Israel to announce 5-week partial shutdown of economy — report
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As courts put on emergency footing, speculation Netanyahu trial could be put off

Justice minister warns there is ‘real fear of serious harm to public health’ if the court system continues as normal

Then-Justice Minister Amir Ohana delivers a speech at a Likud election rally in Or Yehuda on February 13, 2020 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Then-Justice Minister Amir Ohana delivers a speech at a Likud election rally in Or Yehuda on February 13, 2020 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

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

Iran death toll from coronavirus passes 600; Syria shuts schools

TEHRAN — Iran says Saturday the coronavirus outbreak has killed another 97 people, pushing the death toll in the country to 611, as war-ravaged Syria announced a number of strict measures despite the government saying it has no confirmed cases.

Iran is suffering from the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with 12,729 cases and even senior officials testing positive. It is a close ally of the Syrian government in the civil war, with military advisers as well as Shiite pilgrims frequently traveling between the two countries.

A spokesman for Iran’s Health Ministry announces the latest cases on state TV. Health Minister Saeed Namaki says there will be “some new restrictions” on movement into and out of cities, without elaborating.

There are concerns that the number of infections in Iran is much higher than the confirmed cases reported by the government, with some Iranian lawmakers having questioned the official toll.

The outbreak has not spared Iran’s top officials, with its senior vice president, Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials among those infected.

The Syrian government announces a series of precautionary measures, including closing schools and universities until April 2.

Even in the tenth year of its devastating civil war, Syria has continued to receive large numbers of pilgrims from Iran, Iraq and neighboring Lebanon. They particularly visit the shrine of Sayida Zaynab, the prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, in a suburb of the capital Damascus.

— AP

Netanyahu to hold meeting at 6:30 p.m. on new restrictions to fight virus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. to decide on new restrictions to combat the coronavirus, Army Radio reports.

Netanyahu will choice between ordering a general shutdown of the economy except for essential services or what the radio station calls a “Shabbat format,” which would bring around half of the economy to a halt.

The report says ministry directors-general were meeting at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem and that the government was preparing the country for an emergency situation in regards to medicine, fuel, electricity, public transportation and other essential services.

“We’re preparing logistically in the coming days to transition the country to an economy in a time of emergency,” a source involved in the deliberations is quoted saying.

Spain to announce lockdown as coronavirus infections spike — reports

MADRID — Spanish media are reporting that Spain’s government will announce today that it is placing tight restrictions on movement for the nation of 46 million people while declaring a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

News agency Europa Press and daily newspaper El Mundo report the drastic step shortly before Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is due to address the nation.

Health authorities in Spain say that coronavirus infections have reached 5,753 people, half of them in the capital, Madrid. That represents a national increase of over 1,500 in 24 hours.

— AP

Lines outside grocery stores open on Shabbat as Israelis stock up

Groceries and mini-markets that are open on Shabbat are reporting a major run on products, with long lines sometimes forming outside, Army Radio says, as Israelis stock up amid the coronavirus crisis.

In Ashdod, police deployed outside a grocery store, it reports.

Authorities have stressed that there is no prospect of food shortages in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis on Thursday there was “no reason to storm the supermarkets.”

Health Ministry: Don’t ‘storm’ supermarkets, they’ll remain open in any scenario

The director-general of the Health Ministry is calling on Israelis not “to storm” supermarkets, as the country braces for expected new far-reaching measures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Israeli citizens, supermarkets will remain open. Period. There is no reason to storm them,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov says in a statement from the ministry.

He adds: “In any possible scenario the supermarkets will remain open. I ask the public to behave responsibly and to listen to the instructions of the authorities.״

Amid shutdown plans, officials said to warn of irreparable economic damage

Government ministries are warning that a general shutdown of the economy could cause irreparable economic damage, Channel 12 reports.

The network says the Health Ministry is interested in shutting down the economy for five weeks as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus, with exceptions for certain services deemed essential.

“Shutting down the economy is possible — reviving it will be impossible,” the report quotes Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon as saying.

Netanyahu spokeswoman also tells Israelis no reason to worry about food supplies

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokeswoman is also seeking to reassure Israelis that there is “no reason or justification” to stockpile food supplies amid tightening restrictions in the country against the coronavirus.

