeli firefighter wearing protective clothes disinfects a bus station in the ultra-Orthodox town of Kiryat Ye'arim (Telz-Stone), on March 18, 2020, after seventeen of the city's residents were found to have coronavirus. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
An Israeli firefighter wearing protective clothes disinfects a bus station in the ultra-Orthodox town of Kiryat Ye'arim (Telz-Stone), on March 18, 2020, after seventeen of the city's residents were found to have coronavirus. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

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

Three more arrested from Beit Shemesh wedding

Three people have been arrested after being involved in an ultra-Orthodox wedding in the central Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, according to news reports.

The wedding is described by Channel 12 news as having “multiple participants.”

Pictures posted on social media Tuesday showed dozens of men crowding together and dancing during the celebrations.

Israeli authorities have urged that all events be canceled and police have been deployed to ensure the keeping of social distancing rules aimed at helping stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The three people hauled in for questioning are described as a Beit Shemesh resident, an East Jerusalem resident and a foreign national.

Earlier, one person was arrested at the wedding for violating quarantine regulations and potentially infecting others.

 

Morning commute lighter than normal, but many still out

Despite Health Ministry regulations ordering Israelis to remain inside unless absolutely necessary, some in Jerusalem appeared to be out and about Wednesday morning.

A Times of Israel correspondent in Jerusalem reports that there is still traffic, albeit lighter their normal, and people walking on sidewalks or waiting at bus stops for buses that have continued to run.

Traffic at a Jerusalem intersection on March 18, 2020. (Times of Israel staff)

This includes non-ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Israelis have been told to hunker down unless they need to go to work under certain conditions, or to fetch groceries or other essential supplies.

Number of corona cases jumps to 427

The Health Ministry announces that the number of infected Israelis is up to 427 cases.

This includes five people in serious condition and 11 who have recovered.

The tally is a jump of nearly 90 since Tuesday night.

 

Spike in new cases due to more testing — doctor

The jump in confirmed cases of COVID-19 is at least partly due to an increase in testing, Dr. Arnon Afek of Sheba Hospital tells Channel 12 news.

The lion’s share of those infected, 401, are described in “light condition” meaning they are showing mild or no symptoms of the disease.

 

Army says career soldier couple infected

The IDF says two cases within its ranks are a career soldier couple from central Israel.

Both are doing well, the army says.

The cases, numbers eight and nine within the army, were in contact with another confirmed case, according to the army.

Biden wins Arizona, clinching clean sweep in coronavirus-tinged contests

Joe Biden has won the Arizona primary over Bernie Sanders, giving him a sweep of the three US states which voted on Tuesday to choose a Democratic candidate to face President Donald Trump in November.

Four states — Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky and Maryland — oined Ohio in moving to push back their upcoming primaries, and others may yet do so. That has left the Democratic primary calendar empty until March 29, when Puerto Rico is scheduled to go to the polls. But island leaders are working to reschedule balloting there, too.

Using a livestream to address supporters from his home state of Delaware, Biden appears ready to move past the primary and pays tribute to the Vermont senator for advancing key issues like affordable health care and combating climate change.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, greet one another before they participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“Sen. Sanders and his supporters have brought a remarkable passion and tenacity to all of these issues. Together they have shifted the fundamental conversation in this country,” Biden said. “So let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Sen. Sanders, I hear you. I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do,” he says.

With the exception of North Dakota and the Northern Mariana Islands, Sanders hasn’t scored a victory since Super Tuesday on March 3. He made no immediate move on Tuesday to contact Biden, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the candidates. During remarks early in the night, Sanders said little about the future of the race and instead focused on the coronavirus outbreak.

— Agencies

We’ll hit hundreds of sick a day, hospitals won’t cope, health czar warns

Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells Army Radio that he fears hospitals may soon be overrun with cases, and professionals will not be able to treat everyone.

“We’ll reach many hundreds of new patients in a day and even more than that,” he warns.

He adds that to ease overcrowding, the ministry is working off the idea that those who recover are no longer carrying the virus, and is thus freeing them to go home.

Thus far 11 people have been marked as recovered.

According to the ministry, 236 people are hospitalized, another 26 are on their way to being hospitalized, and no decision has been reached on what to do with 83 other cases.

 

Lapid blasts ‘illegitimate government’ telling people to stay at home

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid is getting slammed for releasing a video in which he appears to question the Health Ministry guidelines ordering Israelis to remain indoors.

“Ask yourselves, in what kind of country does a non-elected government tell people they cannot leave the house,” he says in a video.

He later clarifies that he was criticizing the government’s lack of mandate and not the directives.

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid at the party’s post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The instructions to not leave the house are not the problem, that it is being given by an illegitimate government is a problem and then some,” he tweets at Channel 12’s Amit Segal.

Blue and White was on Monday given a mandate to form a government, but until it does, the Likud-led caretaker government is remaining as the de-facto power.

EU leader admits Europe ‘underestimated’ virus

Political leaders “underestimated” the magnitude of the danger posed by the coronavirus, the president of the European Commission has admitted, as the EU shut its borders.

“I think that all of us who are not experts initially underestimated the coronavirus,” Ursula von der Leyen tells Germany’s Bild newspaper in an interview published today.

A man wearing a face mask, worm by many as a protective measure against the new coronavirus COVID-19, wheels a shopping trolley through a supermarket in Berlin on March 17, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld / dpa / AFP)

“But now it is clear that this is a virus that will keep us busy for a long time yet.”

“We understand that measures that seemed drastic two or three weeks ago, need to be taken now,” she adds.

— AFP

Minister says he’s not totally okay with Shin Bet phone tracking

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who helped draft Israel’s emergency measures allowing data collection from the phones of confirmed coronavirus cases and those who may have been near them, says he’s not completely comfortable with the rules.

“I’m not totally okay with the current model of tracking cellphones. Something is missing on the level of oversight,” he tells Kan radio.

Smotrich, known as a critic of the Shin Bet security service, nonetheless voted in favor of the controversial measure during a midnight cabinet meeting by phone.

Activists and other have raised alarm bells over the expanded powers, the potential for abuse and the lack of oversight.

MRI tech and baby at Jerusalem hospital confirmed as COVID-19 carriers

Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital says an MRI technician there has contracted the coronavirus, along with his baby son.

