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Israel signs deal with Chinese firm to enable 10,000 virus tests a day

Equipment worth $25 million will allow boosted screening; to be installed in six different labs in coming weeks

A coronavirus test being performed. (Health Ministry)
A coronavirus test being performed. (Health Ministry)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s developments as they unfolded.

80-year old dies of coronavirus bringing Israeli death toll to 58

Petah Tikvah’s Sharon Hospital announces that an 80-year-old man has died from COVID-19 .

The hospital says he suffered from pre-existing conditions and had been on a ventilator for a number of weeks.

The death brings the Israeli death toll from the virus to 58.

Cabinet set to approve nationwide lockdown, seder night curfew

Ministers will meet remotely at 10 a.m. to approve barring Israeli’s from leaving their homes during the first night of Passover in latest push to tackle coronavirus outbreak.

Announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night, the “general lockdown” is set to start at 4 p.m. today and extend until 7 a.m. on Friday. Israelis will not be allowed to leave their cities, and residents of some Jerusalem neighborhoods will not be allowed to leave those neighborhoods.

In addition, a tighter restriction will come into force at 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening, the night of the Passover seder, under which everybody “will stay at home.” This curfew will end at 7 a.m. on Thursday.

— Raoul Wootliff

Japan to declare state of emergency over coronavirus

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to declare a state of emergency in parts of the country, including Tokyo, over a spike in coronavirus infections.

“I have decided that a situation gravely affecting people’s life and the economy has occurred. This evening, I plan to call a government headquarters meeting and declare a state of emergency,” Abe says.

He announced the plan yesterday, citing “rapid increases of new infections, particularly in urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka.”

A man walks by an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, March 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

The declaration is expected to take effect from midnight and will empower governors of seven affected regions to ask people to stay inside and businesses to close their doors.

But it stops far short of the sort of lockdown seen in parts of Europe and the United States, with no enforcement mechanism to keep people inside or shutter business, nor penalties for those who fail to comply.

— AFP

US coronavirus deaths pass bleak 10,000 milestone

Emerging as one of the world’s worst-hit nations, the United States surges past a grim milestone of 10,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Authorities began the week by telling frightened communities to brace for one of the worst periods yet in an outbreak that has not yet reached its peak.

Bodies are moved to a refrigeration truck serving as a temporary morgue at Wyckoff Hospital in the Borough of Brooklyn on April 6, 2020 in New York. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, which has been keeping a running tally of coronavirus numbers, says more than 368,000 US cases have been confirmed, with 10,986 deaths by late Monday.

Only Italy (16,523) and Spain (13,341) have seen more of their citizens killed by the pandemic.

— AFP

Diplomats say UN Security Council to hold first coronavirus talks Thursday

Diplomats say that the UN Security Council will on Thursday hold its first meeting on the coronavirus pandemic — by videoconference — after weeks of divisions among its five permanent members.

Last week, exasperated by the back-and-forth that has paralyzed the council, including between China and the United States, nine of the 10 non-permanent members formally requested a meeting featuring a presentation by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The meeting will be held behind closed doors at 3:00 pm EST on Thursday.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon participating, via videoconference, in a UN Security Council discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, March 30, 2020 (courtesy Israel’s Permanent Mission to the UN)

The New York-based Security Council has been teleworking since March 12 as the new coronavirus spreads rapidly in the city.

Last week, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution calling for “international cooperation” and “multilateralism” in the fight against COVID-19 — the first text to come out of the world body since the outbreak began.

— AFP

Denmark to start easing coronavirus restrictions

Denmark says it will gradually lift restrictions put in place to fight the coronavirus, starting with the reopening of daycare nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools from April 15.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says that according to health authorities “it is appropriate and justified to start a slow opening. But on condition that everyone keeps their distance and washes their hands.”

The reopening of schools will take place gradually, with kindergartens and primary schools opening from April 15 and middle and high schools waiting until May 10.

Bars, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping centers, hairdressers and massage parlors will remain closed, and gatherings of more than 10 people will still be prohibited.

— AFP

Sea of Galilee water level rises after night of heavy rain

The water level of the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main fresh water reservoir, has risen by an additional centimeter after a night of heavy rain in parts of the north of the country, according to the National Water Authority.