“Food factories in Israel will continue to operate in an orderly fashion and imports of food to Israel will continue,” Shir Cohen is quoted saying by Hebrew media.

She adds that Israelis will not be prevented from going to food chains or pharmacies.

Head of farmers union says no shortage of imported goods, can produce plenty locally

The head of the Israel Farmer’s Federation also stresses there is no reason to stress over food supplies and that supermarkets will remain open regardless of any new restrictions to contain the coronavirus.

“Israeli agriculture knows how to produce all the fresh produce: vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs and dairy products. There is also no shortage of rice, sugar and meat imported from abroad,” Avshalom Vilan says.

UK set to follow Europe in banning large events as confirmed virus cases jump

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to follow other European countries in banning mass gatherings, media report today as the country registers a jump in its number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

Johnson, who has faced criticism for his country’s light-touch approach to tackling the outbreak, is expected to introduce emergency legislation next week with the ban coming into force from next weekend, government sources tell British media.

Britain’s death toll from the disease nearly doubles today, as health officials announce 10 more people have died, bringing the total number of fatalities to 21.

Official figures released today showed the country has 1,140 confirmed cases — an increase of 342 from yesterday.

— AFP

Israel said set to order closing of malls, cafes, many businesses, restrict travel to work

Among the new measures Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will announce this evening to restrict travel to work and the closure of many businesses, Channel 12 news reports.

The network says the new restrictions will include limiting the number of people who travel to their work places; the closure of all educational institutions and facilities; and the closure of cafes, restaurants and malls.

Bank of Israel: ATMs will continue to work as usual, there won’t be shortage of cash

The Bank of Israel says ATMs will continue to operate as usual, according to Hebrew media.

A source at the central bank tells Channel 13 news that even if banks close as part of new restrictions to contain the coronavirus, there won’t be a shortage of cash in ATMs.

Japan’s Abe pledges Tokyo Olympics to go ahead despite virus havoc

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is resisting pressure for changes to the Tokyo Olympics schedule even as sporting events worldwide fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.

Abe pledges today that Japan will host the Games as planned in July and says he has no immediate intention to declare a state of emergency over the virus outbreak, which has now seen more than 140,000 people infected across the globe and over 5,400 killed.

His comments come two days after US President Donald Trump suggested the Japanese capital postpone the Games for a year as the spread of the virus wreaks havoc on the sporting calendar.

“We will respond by closely coordinating with officials concerned, including the IOC (International Olympic Committee). There is no change in this,” Abe tells a news conference.

“We want to hold the Olympics as planned without any trouble by overcoming the spread of infections,” he says.

Organizers, Japanese government officials and the IOC have insisted preparations are on track and there will be no postponement or cancellation.

— AFP

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference in Tokyo on March 14, 2020. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

Israel to announce 5-week partial shutdown of economy — report

Israel is set to announce this evening a five-week partial shutdown of the economy, Channel 12 says.

Supermarkets will remain open, but malls, coffee shops and restaurants will close. Non-essential workplaces will switch to working from home, according to the report.

The network says the measures will not amount to a lockdown of citizens, but are aimed at minimizing the number of people in the same place as much as possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The purpose of the expected move is to “dilute” workplaces; if during these five weeks things the situation improves, some of these restrictions will be lifted.

White House checking temperatures of anyone in close contact with Trump, Pence

WASHINGTON — The White House announces today that it is now conducting temperature checks on anyone who is in close contact with US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

The move is being taken out of an abundance of caution in response to the coronavirus outbreak, says Judd Deere, a White House spokesman.

— AP

US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, March 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Police to reportedly enforce expected closures, travel limits

The Israel Police will be in charge of enforcing a closure of public places as part of new restrictions expected later this evening against the coronavirus, according to Channel 12 news.

The network says police will also enforce any restrictions on travel and that officers could be placed at the entrances to supermarkets as Israelis flock to grocery stores to stock up on goods, despite authorities stressing there is no shortage of food supplies.