Their condition is not immediately known.

The two had been present in the hospital’s intermediate care unit, according to the hospital, and the man is now in isolation.

The news means several staff members in the hospitals MRI unit and IMCU must enter quarantine.

Medical staff have complained about a lack of protection and officials fear that hospitals may be overwhelmed as doctors and others who come into contact with sick Israelis are forced to stay at home.

Hard-hit South Korean city reports 87 new COVID-19 cases

The mayor of the South Korean city worst-hit by the coronavirus says 87 new cases have been discovered from local nursing hospitals, raising concerns about a possible spike in infections after they waned over the past week.

Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin says 74 of the cases came from a single hospital and that the 57 patients who were infected would be transferred to other facilities for treatment.

The infections at nursing homes weren’t fully reflected in national figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or KCDC, which said the cases in Daegu rose by 46 in the 24 hours ending midnight Tuesday.

South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at Dongdaegu railway station in Daegu, on February 29, 2020. (Yonhap/AFP)

South Korean officials have struggled to stem infections at hospitals, nursing homes, disability institutions and other live-in facilities, which critics say have been poorly regulated for years.

The KCDC says 116 cases and 10 deaths have been linked to a hospital in Cheongdo, near Daegu, where infections surged among patients hospitalized at a psychiatric ward.

South Korea has confirmed at least 8,413 coronavirus cases, including 84 deaths.

— AP

Fewer Israelis going out, but roads far from empty

A traffic camera at the normally packed Morasha interchange east of Tel Aviv shows sparse traffic there, indicating most Israelis are indeed staying in, though far from all.

A view of the Morasha interchange near tel Aviv on March 18, 2020. (screen capture: CtConnect)

Another live cam, showing a beach in Tel Aviv, shows some still out and about, though not the crowds that were seen in days past.

A view of a Tel Aviv beach on March 18, 2020. (screen capture: balticlivecam.com)

Air quality index shows Tel Aviv pollution remaining despite shutdown

Pollution levels in some areas near Tel Aviv are still high despite much of the country being shut down, according to data from the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Air Quality Index Project website.

High levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) are recorded at the busy Hashalom Interchange in central Tel Aviv and in the Holon area south of Tel Aviv.

NOx is a common pollutant in vehicle emissions.

Empty roads in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Israelis have been told to work from home and avoid going out except for specific reasons, like to purchase supplies.

Russia shuts down schools for three weeks

Russian authorities are closing all of the country’s schools for three weeks starting next Monday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Russian education officials said Wednesday it would be an extended spring break with the opportunity to continue studies remotely.

Russia has so far reported 114 confirmed cases of the new virus. The country’s government has taken vast measures to prevent the disease from spreading, including closing the borders to foreigners starting from Wednesday and ordering coronavirus testing for everyone who returned from European countries in the last 14 days.

Authorities in different Russian regions imposed restrictions on public events and recommended that people work and study from home. Last week, Moscow officials announced the closing all schools in the city and banned gatherings of more than 50 people.

— AP

Drive-thru testing center opening delayed — report

The planned opening of a drive-in COVID-19 testing station in Tel Aviv has been delayed, Channel 13 reports.

The cause of the delay? A shortage of testing kits and swabs, according to the report. The center only has enough kits for a single day, but is trying to round up more from hospitals, the channel says.

The Magen David Adom emergency service was set to open the center on Wednesday morning, and is planning on rolling out more in other major cities in the coming days. But now it is not known when any will open.

Once it is in service, those with a note from a doctor will be able to visit the center and get tested without having to leave their cars.

Israeli group urges sample pooling to speed up testing

Rambam Medical Center and Technion University in Haifa says they have come up with a faster and more efficient way to test people for the novel coronavirus, by pooling samples.

According to the hospital, by testing the samples of 32 or 64 patients at a time, it can quickly rule out who has the virus. Only in cases where the virus is found will the individuals in the pool take tests to determine who is carrying COVID-19.

They say in a statement that the method was able to flag a sample in which there was one carrier out of 64.

Pooling has been used since World War II and was suggested in the 1990s as a way of testing for HIV.

“There are indeed some logical difficulties in deploying the method, but we hope it can up the number of tests and find even silent carriers, those with no symptoms. This possibility can lower the chance of infection and flatten the curve,” says Technion Professor Roi Kishoni.

 

Edelstein shuts down Knesset, thwarting oversight panels

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has shut down the Knesset plenum, saying he is doing so to give his Likud party and Blue and White a chance to hash out a unity agreement.

Doing so means he will not come through on a promise made Tuesday to allow the Knesset to form the parliament’s Arrangements Committee, which in turn, would staff the parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Finance Committee, and create a special panel on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blue and White and allied parties have been seeking to staff the committees in order to provide oversight of a controversial program allowing the government to collect data from the phones of COVID-19 carriers and those around them.

Edelstein, who has been accused of stymieing Knesset debates to keep himself from being voted out of a job, says he has representatives from both parties meeting in his office now, but no agreement has been reached despite him offering what he claims is a deal that would address both sides’ concerns.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“If and when there is an agreement, the plenum will convene again to vote on creating committees in line with the agreement,” the Knesset spokesperson says in a statement.

“I want to keep the meeting open and declare now a break until further notice, in hopes and prayers that good sense will prevail and we will be able even today to begin parliamentary oversight work as needed,” Edelstein says.

Erdan: Full lockdown is inevitable

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is reportedly telling police and other domestic security agencies that a full lockdown of the country is on the way.

“We need to prepare for the possibility of a full shutdown, this is an inevitable decision,” he says, according to Army Radio.

Israel has been inching toward fully locking down the country, but the government has so far avoided imposing one, instead urging Israelis to remain at home, but allowing people to leave for a variety of reasons.

Health Ministry official says phone tracking won’t be used to enforce lockdown

Health Ministry director of public health Sigal Sudetsky tells Channel 12 news that if a full lockdown is imposed, “we won’t use technological methods to check who is breaking it. The methods will only be used to check who a sick person was in physical contact with.”

The government on Tuesday gave the Shin Bet and police emergency powers to collect phone data to help stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Israelis eat take away meals in the trunk of their car of Jerusalem on March 17, 2020.
(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the channel, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan made his comment about a total lockdown being inevitable on Tuesday and asked police to present a plan to carry out the measure.