A lack of rain over many years had seen the lake’s level drop sharply but the level has steadily risen since the beginning of the winter. It is now just 30 centimeters below the “full” line.

The promenade in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias, by the Sea of Galilee, on January 30, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Edelstein: The people of Israel are praying for Boris Johnson

Former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein says in a tweet that the people of Israel are praying for the “full recovery” of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was admitted to intensive care yesterday after he was hospitalized with coronavirus.

“Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is a great friend of Israel. The people of Israel pray for his full recovery,” Edelstein says.

Nationwide lockdown to be extended to Saturday night, curfew restrictions to begin early

The nationwide lockdown set to begin today will be extended beyond what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday, and restrictions for the Seder night curfew set to begin tomorrow will start two hours earlier than declared.

Netanyahu said last night that the “general lockdown” was set to start at 4 p.m. today and extend until 7 a.m. on Friday while a tighter restriction would come into force at 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening, the night of the Passover Seder, under which everybody “will stay at home.” This curfew will end at 7 a.m. on Thursday.

However, Hebrew media, citing a draft of the measures to be approved by ministers, says the lockdown will now only end on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. The reports also say restrictions on traffic will begin at Tuesday at 2 p.m., two hours earlier than cited by Netanyahu.

— Raoul Wootliff

Number of virus cases in Israel rises to 9,006; 153 in serious condition

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 9,006, up nearly 600 from yesterday.

The Health Ministry says 153 people are in serious condition, 113 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 181 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms. So far, 546 Israelis have recovered from the virus.

According to the ministry’s figures, 59 Israelis have died from COVID-19.

95-year-old dies of coronavirus, bringing Israeli death toll to 59

Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital announces that a 95-year-old woman has died from COVID-19.

The hospital says she suffered from pre-existing conditions.

The death brings the Israeli death toll from the virus to 59.

New York cathedral to be used as field hospital

A vast cathedral in central New York is being converted into a field hospital during the coronavirus pandemic, its dean says, as the US struggles to cope with the mounting crisis.

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan will house nine climate-controlled medical tents in its 600-foot-long nave and subterranean crypt, dean Clifton Daniel tells the New York Times.

The tents will be able to hold a total of at least 200 patients beneath the stained-glass windows of the building, which describes itself as the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.

Cathedral officials said COVID-19 patients could start arriving within a week.

The field hospital will be staffed with personnel from the Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital, located next door to the cathedral complex.

— AFP

Health adviser predicts slow lifting of virus restrictions, schools opening last

A top health expert predicts that even when Israel is ready to begin easing restrictions applied to prevent a spread of the coronavirus, the process will be a long one, carried out in stages.

Schools and kindergartens, which have been closed for over a month, will likely be among the last places to reopen, says Gabi Barbash, directorgGeneral at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and one of the country’s top medical experts.

Barbash, speaking on Channel 12 news, says manufacturing factories will reopen first on condition that workers are tested first for the virus. Next, high tech companies and startups would be permitted to resume work in the hope that they can provide a need to boost toward economic recovery.

They would be followed by needed services that can maintain social distancing and hygiene procedures such as accounting, attorneys, and public service offices, Barbash predicts.

 

Health Ministry chief says 3,000 ventilators available

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov says that Israel has secured enough ventilators to bring the country’s count of the machines up to 3,000.

A Knesset report last month said the country had just 1,437 spare ventilators, though the Health Ministry had disputed that number and said 2,864 spare ventilators were available.

There are currently over 100 Israelis in serious condition from the virus who are on ventilators.

“We managed to reach 3,000 available ventilators, and there will be more,” Bar Siman-Tov tells Army Radio.

He does not specify the source of the new ventilators.

Cardinal Pell freed after winning appeal over child sex abuse

Cardinal George Pell is released from prison hours after Australia’s High Court quashed his conviction for child sex abuse, bringing to an abrupt end the most high-profile pedophilia case faced by the Catholic Church.

The 78-year-old left Barwon Prison near Melbourne after the court overturned five counts of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s.