Jordan to suspend all flights, close mosques over coronavirus

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan says it will halt flights, close its land borders and shut down schools, places of worship and public gatherings to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz tells official news agency Petra that “all flights into and out of the kingdom will be suspended from Tuesday until further notice.”

He says exceptions would be made for cargo flights and those carrying diplomats and staff of international organizations, providing they follow health ministry guidelines — including a two-week quarantine.

“All land and sea crossings and airports are closed except for cargo,” he adds, saying Jordanians in neighboring countries who needed to return could do so but will also face quarantine.

He also announces that the country’s mosques and churches will be closed and that hospital and prison visits will be suspended.

Razzaz also announces a two-week closure of all educational institutions from tomorrow, the start of the working week.

He says all public gatherings will be canceled and urges citizens to stay in their homes as much as possible.

Jordan has so far announced one case of the coronavirus, but Razzaz says the new measures were taken “in light of accelerating global developments, to protect the nation and its citizens.”

— AFP

Economy minister says workplaces with up to 10 employees can operate as usual

Economy Minister Eli Cohen tells Channel 12 news that workplaces with up to 10 employees will be able to continue operating as usual under new restrictions expected to be announced later to contain the coronavirus.

Cohen says that imports and local food production will also continue as usual.

He stresses Israel will not be imposing a lockdown and that the measures are meant to minimize the impact on the economy.

“In larger work places, we want them reduce numbers. If people can work from home, they should,” Cohen says. “There will be a reduction of people allowed onto buses. We want people to keep a two-meter distance from each other.”

As he speaks, the network shows “hundreds of people” waiting patiently outside a supermarket in Rishon Lezion for it to open after Shabbat.

Cohen tells the station “there’s no need for this. We have supplies for months.”

“All the supermarkets, all the pharmacies are staying open,” he adds.

Outgoing medical chief warns against coronavirus panic, ‘exaggerated’ decisions

“Tens of thousands of people are not going to die” in Israel, the outgoing president of the Israeli Medical Association, Professor Leonid Eidelman, tells Channel 12.

Some of the decisions that Israel has been taking “are exaggerated,” he charges.

There is a pandemic, including in Israel, he allows, but “we will pay a heavy price” for the stress on people in isolation and the strain on the medical service.

“The panic over the coronavirus is more damaging than the actual coronavirus,” he says.

Prof Shuki Shemer, the former director of the Health Ministry, sitting alongside him, says “this is a rare occasion on which I disagree with you” and “in any case we need to support the decisions taken by the authorities.”

Deliberations at PM’s office on new coronavirus restrictions underway

Deliberations have begun at the Prime Minister’s Office ahead of an expected announcement this evening of new far-reaching restrictions to combat the coronavirus.

The PMO says among those taking part in the meeting are the defense, finance, economy and public security ministers, as well as the national security adviser, governor of the Bank of Israel, the directors-general of multiple government ministries and other agency heads.

Netanyahu will give a televised statement at 8:30 p.m., his office says.

14 more coronavirus cases confirmed, bringing total in Israel to 178

The Health Ministry announces 14 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing total number of confirmed infections in Israel to 178.

The ministry says 131 people are being hospitalized and that another 12 are on their way to medical centers. It adds 31 people are being treated at home and four people have recovered from the virus and have been released.

Eleven of those infected are in moderate condition and two are in serious condition.

US extends European travel ban to UK, Ireland starting Tuesday

WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence announces that a travel ban imposed on European nations over the coronavirus pandemic would be extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland starting Tuesday.

“Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal residents can come home,” Pence tells a White House news conference, adding that such people would be “funneled through specific airports and processed.”

A 30-day US ban on travel from the EU’s Schengen border-free zone took effect today, but notably excludes Britain and Ireland.

Trump had earlier confirmed the ban would be extended to those countries as the pandemic progresses, saying: “They’ve had a little bit of activity, unfortunately.”

— AFP

New restrictions to reportedly include requiring workers to be 2 meters apart

As part of new restrictions to be announced tonight, Channel 12 news says workplaces will be asked to thin down the number of employees so that there is at least two meters between them.

The network says specific instructions will be issued to workplaces and that 70 percent of workers at government offices will work from home.