Under a lockdown, Israelis will be forbidden to leave home unless they have special permission for work or to get supplies or medical attention, the channel says.

Army of one? Not in Israel

In the latest proof that the army having trouble implementing Health Ministry social distancing regulations, Walla’s Amir Buhbut tweets two videos showing groups of soldiers on a training mission sticking closely together.

So far the army has reported nine cases of the virus, and has taken measures to keep it from entering its ranks, telling soldiers to prepare to be on base for a month or more and banning visitors.

However, pictures and videos out of the military have shown soldiers remaining in large groups as in normal times.

 

Serial quarantine-breaker charged, in first

Police have filed charges against a person for breaking a quarantine for the first time, according to a spokesperson.

The suspect is accused of going out on at least three occasions despite being ordered to remain in isolation. Police are seeking to have them remain behind bars with no bail.

According to the spokesperson, 86 cases have been opened against suspected quarantine breakers and 12 people are also being probed or spreading false information.

Tel Aviv stocks plummeting

A precipitous slide on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is continuing, with the benchmark TA-35 index down 5.3 percent on the day, falling below 1,200 points for the first time since 2013.

The TA-125 index is down 5.7%.

The slumps continue a week of wild swings after Tuesday saw slight gains on the exchange and around the world.

Stock markets across the world are also sinking.

London and Frankfurt opened more than 3% lower and Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong all declined. Australia’s main index fell 6.4%.

Bibi-Benny bromance blooming under virus threat?

There’s no hugging it out allowed, but Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White head Benny Gantz are doing the virtual version after a year of bitter rivalry.

After Netanyahu posted on Facebook on Tuesday some new rules for staying at home and staying healthy, Gantz shared the post and wrote, “When it comes to people’s lives — there’s no politics. Israel comes before everything. Safeguard yourselves and your families and fully obey instructions.”

(The post may have been meant to deflect pressure after his No. 2 Yair Lapid appeared to question the directives.)

Now Netanyahu has shared Gantz’s share, with a simple “Very important. Thanks, Benny.”

Jumping into bed with the two, President Reuven Rivlin shares the latest post and writes, “Maybe we can continue with this at the cabinet table, friends?”

אולי נמשיך עם זה על שולחן הממשלה חברים?Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו בני גנץ – Benny Gantz

פורסם על ידי ‏Reuven Ruvi Rivlin – ראובן רובי ריבלין‏ ב- יום רביעי, 18 במרץ 2020

New details about paths of COVID-19 carriers published

The Health Ministry is releasing details about where people confirmed to have COVID-19 visited.

The latest tranche includes a pair of twin girls, 14, who were in schools in Jerusalem and Kiryat Yearim.

Other cases involve people who visited synagogues and schools in the capital, Bnei Brak and elsewhere.

Hebrew speakers (or Google Translate devotees) can check all the deets here.

Details are still missing for about 100 patients.

Iran reports 147 new deaths in largest single-day spike

Iran has reported its single biggest jump in deaths from the new coronavirus, saying that another 147 had died in a nearly 15% spike that raises the death toll to 1,135 people nationwide.

It marks the biggest 24-hour rise in deaths since officials first acknowledged cases of the virus in Iran in mid-February.

The rise in deaths comes as the number of cases continues to grow each day, with some 17,361 people having been infection nationwide, according to a briefing by Iran’s deputy health minister, Alireza Raisi.

— AP

Blue and White-led bloc demands Knesset reopen

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn has presented Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein with a letter signed by 61 MKs demanding that he open the plenum, according to Hebrew language media reports.

The demand comes after Edelstein shut down the Knesset saying he would only re-open it after giving unity talks a chance.

The letter demands that Edelstein open the Knesset so the Knesset can vote on an Arrangements Committee, which will then allow it to staff various committees to begin parliamentary work. The move will essentially place the Likud-led right-religious bloc in the opposition and may see Edelstein himself replaced.

By law, such a letter from 61 MKs is supposed to force the opening of the Knesset.

Edelstein said Tuesday he would allow a vote to pave the way for parliamentary panels to oversee the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a controversial measure allowing the use of photo data collection.

 

New figures shows spike in number of tests

The Health Ministry says it has performed almost 11,000 tests for COVID-19 as of this morning, including over 2,200 yesterday alone.

Officials had been criticized in recent days for the slow rate of testing, with Israel generally testing only 500-700 people a day.

According to the figures, 10,440 tests came back negative and 420 were positive. The ministry earlier said there were 427 confirmed cases. The discrepancy cannot be immediately reconciled.

A total of 2,252 people were tested on Tuesday, likely explaining at least part of the jump in the number of cases, from 337 on Tuesday to 427 as of Wednesday morning.

Figures compiled Tuesday based on 303 cases but just released now show most cases continue to be adults between 20 and 49 years old. Those 30-39 make up the largest age group, with 66 cases. There have been only 71 cases of those age 60 or older.

 

Global COVID-19 cases said to top 200,000, over 8,000 deaths

The number of people infected worldwide has crested the 200,000 mark and deaths now topped 8,000, with the number of people now recovered at more than 82,000, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The tally of 201,436 cases and 8,007 deaths does not include 147 deaths reported by Iran in the last day.

Most of the recovered are in China, which remains the world leader in number of cases.

In Italy, which has seen over 30,000 cases, fewer than 3,000 people have recovered.

— with AP

Judge comes down with virus, sending officials into quarantine

A Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court judge has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, sending at least 25 other judges who were in contact with them into quarantine, Channel 12 news reports.

The Health Ministry says deputy public health director Udi Kleiner and two other ministry employees were also exposed to the judge and are now in quarantine.

Courts have already been shut down for all but urgent cases.

The ministry says over 2,000 health workers remain in quarantine, including 779 doctors and 640 nurses.

 

All ministers, top officials may be tested — report

Channel 12 news reports that officials are considering ordering coronavirus tests for all senior officials, including all government ministers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have already been tested and came back negative.

In a letter, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman tells Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein he will stop showing up to the Knesset as much as possible, amid fears that the virus could reach the halls of power.

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)

Spain reports over 2,500 new COVID-19 cases, 67 more dead

Spain has announced 2,538 new cases of coronavirus infections, bringing the country’s total to 13,716. Nearly half of those have been hospitalized and 774 are requiring intensive care, according to national health authorities. There are 588 deaths officially recorded, 67 more than on Tuesday.