Pell, who had steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout a lengthy court process, left the jail where he has been held for the last year and issued a statement saying that a “serious injustice” had been remedied by the decision.

In this photo taken on February 26, 2019, Cardinal George Pell (C) leaves the County Court of Victoria court after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a second trial on alleged historical child sexual offences in Melbourne (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake / AFP)

A jury convicted Pell in December 2018, and that decision was upheld by a three-judge panel in Victoria state’s Court of Appeal last August in a split verdict.

But Australia’s High Court now find there is “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.”

— AFP

Foreign Ministry to bring eggs from Ukraine

The Israeli Foreign Ministry says that its embassy in Ukraine, headed by Ambassador Joel Lion, “has been working with officials in the Ukrainian government to increase egg export quotas to Israel, enabling the immediate shipment of dozens of tons of eggs to Israel even before Passover.”

Part of the cargo will arrive by sea, and part by a “special air operation by El Al,” the ministry says. The first air delivery is expected to land in Israel by tomorrow.

Illustrative: Eggs at a market stall in Jerusalem, September 8 2017. (Times of Israel/Stuart Winer)

For the past two weeks, Israelis have reported widespread egg shortages throughout the country with many supermarkets out of them entirely while others have only been allowing shoppers to purchase one or two dozen at a time or conditioning the sale on purchasing a certain amount of groceries.

 

90-year-old man dies of COVID-19, bringing death toll to 60

Holon’s Ichilov Wolfson Hospital announces that a 90-year-man has died from COVID-19.

The hospital says he was initially admitted to the geriatrics ward and has been on a ventilator for a week.

His death brings the Israeli death toll from the virus to 60.

Draft of lockdown order shows cities to be closed until Saturday at 8 p.m.

The nationwide lockdown set to begin today will last until Saturday night at 8 p.m., according to a draft of the Health Ministry order obtained by Channel 13 news.

Netanyahu had said last night that the “general lockdown” preventing people from leaving their city of residence would start at 4 p.m. today and extend until 7 a.m. on Friday.

A tighter restriction will come into force at 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening, the night of the Passover Seder, under which everybody “will stay at home.” This curfew will end at 7 a.m. on Thursday.

In addition to extending the lockdown, the draft order cancels all public transportation and commercial air travel from tonight until Saturday.

— Raoul Wootliff

Residents of Haredi town assault protesters of health rules

Residents of the ultra-Orthodox town of Modiin Illit clash violently over adherence to the Health Ministry’s pandemic rules.

The brawl takes place between residents, as some protest the government lockdown and ban on religious gatherings.

“Help, Judaism is in danger,” the demonstrators cry, while brandishing signs urging others to ignore the rules, according to Channel 12.

They are assaulted and chased by another group of residents who call them “murderers” for defying state-ordered social distancing rules.

British PM Johnson not on ventilator, says minister

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent the night in intensive care with a deteriorating case of coronavirus, has been given oxygen but is not on a ventilator, a minister says.

“The prime minister has received some oxygen support,” senior cabinet minister Michael Gove tells LBC radio, adding that “he has not been on a ventilator” but it was there if needed.

— AFP

Amid virus fears, Gulf states urged to free activists, migrant workers

Human rights groups are calling on Gulf states to release peaceful political activists from jail and scale back detention of migrant workers, to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Hundreds of human rights defenders, peaceful activists and opposition members have been in jail for years in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

The region, which takes in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, also detains thousands of expatriate workers for violating strict residency regulations.

“As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, Gulf states should take prompt measures to protect the health and rights of detainees and staff in immigration detention centres, including by releasing people and finding alternatives to detention,” Human Rights Watch says in a statement.

“Many migrant workers in the Gulf, especially those who are undocumented through no fault of their own or have fled unscrupulous employers, are in prolonged pre-deportation detention in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions,” says the group’s deputy Middle East director Michael Page.

— AFP

Land border between China and Russia closing after new virus cases found

China and Russia are closing their land border and river port near Vladivostok following the discovery of 59 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus among Chinese citizens returning home via the crossing.

Beginning today, all Chinese citizens who arrive in the border region aboard Russian domestic flights will be forced to undergo a 14-day quarantine, according to a notice posted on the website of the Chinese consulate in Vladivostok.