According to the report, the Health Ministry wants to close all public transportation, but other ministries strongly oppose this. What’s reportedly likely are limitations on how many riders allowed on public transport.

The government is still debating whether to close kindergartens.

Dramatic disagreements reported among ministries about steps Israel must take

Channel 12 reports wide differences of opinion between the director general of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar Siman-Tov on one side, and other ministry chiefs on the other, about how drastic the imminent new steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus should be.

The key concern is to impress upon Israelis that they can stop the spread of the virus if they keep their distance from each other — at a minimum of two meters.

Bar Siman-Tov, an economist, is said to have been pushing for the near-complete shuttering of the economy, sending all but essential workers home, despite the economic impact, arguing that this is the only way to prevent a surge in contagion.

The other ministry directors, by contrast, are advocating a phased approach. Even if Israel ultimately ends up with a complete shutdown, they are reportedly saying, they need time to gear up for it. They have innumerable questions that will need answering first, they are saying: What, for instance, is to become of the self-employed? Will battered women be sent home from crowded shelters? How will tech workers work from home, if they require the kind of fast internet not widely available in residential areas? And dozens upon dozens of other concerns.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently hosting a discussion on such issues, ahead of a statement expected in an hour or so.

It seems clear that “places of entertainment” — cafes, restaurants, malls — are to be closed. Many government workers are to be asked to work from home. Workplaces are to be asked to thin out — so that workers are two meters apart.

It also seems clear that supermarkets and essential services will continue to function.

What has yet to be decided, among other things, is whether to close kindergartens, and what restrictions to place on public transport — again, with a guiding concern being to ensure people keep their distance.

As Shabbat ended, many Israelis headed to supermarkets, despite assurances that they are staying open and that there is no prospect of a food shortage.

Netanyahu, says Channel 12, seeing footage of the crowds waiting for the supermarkets to open, is dismayed because here, too, is an instance of people congregating in large numbers, close to each other, potentially spreading the virus.

Trump takes coronavirus test, awaiting results

WASHINGTON — After days of resistance, US President Donald Trump says he was tested for the coronavirus as the White House stepped up precautions after his direct and indirect exposures to COVID-19.

Trump also tells reporters at a White House briefing that he had his temperature taken before stepping into the room and it was “totally normal.”

Trump had held out on testing for days, despite his interactions with at least three people who have since tested positive. Trump had said yesterday that he would probably take the test at some point, but the White House doctor said as recently as last night that no test was called for because he wasn’t exhibiting symptoms.

But the US president says he’d gone ahead with it after repeated questions from reporters at a news conference yesterday.

— AP

US President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on coronavirus in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, March 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Number of coronavirus cases worldwide passes 150,000

PARIS — The number of coronavirus cases worldwide passes 150,000 today, driven by a spike in infections in Italy, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources.

Italy announced 3,497 new cases today, bringing the global total to 151,797, with 5,764 deaths across 137 countries and territories.

Italy, the worst-hit country outside of China where the outbreak began in December, has now registered a total of 21,157 cases and 1,441 deaths.

— AFP

Italy reports 20% jump in coronavirus cases to more than 21,000

Italy reports its biggest day-to-day jump in number of infected cases of COVID-19. National health authorities tells reporters today that health officials recorded 3,497 new cases in 24 hours. That’s roughly a 20% increase in cases from yesterday. A little more than half of those new cases occurred in Lombardy, the populous northern region which has been hardest hit in Europe’s worst outbreak. Italy’s total cases now tally 21,157.

The death toll rises by 175. Yesterday, the same authorities had predicted glumly that Italy would still see a jump in cases despite a national lockdown that began on March 9, barely two days after severe restrictions on personal movement in the north. They cited irresponsible behavior by many citizens, who despite the earlier warnings not to gather in large numbers, headed to beaches or sky resorts, and hung out together in town squares, especially after the closure of schools.

AP

Government said to get green light to digitally track virus patients

The government has reportedly received legal permission to track coronavirus patients using their cellphones and other digital devices, Channel 12 news reports.