Members of the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) carry out a general disinfection outside a post office in Valencia on March 18, 2020. (Jose Jordan / AFP)

Spanish regions where clusters have been identified in elderly nursing homes are showing a higher rate of fatalities and required hospitalization, says the head of the Spanish health emergency center, Fernando Simón.

That’s the case in Madrid, where at least 17 people have died only in one nursing home and dozens more have been infected.

— AP

Tourists kept coming, until they didn’t — state stats

Despite the germination of the coronavirus crisis closing borders, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports that Israel’s tourism industry was still going gangbusters up until a few weeks ago.

According to the stats, released early due to the crisis, February 2020 saw 885,000 hotel room rentals by tourists, more than the 800,000 recorded in February 2019.

The empty departure hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel only began banning travelers or requiring quarantines from most places outside of east Asia starting in early March, and only locked down its borders last week.

School’s out for nearly 1 billion students

Stuck at home with the rugrats? You’re not alone, not by a long shot, according to the UN.

More than 850 million young people, or about half the world’s student population, are barred from their school and university grounds because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, UNESCO says.

Calling it an “unprecedented challenge,” UNESCO says schools are closed in 102 countries, with partial closures in 11 more — and more closures to come.

An empty classroom is seen in a closed primary school in Ramat Gan, Israel, March 15, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

The 850 million “represents more than a doubling in four days in the number of learners prohibited from going to educational institutions,” the UN educational organization says in a statement, citing figures from late Tuesday.

“The scale and speed of the school and university closures represents an unprecedented challenge for the education sector,” it says.

— AFP

Deri set to close country to tourists — report

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is set to announce new restrictions and only allow in people who live in Israel, according to a Channel 12 news report.

Until now non-citizens could enter, provided they prove they can quarantine for 14 days.

Deri is also expected to close Israel’s land crossings with Egypt and Jordan completely.

Rivlin tells Edelstein to open Knesset: ‘We must not let this crisis, as serious as it is, harm our democratic system’

President Reuven Rivlin has joined the ranks of politicians urging Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein to open the Knesset plenum and allow a debate on setting up committees, hinting that the Speaker, a veteran Likud MK, is undermining Israel’s democracy.

Rivlin “implored” Edelstein “to ensure ongoing parliamentary activity, even during the coronavirus crisis,” a statement from the president’s residence says.

“A Knesset that is out of action harms the ability of the State of Israel to function well and responsibly in an emergency. We must not let this crisis, as serious as it is, harm our democratic system,” Rivlin tells Edelstein by phone.

“We must do everything to deal with the crisis, being careful not to grievously harm our democratic system,” he adds.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (R) and President Reuven Rivlin at the swearing-in of the 23rd Knesset, March 16, 2020. (Mark Heyman and and Haim Zach/GPO)

Edelstein has refused to open the Knesset to debate, citing the need for unity talks, and expressing concerns about coronavirus.

Separately, new regulations in the Knesset will bar most workers there, aside from lawmakers and some parliamentary aides, Walla reports.

The statement from the president’s office reads in full:

“A Knesset that is out of action harms the ability of the State of Israel to function well and responsibly in an emergency. We must not let this crisis, as serious as it is, to harm our democratic system.”

President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin spoke today, Wednesday 18 March / 22 Adar, with Speaker of the Knesset Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein and implored him to ensure ongoing parliamentary activity, even during the coronavirus crisis. The speaker updated the president on the challenges facing the Knesset and what is being done to resolve them.

“The ongoing dispute about opening the Knesset harms our shared fight against corona,” said the president in his conversation with the Speaker of the Knesset, adding “and particularly when we are on an emergency footing, the Knesset plays a crucial role. The Knesset oversees and balances, it is a vital component of the healthy, correct and proper functioning of the system as a whole, even in times of emergency. A Knesset that is out of action harms the ability of the State of Israel to function well and responsibly in an emergency. We must not let this crisis, as serious as it is, to harm our democratic system. We must do everything to deal with the crisis, being careful not to grievously harm our democratic system.”

The president told the Speaker of the Knesset that he is full of admiration for him and his work over the years and that he is sure that no-one holds Israeli democracy more dearly than he does, as someone who has fought for the Zionist idea his whole life and has paid a heavy personal price for doing so. “I know you, as the successor of all former speakers, will guard the status of the Knesset as a beacon of democracy, particularly at this time,” said the president.

Knesset Speaker Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein told the president he was working to resolve the dispute and called on Likud and Kachol Lavan to reach an understanding about the establishment of Knesset committees immediately. “The gaps between the sides are not great and Israeli citizens deserve that their elected representatives work for them and oversee the work of the government. There is no reason to drag this out,” he said.

Edelstein says he’ll open Knesset, but only next week

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says he will only open the Knesset next week to allow for a vote on setting up an Arrangements Committee to deal with staffing other committees and begin parliamentary work.

The announcement comes after talks pushed by Edelstein, a Likud stalwart, fail to move the needle toward an emergency unity government.

Edelstein said he pushed for the sides to set up a bipartisan committee immediately to deal with “oversight,” before holding a full vote on the matter next week.

He accuses Blue and White and its partners of acting “ridiculously” and says the party leaders “refuse to see the public’s good,” in dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

6 more coronavirus cases confirmed since morning, bringing total to 433

The Health Ministry says it has confirmed six more cases of the coronavirus in Israel, bringing the country’s total number of diagnoses to 433.

The vast majority of the patients — 404, or 93.7% — display light symptoms and another 11 are no longer ill, the ministry says.

Six people are in serious condition, and another 12 are moderately sick, according to the ministry’s latest statistics.

Edelstein says democratic process will only return ‘when we’re prepared for it’

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says the country’s “democratic process and parliamentary oversight” will only return when “we are prepared for it,” referring to his decision to shutter the Knesset over what he says were concerns about the coronavirus.

Edelstein’s comment comes after his shocking announcement that he was locking the plenary after his Likud and its rival the Blue and White party failed to reach a compromise on the formation of Knesset committees.

“I’ve been spending no small number of hours yesterday and today trying to reach an agreement between the factions. I offered a compromise that I thought could ‘press start’ on the Knesset’s work now, even at this very moment,” he says.

