Italy records lowest death toll in a week
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PM on eased restrictions: If there’s a new outbreak, we’ll have to reimpose them

Netanyahu says situation will be reassessed in two weeks time, when government will need to decide if it will remove more rules or snap back the old ones

People wear protective masks at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, on April 18, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
People wear protective masks at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, on April 18, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

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

Italy records lowest death toll in a week

Italy reports 482 new deaths over the past 24 hours, down from 575 on yesterday’s figures and the lowest tally since April 12, the country’s Civil Protection Agency says.

There are 3,493 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, bringing the total in Europe’s worst hit country to 175,925.

In all, 23,227 people have now died in Italy since the outbreak began.

Doctor’s aide at Sheba Medical Center in critical condition with COVID-19

A doctor’s aide at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan is in critical condition after being infected with the coronavirus.

The 33-year old is on an ECMO life support machine that replaces the function of the heart and lungs, the hospital says. She is believed to have been infected during her work at the hospital.

The case is the most serious among Israeli medical practitioners since the coronavirus crisis began.

According to Health Ministry statistics published this morning, 1,328 medical staff are currently in quarantine, including 176 physicians and 430 nurses.

Blue and White MK: Netanyahu can finalize coalition deal in 30 minutes if he wants to

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper says a coalition deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud could be wrapped up “in half an hour” if Netanyahu wants to seal it.

He says he and his party leader Benny Gantz have not given up hope that such an emergency alliance will be sealed, even though the sides have been negotiating for weeks. President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday gave the Knesset a final 21 days to agree on a candidate for prime minister, otherwise Israel will head into its fourth round of general elections in 16 months.

Tropper says much of the negotiation has been over matters regarding Netanyahu “personally” — a reference to the prime minister’s reported efforts to protect himself via some kind of legislation, as part of the deal, if the High Court intervenes to prevent him from continuing as prime minister because he is under indictment.

If the talks fail, Tropper says, Blue and White will at least know that it did everything in its power to avert a descent into unnecessary elections.

PM to give press conference at 9 p.m. on easing of virus restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to give a press conference at 9 p.m. where he will announce an easing of measures taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Most workers in the manufacturing and service industries will be allowed back to work, albeit under various restrictions, according to Hebrew media reports.

Netanyahu will announce that shops selling electrical goods, office equipment, opticians, phone and computer equipment will be allowed to open, while clothing, jewelry, shoe and toy shops will remain closed. Shops will only be allowed to open if they are facing the street, while malls and restaurants will remain closed, as will places of entertainment.

Restrictions will be set on the number of customers allowed in a shop at any given time.

It is not yet clear if the new rules will take effect on Sunday or Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus, March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

TV report claims Likud softening on coalition terms

In an unsourced report, Channel 13 news claims Likud negotiators have given up on their demand for legislation, as part of their possible coalition deal with Blue and White, to protect Benjamin Netanyahu from High Court intervention against him serving as prime minister because of the indictments against him.

The report says efforts are being made to convene a meeting this evening between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

Erdan says no point to 500 meter restriction

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says people should be allowed to conduct sports activities, adding that there is no point to prohibiting people to go beyond 500 meters from their homes if certain shops are expected to open under the easing of the virus restrictions.

“As soon as we decide to allow commerce and shops to open there is no reason to restricting people to 500 meters from their homes and it is not possible to enforce that limitation, so I will act to have the restriction annulled when the Cabinet meets tonight,” Erdan tweets.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan visits a temporary checkpoint near the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, April 7, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Coronavirus death toll climbs to 164

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Israel currently stands at 164, the Health Ministry reports.

The total number of confirmed cases is 13,265, up 283 over the past 24 hours.

The number of serious cases is down 2.4% to 164, while the number of patients on ventilators is down 7.4% to 113. The number of hospitalized patients is 586.

The number of patients who have recovered is 3,456.

Israel to file complaint to Security Council over damage to Lebanon border fence

Israel is set to file a complaint to the United Nations Security Council after the Hezbollah terror group attempted to breach the fence along the Lebanese border on Friday, says Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

“The State of Israel sees with great severity the attempts to breach the border fence and expects the government of Lebanon to exercise its responsibility and prevent threats of this kind to Israel’s security and to the security of the entire region,” says Katz.

The army on Friday reported damage to the border fence with Lebanon in several locations, but said that no one had crossed into Israel.