Knesset speaker insists MKs to be sworn-in Monday

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says Monday’s swearing-in of the new Knesset will go ahead as planned, as new measures are expected to be announced against the coronavirus.

“The importance of parliamentary oversight during a period of crisis is not in doubt,” he says.

Edelstein adds that a decision on how the swearing-in will be conducted will be made after a situational assessment tomorrow.

The Knesset on Thursday said the 120 MKs will be sworn-in in three separate batches of 40 lawmakers, to comply with Health Ministry guidelines limiting gatherings to 100 people.

Netanyahu statement delayed until 9 p.m.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s televised statement to the press has been delayed 30 minutes until 9 p.m.

Netanyahu is expected to announced a number of new restrictions against the coronavirus.

Health Ministry raises number of confirmed virus cases to 193

The Health Ministry says there are 193 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, 15 more than it announced about two hours ago.

Liberman calls for Likud-Blue and White emergency government to deal with coronavirus

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman calls for the formation of a Likud-Blue and White government to deal with the coronavirus.

“In light of the situation and order to ease the decision-making process, we call for the formation of a unity government that will only be comprised of Likud and Blue and White,” Liberman writes on Twitter.

He says this government “will only deal with the coronavirus crisis. Our support for the government will be guaranteed even if we aren’t part of it.”

Netanyahu begins televised statement on coronavirus

Prime Minister Netanyahu begins his statement on the coronavirus.

“We are still of course at the height of an international crisis,” Netanyahu says in remarks broadcast from his office. “We’re in a battle for the public’s health.”

Netanyahu touts Israel’s “dynamic” efforts to contain the coronavirus and says its measures to close borders have been adopted by other countries.

“We’re in a very good situation relative to the world,” he says.

Netanyahu says Israelis will need to adopt ‘new day-to-day routine’

Netanyahu says Israelis will need to adopt a “new day-to-day routine” in order to contain the coronavirus.

“The goal here is saving life,” he says. “We’re in a war. Our enemy is the virus.”

Netanyahu says government will use ‘digital measures’ to fight coronavirus

Netanyahu says the government will use “digital measures” it has employed against terrorism to fight the coronavirus.

He says these measures, which he doesn’t specify, will allow authorities to know who people infected with the virus came into contact.

The Justice Ministry has signed off on this technology, he says.

Netanyahu: Israelis should stay 2 meters away from each other

Netanyahu reiterates that Israelis should maintain good hygiene and says people to maintain a distance of two meters from each other to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Netanyahu: Essential services to continue, leisure activities to stop Sunday

Netanyahu says essential services will continue and that there will not be a shortage of food or medicines.

Banking services will also continue as usual and gas stations will remain open.

He says all leisure activities will be halted beginning tomorrow.

Whoever doesn’t have to go to work, shouldn’t, he says — in order to ensure that two-meter “social distancing.”

Entire entertainment, education sectors closed; firms urged to let staff work from home

Speaking after Netanyahu is Sigal Sadetsky, the head of public health services in the Health Ministry.

“The infection is person-to-person,” she says of the coronavirus, urging Israelis to practice so-called social distancing.

Gatherings must be limited to 10 people, she indicates.

Shai Babad, director-general of the Finance Ministry, says educational institutions such as kindergartens that were not ordered closed Thursday will be shuttered.

Also to be closed from tomorrow morning, he says, rattling off a list, are malls, cinemas, hotels, weddings, group trips, conferences, health clubs. The entire cultural and entertainment sector, he sums up.

He says private sector businesses are not being closed, but urges executives to enable their employees to work from home as much as possible.

Babad also calls for workers to maintain a distance of two meters from each other.

Netanyahu again calls on political rivals to join ‘national emergency government’

Again taking the mic, Netanyahu says the government is working to minimize the economic damage from the new restrictions.

“It could be much worse before it gets better,” he warns.

Netanyahu repeats his call for a “national emergency government” and calls on his political rivals to immediately hold coalition negotiations.

New restrictions to also include ban on gatherings of 10+ people

Among the other new restrictions introduced this evening is a ban on gatherings of over 10 people in the same place.

There were no new restrictions announced on public transportation; Netanyahu said this matter was still under discussion.