Edelstein, who was widely panned by those outside the Likud-led government, says the Knesset will only reopen next Monday at the earliest.

A number of Knesset members have been forced into quarantine after coming into contact with a confirmed carrier of the disease.

“It also isn’t nice for me to see Knesset members who can’t come into the plenary, but these are the directives. Without a doubt, all the democratic process and parliamentary process will take place the moment we are prepared for it. I don’t intend to drag this matter out,” he says.

Eurovision song contest canceled amid coronavirus pandemic

Organizers of the international Eurovision song competition announce they are canceling the event in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The uncertainty created by the spread of COVID-19 throughout Europe — and the restrictions put in place by the governments of the participating broadcasters and the Dutch authorities — means the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has taken the difficult decision that it is impossible to continue with the live event as planned,” the organizers say.

The contest was meant to be held in Rotterdam, Holland, in May.

The organizers say they are considering how to proceed and will publish additional information in the future.

Gantz says Blue and White to fight Knesset closure in the High Court of Justice

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz says his faction is filing an appeal to the High Court of Justice against Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to shutter the plenary.

“We have been working hard all day through different communication channels — including me meeting personally with MK Edelstein, who is refusing to let us congregate in the halls of democracy and work for the citizens and — above all else — tackle the challenge of corona,” Gantz says.

“At this point — we have no choice but to turn to the Supreme Court,” he says.

Gantz makes this announcement in a missive to the members of Blue and White, Joint List, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher-Meretz — the parties that recommended him for prime minister, which represent a majority in the Knesset.

In the letter, Gantz accuses Edelstein of working on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

WHO demands more data on coronavirus from Mideast states

The World Health Organization urges Middle Eastern governments to be more forthcoming with information about new coronavirus infections in order to effectively combat the global pandemic.

“We can only control this disease if we have access to information that allows us to understand its dynamic in the region,” Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean director, tells an online press conference from Cairo.

“We have an opportunity to contain this pandemic in our region,” he adds.

Despite being geographically located in the eastern Mediterranean, the State of Israel is not included in this WHO region, but is instead part of its European branch for political reasons.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases have reached over 18,000 across the Middle East, with more than 1,000 deaths recorded in seven countries, mostly in Iran.

— AFP

First hearing on petition to halt mass surveillance program to be heard tomorrow

The first hearing on a petition to halt a program that allows the Shin Bet to perform mass surveillance on Israelis in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus will be held in the High Court of Justice tomorrow morning, the court says.

The trial will open at 9 a.m. at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

The petition will be heard by Chief Justice Esther Hayut, her deputy Justice Hanan Melcer, and Justice Noam Solberg, the country says.

The hearing will be open to the press.

Health Ministry issues order closing all ultra-Orthodox schools

The Health Ministry issues an order shuttering all ultra-Orthodox schools after a number of institutions in that community were found flouting existing directives that were meant to close the institutions.

The ministry’s legal adviser Uri Schwartz issues the order under a public health regulation that was signed earlier this week.

The order says it includes all kindergartens, elementary schools, the Beit Yaakov chain of schools, religious schools for boys (yeshivas) and for girls (seminaries) and religious study programs for young men.

IDF chief visits Home Front Command amid coronavirus pandemic

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visits the Home Front Command’s headquarters outside of the city of Ramle, inspecting the military unit that has thus far played the greatest role in combating the spread of the coronavirus.

The Home Front Command, which is responsible for civil defense, has worked closely with local governments and emergency services in a bid both to help them weather the crisis and to prepare to step in and take over for them if necessary.

During the visit, the army chief visited troops working with the Magen David Adom ambulance service, hospitals, the health care system and local governments, and with preparing instructional materials for the public.

“This is a time of emergency and the IDF is matching its functions to it and to the needs of the country, and you are a great example of that,” Kohavi tells Home Front Command soldiers.

“The IDF is already working in a number of fields to help and to prepare to continue to work on any mission that is demanded of us. All IDF soldiers must be prepared for all developments — as always, we are ready for any mission. Your job in assisting on the civilian front directly influences the ability of the State of Israel to deal with the virus outbreak,” Kohavi says.

Kohavi was joined by the head of the IDF Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz and other senior officers.

US to close Canada border to ‘non-essential’ traffic: Trump

US President Donald Trump announces the closure of the US-Canada border to nonessential travelers as the coronavirus epidemic intensifies in both countries — but said that trade would not be impacted.

The shutdown built on Trump’s barring of visitors from most of Europe, China and other parts of the world, as the number of confirmed virus cases in the US surged past 6,500, with 115 deaths.

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!” Trump tweets.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also expected to make an announcement on the issue, without providing specifics.

“What the prime minister is going to announce will reassure people,” he said in an interview with public broadcaster Radio-Canada.

Champagne promises new measures “proposed by both sides,” noting that hundreds of thousands of people cross the border every day.

As of Wednesday evening, Canada has around 600 confirmed coronavirus cases and eight deaths.

— AFP

Police shut down ultra-Orthodox school in Tel Aviv after 200 people found inside

The Israel Police remove upwards of 200 people from an ultra-Orthodox school in Tel Aviv that was operating in violation of government directives to limit public gatherings to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

“A call was received about an illegal gathering in an educational institution in Tel Aviv. Officers who arrived at the scene saw a gathering of more than 200 people, in violation of the law, and worked to break it up,” police say.

In light of this incident at the Chidushei Harim yeshiva in eastern Tel Aviv and others in the ultra-Orthodox community in recent days, the Health Ministry issued an order shuttering all ultra-Orthodox educational institutions.

Liberman blasts Netanyahu’s pandemic response, says it’s politically motivated

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman criticizes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying his draconian measures are doing more harm than good and are politically motivated.

Liberman cites a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist — Michael Levit — who said earlier today that he did not believe that a large number of people would die of the virus in Israel, as well as estimates that the government’s response to the pandemic would cost the country between NIS 2.75 billion to NIS 6.6 billion a month.

“My understanding from these things is that the economic damage to Israel by Netanyahu and his government’s treatment of the coronavirus will be deadly. Netanyahu’s stubbornness to base [his response] solely on apocalyptic assessments is meant to serve him in the fight for public consciousness instead of in the fight against corona,” Liberman says.