Only those holding special passes will then be permitted to travel on the Russian side of the border area, the notice says. It wasn’t clear whether pass holders would be able to cross into China.

In addition, all guesthouses, nursing homes, on the Russian side of the border area will also be closed to outsiders through June 1, the notice says.

— AP

In first, Russian virus cases top 1,000 in 24 hours

Russian authorities register more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours for the first time since the beginning of the outbreak.

The government coronavirus task force reports 1,154 new cases, bringing the country’s total caseload to 7,497, with 58 deaths and 494 recoveries.

The epidemic in Russia picked up speed in March, with the number of cases growing exponentially and doubling every few days.

In order to curb the outbreak, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered everyone to stay off work this month, with only essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies etc., operating. The vast majority of Russian regions are currently on lockdown, ordering residents to self-isolate at home and not go out, unless it’s to buy groceries, medications, walk their dogs or take out trash.

— AP

African coronavirus cases top 10,000

The African continent now has more than 10,000 coronavirus cases, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fifty-two of Africa’s 54 countries now have the virus, with island nation Sao Tome e Principe the latest to confirm cases.

Only the small kingdom of Lesotho and the island nation of Comoros have not confirmed cases. South Africa has the most cases on the continent with more than 1,600.

The shortage of testing capabilities across the continent has raised concerns that the number of actual cases in Africa could be significantly higher.

— AP

South Korea to allow experimental virus treatment using blood from survivors

South Korea says it will soon announce a guideline for hospitals on experimental coronavirus treatments using donated blood from patients who survived.

Kwon Jun-wook, an official from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the guideline will draw from the country’s experience with similar treatments on patients who contracted the MERS virus during an outbreak in 2015.

Kwon says officials are examining recent recoveries of two elderly COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Seoul who had been infused with survivors’ plasma — the liquid part of blood that contains antibodies — after other treatment attempts failed to improve their conditions.

He cautions there’s still no guarantee that plasma treatment will work, and that health authorities and civilian experts are continuing to debate its effectiveness.

— AP

One third of Israeli virus cases in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak

Nearly one-third of the 9,000 coronavirus cases in Israel are in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, according to Health Ministry, as the two cities continued to show the highest numbers of infection.

Jerusalem has 1,464 virus cases and Bnei Brak had 1,386, the ministry data shows.

It is followed by Tel Aviv-Jaffa, with 393 cases, Ashkelon (209), Elad (172), Petah Tikva (172), Beit Shemesh, (152), Rishon Lezion (152), Modiin Illit (151), and Ashdod (145).

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and children wearing protective masks cross gather in a street in the the Ultra-Orthodox Israeli city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv on April 2, 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

In Bnei Brak, one person in 140 is confirmed as a carrier of the disease, while in the Efrat settlement and Kfar Chabad, one in 160 are infected. In the capital, by contrast, 1 in 625 has the virus.

The lowest rates in the country were reported primarily in Arab-majority cities and towns.

Blue and White: The ball is in Likud’s court, we’re not budging

Sources in the Blue and White party tell Ynet news that they are not willing to compromise on judicial appointments in coalition talks with Likud, and that if the ruling party does not confirm that it will not push for changes to the way judges are chosen, the negotiations cannot resume.

“We have informed them that until they tell us that there is no change to the section about the Judges’ Selection Committee, there is nothing to talk about,” party sources said, according to Ynet.

Having previously indicated a deal on an emergency unity government was done, the Blue and White party said yesterday evening it was breaking off coalition talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud over the latter’s efforts to walk back an agreement regarding judicial appointments.

Netanyahu’s party was previously said to have demanded veto rights in the appointments committee, or that decisions only pass with a majority of eight out of nine members. Those demands were then reported to have been nixed — with the parties agreeing that any decisions be made in agreement — before Likud was reported to have backtracked on the matter, leading negotiations to stall.

— Raoul Wootliff

 

 

China says no new deaths in coronavirus milestone

China reports no new coronavirus deaths for the first time since it started publishing figures in January, just a day before it plans to lift travel curbs from the contagion’s epicentre of Wuhan.