Hamas wants ventilators as part of prisoner swap deal — report

Hamas wants ventilators to treat seriously ill coronavirus patients, along with other advanced medical equipment, as part of any prisoner swap deal with Israel, Channel 13 reports, citing Palestinian sources.

According to the report, the terrorist group also wants Israel to release prisoners with blood on their hands as part of any possible deal to hand over the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in action in the 2014 Gaza war, and release two Israeli citizens who crossed into Gaza of their own accord.

Meanwhile, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh tells a Qatari television channel that “if Israel is serious, a deal can be reached because we are serious.”

Trudeau says Canada-US border to remain closed for another month

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the US and Canada have agreed to keep the border closed to nonessential travel for another 30 days.

Trudeau says it will keep people on both sides of the border safe amid the pandemic. US President Donald Trump said Wednesday the US-Canada border will be among the first borders to open. Nearly 200,000 people normally cross the border daily.

The US has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world. The US and Canada agreed last month to limit border crossings to essential travel amid the pandemic. The agreement was due to expire this week.

Vehicles wait to cross the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, March 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

AP

Gantz tells confidants about major breakthrough in coalition talks — report

Channel 12 reports that Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz told confidants that a significant breakthrough has been made in talks over a national unity government with Likud. The report claims the breakthrough brings the sides closer to signing a deal.

The report comes just a day after Blue and White MK Chili Tropper said in a TV interview that if a deal is not reached by Monday his party will push legislation that could block Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu from running for prime minister again by establishing a two-term limit and preventing a premier from serving while under indictment.

“On Monday we will renew legislation – let each side make its own calculations,” Tropper said.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabia, March 07 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu: Positive results enable us to begin easing virus restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu begins his broadcast to the nation.

Opening his remarks, he says that starting tomorrow restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus will begin to be eased.

Israel is ranked very high among OECD countries in the way it has handled the coronavirus. The mortality rate is among the lowest of OECD countries, and the rate of testing is among the highest in the world, says Netanyahu.

“Until today we took measures to restrict movement… to reduce the number of people at work… to track confirmed cases.

“These measures have proven themselves… these positive results enable us to ease the restrictions gradually,” he continues.

Incidentally, as the TV cameras began broadcasting, Netanyahu sniffed a few times, seemed to search in vain in his pockets for a tissue, and then quickly ran a finger beneath his nose.

PM says he will continue to work toward a national unity government 

“Until we find a vaccine for the coronavirus we will have to live with a coronavirus routine and for that reason I will continue to work toward a national unity government,” says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his press conference tonight.

“I’m working around the clock to fight the coronavirus and I have seen that a national unity government is the only way to achieve victory in this battle,” he continues. 

“I want unity, all the rest is spin,” he says. 

Netanyahu says businesses will need to uphold new ‘Purple Badge’ to reopen

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov announce a new “Purple Badge” for businesses.

This will include all new guidelines which stores and workplaces will need to adhere to in order to reopen.

Netanyahu indicates that businesses will not need to apply and wait for the “Purple Badge” in order to reopen, but rather to ensure they meet its requirements.

PM: Eased rules allow more workers; outdoor prayer quorums; some stores to open

Prime Minister Netanyahu sets out the general steps now to be introduced.

1. Raising the proportion of workers allowed at their workplaces from 15% to 30%;

2. Allowing high-tech and certain other workplaces to return more of their workforce, subject to certain requirements;

3. Introducing a certification process for workplaces where staff are properly protected;

4. Reopening some stores — including those selling electrical goods, household goods, opticians, and others. Shops on the streets, he stresses, not in malls or markets;

5. Prioritizing government offices that assist the private sector;

6. Restarting special education programs for groups of up to three children, and allowing kids from three families to be looked after by a single day-carer;

7. Adjusting public transportation as appropriate;

8. Allowing sport in pairs;

9. Allowing outdoor prayers of up to 10 — “a minyan” — with two meters between worshipers, wearing masks;

10. Working on a plan to deal strategically with elderly care homes and facilities.

These measures are to be approved tonight, he says, and will remain in force for two weeks.

If the numbers are still encouraging, further eased steps will be introduced then. If not, “we’ll have to go backward.”

Health Ministry chief urges those over 67 not to go back to work

Despite the new eased rules, Health Ministry’s Moshe Bar Siman-Tov urges people over the age of 67 to stay at home for now.

“Don’t come in to work,” he says of the at-risk age group.

Netanyahu: If there is another outbreak, we will have to reimpose restrictions

Prime Minister Netanyahu says that the situation will be reassessed in two weeks time and if it continues to improve there will be a further easing of restrictions. But if there is another outbreak or a worsening of the statistics, tougher restrictions will be reimposed. 