The Yisrael Beytenu leader accuses his rival Netanyahu of trying to “silence all political and public protest” in order to avoid standing trial for the three indictments against him “even if it comes at the cost of serious damage to Israel’s economy and mass unemployment.”

Israel fully closes border to tourists amid coronavirus outbreak

Israel completely closes down its borders to foreigners in a bid to contain the coronavirus pandemic beginning immediately, the Population and Immigration Authority says.

Until now, Israel has allowed tourists into the country if they were able to quarantine themselves for two weeks.

“Beginning today, the entrance of foreigners will not be allowed into Israel, even if they can prove they could remain in quarantine,” the authority says in a statement.

Israeli citizens and residents will still be able to enter the country, the authority says.

The agency says the decision, which was recommended by the Health Ministry, goes into effect immediately, with the announcement.

President Rivlin speaks with Abbas, calls for cooperation

President Reuven Rivlin speaks on the phone with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas about the coronavirus pandemic, calling for the two sides to cooperate to confront the disease.

“The world is dealing with a crisis that does not distinguish between people or where they live,” Rivlin says, according to his office.

“The cooperation between us is vital to ensure the health of both Israelis and Palestinians,” he adds.

Rivlin tells the president that he is ready to help coordinate any efforts necessary to combat the pandemic.

“Our ability to work together in times of crisis is also testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all,” Rivlin tells Abbas.

You can get well, says teacher who overcame coronavirus

An Israeli woman who recuperated after contracting the coronavirus says the illness “wasn’t severe,” and calls on the country to relax.

“I had a fever and chills, but it passes,” says Sharon Ganish, a teacher from central Israel, who was the 14th person in Israel to be diagnosed with the disease.

“I want to calm people down. That’s my goal now. This isn’t a severe disease,” Ganish says in an interview on Channel 12 news.

“Even if you get sick, you can get well,” she says.

Ganish says her family is still not “back to normal,” after her recuperation, but they are working on it.

She recommends reaching out to any friends or family who contract the disease — by phone or text message — in order to show them that they’re not alone.

Indicted quarantine-breaker freed over fears he could infect prisoners — report

Judges release a man who was indicted earlier today for breaking a quarantine out of concerns that he could infect others if he were put in prison, Army Radio reports, raising serious questions about law enforcement’s ability to require people to remain in isolation.

This was the first indictment since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The suspect is accused of going out on at least three occasions in less than three days, despite being ordered to remain in quarantine.

According to a police spokesperson, at least 86 cases have been opened against suspected quarantine-breakers and 12 people are being probed for spreading false information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Conditions of 2 seriously ill coronavirus patients deteriorate: hospital

The conditions of two seriously ill coronavirus patients deteriorate, with both of them being unconscious and connected to respirators, the hospitals treating them say.

One of the patients is a 72-year-old woman at Petah Tikva’s Beilinson Hospital, the medical center says.

The second is a man being treated at Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center, outside of Tel Aviv.

There are currently six seriously ill coronavirus patients in Israel — out of 431 confirmed cases — as of this evening, according to the Health Ministry.

Report: All severely ill coronavirus patients elderly, with existing conditions

The six seriously ill coronavirus patients in Israel are all elderly and had existing medical conditions prior to contracting the disease, Channel 12 news reports.

In total, 431 people have been diagnosed with the disease in Israel, the overwhelming majority of them — 415, or 96.3% — have either light symptoms or have already recuperated from the illness, according to the Health Ministry.

In addition to the six patients in serious condition, another 12 are moderately ill, the ministry says.

PM: It’s possible there will be fines for violating Health Ministry orders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the government may begin fining people for violating Health Ministry directives in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak, but that he does not want to put in place a full lockdown of the country.

The government has called for a partial shutdown, with severe limits on public gatherings, but leaving Israelis free to leave their homes and travel when necessary.

“I prefer these directives,” Netanyahu says in an interview on Channel 12 news.

The prime minister says that much of the country — but not all — has been following the Health Ministry’s instructions.

“Some in the ultra-Orthodox community and some in the ‘minority’ community are not listening to the directives,” he says, using a euphemism for Arabs.

Asked if the government is considering levying fines against those who violate these instructions, Netanyahu says “it is possible that we will.”

The interim prime minister praises Israel’s response to the virus, saying it is “leading the world,” despite harsh criticism from his political opponents, who have accused Netanyahu and his government of overreaching and overreacting.

Netanyahu defends Knesset closure: ‘The last thing I would do is harm democracy’

Netanyahu defends Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to shutter the plenary, saying he hopes the parliament reopens soon.

Earlier today, Edelstein ordered the Knesset shut after the Blue and White party refused his proposal of having equal representation in the parliamentary so-called Arrangements Committee, which is tasked with presiding over the creation of all other Knesset committees, as the Likud-led coalition garnered 59 seats in the last election to the Blue and White’s coalition’s 61.

“Committees were always formed with agreement between the coalition and opposition,” Netanyahu says in a Channel 12 interview.

The closure of the Knesset has led to a total lack of parliamentary oversight in the transitional government’s recent, occasionally draconian measures that it says are necessary to combat the coronavirus, which has included the closure of many of the nation’s courts — another major check on executive overreach.

“The last thing I would do is harm democracy,” Netanyahu says.

The prime minister says he hopes the Knesset reopens soon.

Asked specifically about a recent mass surveillance program approved by the government without any parliamentary oversight, the he denied wrongdoing, arguing that he had wanted the approval of a Knesset’s committee, but was forced to act quickly.

“I demanded the maximum oversight on this. The concerns of bad use of this data are not on only one side of the political map,” he says.

Netanyahu adds that he has refrained from using mass surveillance against Israeli citizens in the past “in order to defend the individual. I protected them.”

The prime minister also falsely claims that the Blue and White party’s efforts to form a minority government are unprecendented in the democratic world. There have been minority governments — in which the ruling coalition requires support from outside factions — in Ireland, Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and others.

Knesset legal adviser calls for plenary resumption as soon as possible

The Knesset’s legal adviser indicated that Speaker Yuli Edelstein would not be able to continue his closure of the plenary into next week.

Earlier today, Edelstein ordered the Knesset shut after the Blue and White party refused his proposal of having equal representation in the Knesset’s so-called Arrangements Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the formation and operation of the parliament, as the Likud-led coalition garnered 59 seats in this month’s election to the Blue and White’s coalition’s 61.