But the announcement comes as suspicions linger that the ruling Communist Party government — already accused of bungling the initial response to the outbreak — continues to intentionally under-report the real number of deaths and infections.

Workers wearing protective suit walk next to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on March 30, 2020, after travel restrictions into the city were eased following more than two months of lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.(Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

China denies the suggestion.

Beijing imposed an unprecedented lockdown on tens of millions of people in Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province in late January in a bid to smother the virus, and the number of new domestic infections has dwindled for weeks.

— AFP

With 3 hours until proposed lockdown, no word from government on regulations

With just three hours remaining until a nationwide lockdown is meant to take effect across Israel, preventing Israelis from leaving their city of residence, there is still no word from the government on the regulations or what exactly they entail.

The cabinet is set to approve a closure and curfew over the Passover holiday to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus, but there is uncertainty over when it will take effect and how long it will last. The Prime Minister’s Office has not yet released any official communication on the measures.

Yesterday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, beginning at 4 p.m. today, Israelis will not be able to leave the cities where they live until Friday at 7 a.m.

However, on Monday Hebrew media, citing a draft of the measures to be approved by ministers, said the lockdown would end on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. The reports also said restrictions on traffic would begin at Tuesday at 2 p.m., two hours earlier than cited by Netanyahu.

— Raoul Wootliff

Unity talks remain frozen today, blame game ensues

Sources in both Blue and White and Likud tell reporters that talks are frozen after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly backed away from an almost finished coalition deal last night.

Each side blames the other.

Blue and White says Netanyahu retreated from an agreement at the last moment.

Likud officials tell Channel 12 it was Blue and White’s fault for leaking details of the agreement before it was signed and thereby creating political problems for Netanyahu.

Health Ministry stresses: Supermarkets to remain open despite lockdown

As ministers debate the nationwide lockdown, the Health Ministry says supermarkets and food deliveries, as well as matzah factories, will remain open until Wednesday until 6 p.m., before the Passover holiday begins.

Spain virus cases rise for 1st time in 5 days

Spain is recording again a rise of daily coronavirus infections and deaths for the first time in five days, a result consistent with previous Tuesdays when a weekend backlog of tests and fatalities are reported.

With 743 new deaths in the last 24 hours, some 100 more than the fatalities seen from Sunday to Monday, Spain’s death toll neared 13,800 since the beginning of the pandemic, Health Ministry data shows. The total of confirmed infections rose over 140,000, with 5,478 new ones on Tuesday, 1,000 more than on Monday. Both figures had been declining since April 2.

Authorities have said that cementing the flattening of the contagion arc will be a long process but they have pinned hopes on how pressure is easing in hospitals, mostly in emergency wards.

As part of deescalating measures being debated for coming weeks, Spain’s left-wing government wants to test 30,000 households to draw the national map of the outbreak. The goal is to measure how much has the virus spread beyond hospitals and nursing homes, which had become big contagion clusters.

AP

Cabinet approves nationwide lockdown at 7 p.m., curfew to start Wednesday afternoon

The cabinet approves a nationwide lockdown, barring Israelis from leaving the communities they live in from 7 p.m. tonight until 6 a.m. on Friday morning.

The cabinet also approves a curfew from tomorrow at 3 p.m. until Thursday 7 a.m., that will prevent Israelis from being more than 100 meters from their home for any reason at all.

Shops will remain open until the curfew begins but public transportation will be shut down from 8 p.m. tonight until Friday morning.

Pope rails against ‘unjust sentences’ as Cardinal Pell freed

Pope Francis decries “unjust” sentences against “innocent” people, hours after Australian Cardinal George Pell walked free from prison following the quashing of his conviction for child sex abuse.

Australia’s High Court overturned five counts of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s, bringing to an abrupt end the most high-profile paedophilia case faced by the Catholic Church.

The Vatican says it “welcomed” the court’s decision, pointing out that 78-year-old Pell had steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout a lengthy court process.

“In these days of Lent, we’ve been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent,” the pope says on Twitter.

“Let us pray together today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because someone had it in for them,” he said, without making any direct reference to Pell.

— AFP

Spain daily virus deaths rise to 743 after drop

Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll shoots up to 743 after falling for four straight days, lifting the total to 13,798, the country’s health ministry says.