Netanyahu says that Independence Day and Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism events will take place without crowds. 

He also asks Israel’s Muslim citizens, as was the case with Jewish citizens over Passover, not to hold events beyond the nuclear family, and to celebrate the holiday without gatherings.

Health Ministry chief: We will close down workplaces if high-risk individuals come to work

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov says that people belonging to high-risk groups may not return to work. He says that workplaces will be closed down if high-risk individuals are found to come to work. 

High-risk individuals include those with coronary disease, high blood pressure and people who have been hospitalized in the last six months.

Bar Siman-Tov reiterates that it is mandatory to wear a face mask and to maintain a distance of at least two meters.

Finance ministry chief: Businesses will have to supervise themselves

Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad says businesses will have to supervise themselves and that the government will not check adherence to the new “Purple Badge” guidelines.

He says that if businesses do not stick to the guidelines, “we will have to return to closure.”

According to the new directives, businesses will have to take customers’ temperatures and limit the number of people in a store. Businesses that open tomorrow will be places considered to be at low-risk of infection spreading, says Babad. 

He adds that services and manufacturing industries will be allowed to increase their workforce by 30% of what it was prior to the crisis. 

44 jihadists found dead in their cells in Chad 

Forty-four members of Boko Haram who were taken during a recent operation launched by Chad against the jihadist group were found dead in their cells Thursday morning in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, the country’s attorney general says Saturday evening.

“Thursday morning, their jailers told us that 44 prisoners had been found dead in their cell,” Attorney General Youssouf Tom says on national television. 

He says the dead prisoners were part of a group 58 Boko Haram jihadists who were taken during a recent army operation against the jihadist group in the Lake Chad area. 

— AFP

Report: Nursing homes to be overseen by new government body

Channel 12 reports that a unified body subject to direct cabinet control and not to the ministries of health and welfare will be set up to handle the coronavirus crisis in elderly-living facilities as part of a plan formed by Ichilov Medical Center’s Director-General Prof. Ronni Gamzu.

The plan to handle the situation in elderly-living facilities, where some 40 percent of coronavirus deaths in Israel have occurred, also includes an expanded role for the IDF Home Front Command, which will provide training, assistance and equipment.

The Mishan assisted living facility in Beersheba, where 14 residents have died of COVID-19. (Screen grab/Channel 13 news)

Likud said to warn Blue and White against advancing bills that would block PM from forming government

Coalition talks between the Likud and Blue and White parties is set to resume this morning.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Likud has warned Blue and White it will immediately call off the talks if the latter advances legislation that would bar a Knesset member under indictment from forming a government, which would block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from doing so.

“This is a red line for us,” Likud sources are quoted as saying.

A Channel 12 news report last night said Blue and White chief Benny Gantz told associates that his party and Likud were on the “brink of a deal” to form a coalition, though past reports that the sides were close to an agreement have not come to fruition.

Japan passes 10,000 domestic coronavirus cases

TOKYO — Japan’s health ministry says that 568 new cases of the coronavirus were reported the day before, bringing the domestic total to 10,361. A combined total including 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo earlier this year came to 11,073, with 174 deaths.

The number of cases is still relatively small compared to the US and Europe, but that’s only as many as Japan’s limited testing has detected and actual infections are believed to be far more widespread.

Japan has finally started setting up additional testing centers in Tokyo and elsewhere, allowing primary care doctors to send suspected patients directly to testing stations rather than having them go through public health centers to screen eligibility, an earlier requirement that had prevented and delayed testing and treatment of many people.

Experts have noted that their strategy of going after clusters to trace infections is no longer effective to keep up with the surging cases and more tests are needed.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday expanded a state of emergency, which was limited to Tokyo and six other urban areas, to all of Japan, in a bid to prevent further spread of the virus nationwide amid concerns that hospitals are already overburdened with influx of patients.

It took two months for the cases to reach 1,000 since the first case was detected in mid-January, but the spread of the infections has accelerated in recent weeks and the number doubled from around 5,000 in just 10 days.

— AP

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Italy records lowest death toll in a week

Italy reports 482 new deaths over the past 24 hours, down from 575 on yesterday’s figures and the lowest tally since April 12, the country’s Civil Protection Agency says.

There are 3,493 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, bringing the total in Europe’s worst hit country to 175,925.

In all, 23,227 people have now died in Italy since the outbreak began.