Among other things, the Arrangement’s Committee oversees the creation of the Knesset’s other committees, including those that would provide parliamentary oversight to the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The committee could also allow the Blue and White party to call for a vote on the position of Knesset speaker, which would likely result in Edelstein’s ouster from the position that he’s held since 2013, leading critics to accuse him of subverting the will of the majority of the country.

The Arrangements Committee is typically formed under an agreement between the Knesset’s parties, but the parliament’s legal adviser Eyal Yanon says if it is not formed by the beginning of next week, the matter ought to be brought before the plenary for a vote, which Edelstein’s Likud party will likely lose.

“Form the Arrangement Committee as quickly as possible. If it is not given power by the beginning of next week, there will be a need to place the choice of [who sits in] the Arrangements Committee on the docket of the Knesset without further delay,” Yanon writes in a legal opinion.

Speaker officially forbids gatherings of more than 10 in 120-person Knesset

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein officially forbids meetings of more than 10 people in the 120-person parliament but says voting will still be possible, in a move he says is in response to the coronavirus.

Edelstein, who had announced plans to roll out such a measure earlier today, says the order will be in place for 14 days.

“The meaning of the order on the Knesset is that gatherings of more than 10 people in the plenary will not take place and that a 2-meter (6.6-foot) distance must be maintained [between people],” he writes.

The Knesset speaker says this order will not prevent voting, but that it will take place in the manner similar to the parliament’s swearing-in ceremonies, in which Knesset members entered the plenary in groups of three.

The move comes after two ministers and two Knesset members are placed in quarantine after being in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Odeh blasts PM for saying Joint List MKs shouldn’t lead Knesset committees

Joint List chief Ayman Odeh denounces interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for saying that members of the majority Arab party shouldn’t be heads of Knesset committees.

“Heads of hospital departments — yes. Heads of Knesset committees — no,” Odeh writes in a tweet.

“By the way, the votes of construction workers, teachers and engineers matter. All manner of work honors the person who performs it — except for interim prime minister,” he says.

The Joint List party chairman is referring to a comment by Netanyahu that the reason why his Likud party is blocking the formation of the Knesset is that the Blue and White party wouldn’t promise not to allow members of the majority Arab party to head committees in the parliament.

IDF launches website, hotline to give information about coronavirus

The Israel Defense Forces launches a new website and phone hotline that are meant to supply information about the coronavirus and the government’s response to it.

The website — https://info.oref.org.il/ — is created in a joint effort by the IDF and the National Information Directorate and is available in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. A limited version is also available in English.

“In an effort to help explain [the situation] to residents about the outbreak of the virus, the website provides relevant information to the Israeli society,” the military says.

This includes information about unemployment benefits, recommendations on how to speak to children about the virus, and how to prevent infection.

The hotline — available by dialing 104 — is staffed by IDF soldiers and officers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The IDF is taking an active role in educating the public at this time and is an available and accessible source of information about the coronavirus,” the military says.

Report: Blue and White demands Defense, Foreign Ministries for unity government

The Blue and White party demands the cabinet’s top ministries in exchange for sitting in a so-called national unity government with the Likud party, the Kan news broadcaster reports.

Representatives from the two parties have been meeting in recent days in a bid to form such a coalition.

According to the outlet, the Likud accepted the Blue and White party’s demand that MK Gabi Ashkenazi be made defense minister under such an agreement.

The party also demands the Foreign, Justice, Public Security and Culture Ministries, which are largely seen as some of the most important positions in the government.

Health Ministry says it’s begun controversial tracking of coronavirus patients

The Health Ministry announces it has started using mass surveillance tools to retrace the movements of coronavirus carriers and has already found some 400 people that were in contact with them and need to enter quarantine.

The electronic tracking program, which is being conducted by the Shin Bet security service for the ministry, has faced harsh criticism, including by members of the government, and its legality is currently being challenged in the High Court of Justice.

The process by which the contentious proposal was approved by the government — without promised parliamentary oversight — also led to allegations of a “power grab” by some politicians. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials say the measure is necessary to curb the spread of the disease.

“In order to make the process of conducting an epidemiological investigation more efficient, to shorten the process and accurately reach those who were in contact with a coronavirus carrier, we are starting to use technological tools,” the Health Ministry says, using a euphemism for the powerful surveillance program.

The ministry says the tracking system has already identified some 400 people who were in contact with known carriers of the disease.

“In the message, they were informed of the date that they were near the sick person and the fact that the must enter home-quarantine immediately,” the Health Ministry says.

After the fact, the coronavirus carriers were also informed that they had been tracked by the government.

Defense Ministry to purchase all of Israel’s corona-related equipment

The Defense Ministry will purchase all equipment related to the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to make the process more efficient, the ministry says.

The decision was made by the Defense Ministry, Health Ministry, Finance Ministry and National Security Council. It comes amid claims of insufficient medical equipment in hospitals and clinics.

“This is in light of the growing needs of the health care system and the special ability of the Defense Ministry to make emergency purchases and transport it internationally to the State of Israel,” the Defense Ministry says in a statement.

As part of this inter-agency agreement, the Health Ministry will determine what is needed and the Defense Ministry will make the purchases and import the goods into Israel in an “expedited process,” the Defense Ministry says.

To speed up this effort, a representative from the Defense Ministry’s purchasing department will be stationed in the Health Ministry full-time to coordinate between the offices.

British chief rabbi orders synagogues closed over coronavirus

British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis orders the closure of all synagogues affiliated with United Synagogue, the largest network of Orthodox synagogues in the country.

“These extraordinary times call upon us to take extraordinary measures,” Mirvis says in a letter.

“(O)ur Torah obligation to protect the sanctity of life transcends all other considerations. Therefore, with much pain and with the heaviest of hearts, in consultation with the Dayanim (judges) of the London Beit Din (rabbinical court), I have concluded that we have a Halachic imperative to suspend all activity at all of our synagogues until further notice,” he writes.

The order includes prayer services as well as educational, cultural and social gatherings.

Mirvis stresses that he will be praying all weekday, Shabbat and holiday services by himself at home.

He adds that specific guidance for Jewish communal life and the upcoming Passover holiday would follow soon.