However, it emphasized that the rise was due to weekend deaths being tallied and that the overall “downward trend” is continuing.

The new figure represents a 5.7 percent increase over the 637 deaths recorded on Monday, the lowest number of fatalities since March 24 in the world’s second hardest-hit country after Italy in terms of deaths.

The number of new infections also grew at a faster pace, rising 4.1 percent to 140,510, the health ministry says. The number of new cases had risen by 3.3 percent yesterday.

— AFP

Pandas use lockdown privacy to mate after a decade of trying

Stuck at home with no visitors and not much else to do, a pair of pandas in Hong Kong finally decided to give mating a go after a decade of dodging the issue.

Like half the planet, Ying Ying and Le Le have only really had each other for company since coronavirus-caused lockdowns shut off the flow of guests to their themepark pad.

And like couples everywhere, they’ve been making the best of the time on their own.

“Since Ying Ying and Le Le’s arrival in Hong Kong in 2007 and attempts at natural mating since 2010, they unfortunately have yet to succeed until this year upon years of trial and learning,” said Ocean Park conservation official Michael Boos.

The park released photos of the pair embracing in an enclosure uncharacteristically free from prying eyes and cameraphones.

Ying Ying and Le Le embracing in the Ocean Park conservatory in Hong Kong, April 2020. (AFP/Handout)

— AFP

Face masks to be obligatory outside of the home from Sunday

A Health Ministry order approved by ministers will require all Israelis leaving their homes to wear masks.

This does not apply for people who live in the same home or work together, provided they uphold social distancing measures. The masks can be makeshift, or a scarf.

The order, which was previously a recommendation, comes into effect at 7 a.m. on Sunday.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and children wearing protective masks in a street in the the ultra-Orthodox Israeli city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv on April 2, 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Jerusalemites to be confined to one of 7 municipal regions during lockdown

According to new regulations approved by the cabinet, Jerusalem residents will be confined throughout the lockdown within their respective regions sketched out by government officials, dividing the city — which has the largest number of virus cases in the country — into seven portions.

A map provided by the Health Ministry divides Jerusalem into seven regions. Residents are not permitted to leave their region from Tuesday evening until Friday morning (Health Ministry)

Following a several-hour meeting, ministers green-lighted emergency regulations that will ban all inter-city traffic beginning at 7 p.m. tonight and expiring Friday at 6 a.m.

Supermarkets, food deliveries and other essential services will, however, continue to operate until Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m., and then reopen Thursday morning.

Minister Erdan in Haredi neighborhoods: Enforcement should be determined but sensitive

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan visits the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Geula, amid reports that those areas have been among the most hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

He says police enforcement of the national lockdown “should be determined but sensitive. Police have been given a mission with unprecedented scope. We are on a joint life-saving mission.”

He adds: “I hope we can go forth to freedom after the Passover holiday.”

Israeli citizen indicted for working with Iran against Jewish state

The Shin Bet security service says it arrested an Israeli citizen last month who had made contact with Iranian intelligence agents and was asked to work on their behalf against the country.

Today, the suspect — whose name is subject to a gag order — was indicted in court after being arrested on March 16.

According to the security service, the man’s Iranian handlers asked him to carry out terror attacks against Israel; provide information about Israeli defense and strategic sites; recommend ways to cause discord in Israeli society; and locate Arab Israelis who may also be interested in helping Iran.

“This investigation shows again that Iran and its proxies are working to recruit and take advantage of Israelis for the interests of Iran,” the Shin Bet says.

The security service says the man made multiple trips abroad to meet his handlers, including a Lebanese national Khaled Yamani, who is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group and who was working on behalf of the Iranians.

“During these trips, he received funds, training, encryption tools and codes in order to be able to maintain contact with them in an encrypted way after he returned to Israel,” the Shin Bet says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu: Israel ready for ‘constructive action’ to return Israelis from Gaza

In a message to Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is prepared for “constructive action” to bring back Israelis held in Gaza to Israel.

He calls “for immediate dialogue between mediators” to facilitate a deal.

Two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two soldiers are believed held by Hamas in Gaza.