Health Ministry: More restrictions likely against coronavirus

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, director-general of the Health Ministry tells Channel 12 news there will likely be further restrictions to come after a raft of stringent measures announced this evening to combat the coronavirus.

France announces closure of restaurants, cinemas and retails stores

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announces that France is shutting down all restaurants, cafes, cinemas and retail shops that are not essential, starting tomorrow, to face the accelerated spread of the virus in the country.

He says grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and other public services including transports will be allowed to remain open.

French authorities had already shut down all schools, banned gatherings of more than 100 people and advised people to limit their social life. Philippe says these measures were “not well implemented.”

“We must show all together more discipline,” he adds.

Philippe confirms that nationwide municipal elections are maintained tomorrow but with special measures to keep people at a safe distance and clean shared material.

Health authorities say more that 4,500 cases have been confirmed in France, including 91 deaths.

— AP

New York reports first death in state from coronavirus

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state has reported its first death in the coronavirus pandemic, an 82-year-old woman who had been previously hospitalized with emphysema.

Cuomo says that she died yesterday at a hospital in New York City.

More than 500 New Yorkers have been officially been diagnosed so far with COVID-19. But Cuomo says he believes perhaps tens of thousands of New Yorkers already have the disease.

The true number of people with the virus in the state is unknown because testing is still being done across the US on a very limited basis.

— AP

Blue and White said open to joining emergency government led by Netanyahu

Members of the Blue and White party are not ruling out joining a government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu amid the coronavirus crisis, in an apparent softening of their stance toward the Likud leader.

“We’re prepared to join an emergency government on the condition it is comprised equally of the right-wing and center-left blocs, or only leans on Likud and Blue and White,” Blue and White sources tell the Haaretz daily.

“We’ll agree to sit in an emergency government under Netanyahu that has a short expiration date — or a government that serves for four years and includes a rotation [of prime ministers],” the sources add.

Gantz has opposed joining a government led by Netanyahu during Israel’s prolonged political deadlock due to the premier’s legal woes, a stance the Blue and White reiterated after elections earlier this month.

AG said to approve use of electronic surveillance to track infected

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has signed off on the government using surveillance measures to track Israelis infected with the coronavirus, the Haaretz daily reports.

According to the newspaper, the surveillance will be likely done by the police and overseen by the Justice Ministry, with the Shin Bet security service possibly assisting.

Quoting legal officials, the report says police have already tracked cellphone locations to verify coronavirus patients’ testimonies as to their whereabouts.

Spain imposes near total lockdown to fight coronavirus

MADRID — Spain bans people from leaving home except to go to work or buy essential supplies, in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announces the restrictions on movement following a huge spike in the number of cases with over 5,700 people infected in this nation of some 46 million people.

— AFP

The Gran Via remains empty in Madrid on March 14, 2020, after regional authorities ordered all shops in the region be shuttered from through March 26, save for those selling food, medicine and gas stations stations, in order to slow the coronavirus spread. (Javier Sobriano/AFP)

IDF to reduce number of nonessential troops at bases

The Israel Defense Forces says it will be scaling back the number of nonessential soldiers on bases beginning tomorrow in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi ordered the heads of the military’s branches, directorates and regional commands to assess how many “homefront” soldiers and workers — who serve in largely administrative and other less critical positions — they actually require in order to keep their units functioning.

“An emphasis will be placed on bringing in soldiers and workers who are necessary solely to preserve readiness, functional continuity and operational processes,” the military says.

The IDF says this is due to go into effect tomorrow. Soldiers will be informed whether or not to arrive to their bases by their commanders.

“Additional instructions will be sent out as needed,” the IDF says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Meretz leader calls on AG to stop gov’t from digital tracking of virus patients

The head of the left-wing Meretz says he has appealed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to stop the government from using electronic surveillance to track Israelis sick with the coronavirus, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said authorities would do this evening.

On Twitter, MK Nitzan Horowitz writes that such surveillance shouldn’t take place without parliamentary and judicial oversight.

“Monitoring citizens with the help of information databases and advanced technology is a harsh blow to privacy and basic liberty. Therefore, this is forbidden in democratic countries,” he says.