— JTA

Attorney at center of New Rochelle coronavirus outbreak wakes from coma

The attorney at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in New Rochelle, New York, has emerged from his coma.

Lawrence Garbuz “is awake and alert and seems to be on the road to full recovery,” his wife, Adina, says in a post on Facebook. She has not seen him in person, but communicated through FaceTime.

She says her husband had no idea what was wrong with him when he awoke, and asked her to make sure that others were aware of his illness so they would not get it, unaware of the community’s lockdown.

A one-mile containment zone has been set up around New Rochelle with the hope of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“Realizing now that it is widespread, he is trying to comprehend a world where no one goes out, no social gatherings, no religious services, no Purim!! But he seems to be quickly adding it all up,” she writes.

Originally diagnosed with pneumonia, Garbuz had been on a ventilator since March 1, according to The New York Times.

Adina Garbuz and two of her children, as well as a neighbor who drove her husband to the hospital, all contracted COVID-19.

— JTA

Rabbi legislator in Illinois loses Democratic primary bid

The only rabbi to ever serve in the Illinois state legislature loses in the Democratic primary to a progressive candidate backed by his predecessor.

Rabbi Yehiel “Mark” Kalish garners 31.9 percent of the vote in the Chicago-area’s 16th District on Tuesday, losing to Denyse Wang Stoneback, who has 42.9 percent. With no Republican challenger, Stoneback is all but assured a seat in the state’s House of Representatives.

Kalish, an Orthodox Jewish father of six, was appointed in January 2019 to fill the unexpired term of state Rep. Lou Lang, who had served the district for more than three decades. Lang resigned shortly after he was re-elected because of a business opportunity.

The suburban district, which includes Skokie and Rogers Park, is about 30 percent Orthodox Jewish.

Kalish, 44, angered many voters in June when he voted “present” on the Reproductive Health Act, reversing what other lawmakers described as a commitment to support the abortion rights bill, Patch reported. Kalish said at the time that he had hoped to support the bill, but “as the legislation was developed, it became clear to me that my Orthodox Jewish values and beliefs were not aligned with some core components of the legislation. I had to make a personal decision based on my conscience.”

— JTA

Police break up another wedding violating Health Ministry’s coronavirus rules

Police break up another wedding in a largely ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement that was being held in violation of the Health Ministry’s safety precautions, which are aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabbat reports that the groom was also arrested.

Police say some 150 people were taking part in the event, well above the government’s directive that no more than 10 people be in a room at a time.

The wedding was held in the Beitar Illit settlement, near Bethlehem. This is one of several cases of members of the ultra-Orthodox community failing to abide by the Health Ministry’s orders, holding large weddings and continuing to study in schools ordered closed.

“Police troops who arrived at the scene ordered the participants to disband and detained a suspect for violating a public health order and endangering the public. The owner of the event hall will be found and brought in [for questioning] in the future,” police say.

Chief rabbi says keep phones nearby on Shabbat in case of lifesaving messages

Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi says people should be prepared to answer their phones on Shabbat, despite general restrictions on using electricity, as authorities may need to contact them with lifesaving information.

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef also calls for the closure of all synagogues located inside hospitals, saying that these often small prayer spaces do not allow worshipers to abide by the Health Ministry’s recommendation that people remain at least two meters (6.6 feet) from one another.

This ruling, which the rabbi’s office refers to as “dramatic,” is based on the Jewish legal principal that saving a life — or pikuah nefesh, as it’s known in Hebrew — trumps nearly all other religious requirements.

The ruling comes amid growing criticism of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, parts of which have been found to be regularly flouting the Health Ministry’s directives that are aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry welcomes the ruling, saying the importance of a senior rabbi weighing in on the matter “speaks for itself and shows that an emergency requires accelerated activity lest — heaven forbid — a calamity occur.”

Yosef says this ruling applies not only to those who know they are at risk of the disease but also to those who don’t.

“There is no doubt that anyone who has been tested for corona must remain with their cellphone available on Shabbat, so that they can be updated on their condition and where they should go… but also whoever hasn’t been tested should remain with a cellphone available, so that if it is found that they were near a confirmed sick person and that they must go into isolation, they can be notified,” he writes.

Yosef also calls for the creation of a fleet of cars with loudspeakers to be established that can be sent into religious neighborhoods in order to inform residents that they must enter quarantine if necessary.

Teachers strike deal with government after being forced into unpaid leave

Online learning for elementary and middle school students will cease tomorrow, just five days after it began due to the coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered schools across the country.

The Israel Teacher Union has reached an agreement with the Finance Ministry, which will see 180,00 teachers be given paid vacation time through the Passover holiday in April.

In exchange, the union agrees to cut the fall holiday vacation break from 14 days to 10 days. In addition, the summer vacation will be shortened by nine days and the day off given for the Lag Ba’Omer holiday in May will also be rescinded.

If the coronavirus guidelines requiring schools to remain closed are extended beyond the Lag Ba’Omer holiday, the fall holiday vacation will be cut by an additional two days as part of the deal.

Beginning tomorrow, elementary and middle school teachers will only be allowed to continue online lessons on a voluntary basis. On Sunday, when the remote learning began, teachers had been instructed to lead the lessons, despite being placed on unpaid leave.

The agreement does not cover high schools, where teachers have been instructed to continue online and remote learning until a deal is reached between their union representative and the Finance Ministry.

A separate agreement reached by the Council for Higher Education and the Finance Ministry will see the spring semester extended into the summer vacation period in order to make up for time lost due to the coronavirus. Online courses for university students will continue as planned.

Education Ministry officials believe that with the conclusion of the coronavirus crisis, they will see significant budget cuts that will likely be reflected in teacher pay-cuts and layoffs, The Marker business daily reported.

— Jacob Magid

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.

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Israel fully closes border to tourists amid coronavirus outbreak

Israel completely closes down its borders to foreigners in a bid to contain the coronavirus pandemic beginning immediately, the Population and Immigration Authority says.

Until now, Israel has allowed tourists into the country if they were able to quarantine themselves for two weeks.

“Beginning today, the entrance of foreigners will not be allowed into Israel, even if they can prove they could remain in quarantine,” the authority says in a statement.

Israeli citizens and residents will still be able to enter the country, the authority says.

The agency says the decision, which was recommended by the Health Ministry, goes into effect immediately, with the announcement.