Horowitz says that even in an emergency, such “intrusive measures” should not be used in a sweeping manner and need clear rules regarding how information is used.

“This measures are prohibited from being used before they’re approved and overseen by a Knesset committee,” he says.

He also calls for a Supreme Court justice to head any legal team that oversees the surveillance.

New confirmed coronavirus cases include family of 7

The Health Ministry says seven of the new confirmed coronavirus cases are a couple from the Jerusalem-area and their five children.

They were all infected after being exposed to a person confirmed to have the virus.

The ministry said people who had close contact with the family have been personally contacted.

Another IDF soldier confirmed to have coronavirus, bringing total to 4

The Israel Defense Forces says that another soldier has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, bringing the total number of service members with the disease to four.

It appears the serviceman — a career soldier — contracted the virus during a trip abroad.

Upon arriving in Israel, the soldier went straight into quarantine without visiting his unit and was later diagnosed with the disease, the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Shin Bet: ‘Digital tracking’ won’t be used to enforce quarantines

The Shin Bet security service says the “digital tracking” tools that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed using to combat the spread of the coronavirus would not be used to enforce quarantines on people.

Earlier this evening, Netanyahu said these monitoring tools, which are normally used solely for counterterrorism purposes, would be brought into service to track carriers of the disease in order to determine who else they may have infected.

The Shin Bet confirms that this dramatic course of action, which potentially has significant privacy implications, is indeed being considered.

“It should be stressed that in any case, there is no intention of using these capabilities to enforce or monitor quarantine instructions,” the security service says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Video shows man in Tel Aviv being arrested for violating quarantine

The Kan public broadcaster publishes video of a man being arrested by police officers wearing special protective gear in Tel Aviv for allegedly violating his home quarantine.

Blue and White’s Ya’alon: Netanyahu exploiting virus for ‘personal political needs’

Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon, No. 3 on the centrist slate, accuses Prime Minister Netanyahu of exploiting the coronavirus outbreak for “personal political needs,” after the premier called on Blue and White to join an emergency government to deal with the virus.

“Whoever criticized us for warning we would turn into Erdogan’s Turkey should digest and internalize the cynical exploitation of the coronavirus, for personal political needs, by a defendant before his trial,” tweets Ya’alon.

He was referring to the opening of Netanyahu’s trial Tuesday on graft charges, which apparently could be delayed in light of the far-reaching restrictions taken by the government to combat the virus.

Ya’alon was a former Likud member before Netanyahu replaced him as defense minister in 2016 with Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman, and has since become a vocal critic of the prime minister.

As courts put on emergency footing, speculation Netanyahu trial could be put off

Justice Minister Amir Ohana declares a 24-hour “state of emergency” in Israel’s court system, “as part of the national effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

The decision means that courts can only sit for urgent hearings on arrest and remand orders, administrative detention orders, offenses under legislation “relating to the special emergency” and certain interim relief in civil matters.

A statement from Ohana’s office says the decision was made in accordance with Health Ministry recommendations and that “there is a real fear of serious harm to public health” if the court system continues as normal.

While the emergency measures will initially only be in place for 24 hours, the statement said that the justice minister will assess the situation tomorrow to decide “on how to move forward.”

If the measures are extended beyond Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, due to begin that day, will be delayed.

— Raoul Wootliff

Number of coronavirus cases in Israel hits 200 — Health Ministry

The Health Ministry says the number of Israelis confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus is now 200, adding five new cases to the toll.

Of them, two are in serious condition, 11 in moderate condition, 178 are displaying mild symptoms and four have recovered and were sent home after testing negative for the virus.

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Israel to announce 5-week partial shutdown of economy — report

Israel is set to announce this evening a five-week partial shutdown of the economy, Channel 12 says.

Supermarkets will remain open, but malls, coffee shops and restaurants will close. Non-essential workplaces will switch to working from home, according to the report.

The network says the measures will not amount to a lockdown of citizens, but are aimed at minimizing the number of people in the same place as much as possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The purpose of the expected move is to “dilute” workplaces; if during these five weeks things the situation improves, some of these restrictions will be lifted.