On Sunday Hebrew media reports indicated Hamas has conveyed it is willing to move forward with a prisoner swap in light of the coronavirus crisis.

Germany warns of spike in anti-Semitism linked to virus

Hatred against Jews has spiked in Germany with the spread of the new coronavirus, the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner warns.

“There are direct links between the current spread of the coronavirus and that of anti-Semitism,” Felix Klein says in Berlin at the launch of a new government research project into the issue.

“There is a boom in conspiracy theories in times of crisis,” he says, describing anti-Semitism as a virus of its own that is “contagious on a social level.”

Germany’s special envoy on anti-Semitism Felix Klein. (Courtesy German Interior Ministry)

For example, he cites claims circulating online that the pandemic is the result of a failed bioweapon test by the Israeli secret service.

“In recent weeks, right-wing radicals have increasingly tried to leverage the coronavirus crisis for their own ends,” Klein says.

— AFP

Former chief rabbi Bakshi-Doron hospitalized with coronavirus infection

A former chief rabbi of Israel, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, is hospitalized in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center after contracting coronavirus, the hospital says.

He was brought in earlier today and is in stable condition, according to the hospital.

Former Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, May, 2010. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Former chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, May 2010. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

— Judah Ari Gross

Traffic jams reported throughout central Israel, hours before city closures

Very heavy traffic is being reported throughout central Israel, hours before a three-day national lockdown barring intercity travel comes into effect at 7 p.m.

Trump reported to have personal interest in drug he is pushing for coronavirus

In a story about US President Donald Trump’s promotion of the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus, the New York Times reports that the US leader has a small personal interest in French drugmaker Sanofi, which is a producer of the medicine.

There have been some reports that the anti-malaria drug can help patients fighting an infection. But the claim is far from tested and the drug can in some cases of prolonged use cause cardiac issues. Doctors have warned of caution in treating it as any kind of solution at this point.

IDF says it is allowing some soldiers to spend Passover with family

The military says it is allowing some soldiers to leave their bases for the Passover holiday so they can spend it with family.

Until now, troops serving on so-called “closed bases” — those generally housing combat units and troops in training, have been confined to those bases.

The Israel Defense Forces says in a statement that a new “situational assessment” was held today, in which it was decided that administrative troops on these bases would largely be permitted to return home for the Passover holiday.

The military says they will be transported on a series of shuttles in light of the halting of public transportation.

“Full operational capability will be preserved in these units, and the relevant units have received their leave orders,” the IDF says.

— Judah Ari Gross

EU announces 15 billion euros to fight virus worldwide

The European Union is to put up 15 billion euros ($16.4 billion) to help poor countries fight the coronavirus epidemic, the bloc’s chief announces.

European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen says the money will help countries with weak healthcare systems tackle the impact of COVID-19 and also aid their long-term economic recovery.

Beating the pandemic in Europe alone is not enough, officials say, pointing out that if the coronavirus continues to rage elsewhere in the world, it will simply return in time.

“We will only win this battle with a coordinated global response,” von der Leyen says in a video posted on Twitter.

“This is why the European Union is securing more than 15 billion euros to help our partners worldwide to fight coronavirus.”

— AFP

Education Ministry plans gradual return to schools, with studies in shifts

The Education Ministry announces plans to slowly bring children back to school after the Passover holiday in a staggered approach.

It says studies will take place in “shifts.” In some schools children will be divided into morning and afternoon groups, while in others children will come in on alternate days.

Priority will be given to children with special needs, at-risk youth and preschools. These will be followed by elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

A girl looks at a closed school in Hadera, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

WhatsApp tightens sharing limits to curb virus misinformation

WhatsApp places new limits on message forwarding as part of an effort to curb the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

The new policy limits users to forwarding certain messages to one “chat” at a time, aiming to limit the rapid propagation of content which is provocative but likely to be false.

The Facebook-owned messaging platform says it took the action to enable people to concentrate on personal and private communications during the health crisis.

In recent weeks, “we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation,” WhatsApp says in a blog post.

“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”

— AFP

Rush to shops reported amid egg shortage before Passover

Israel’s coronavirus-instigated nationwide egg shortage, a day before a holiday famous for its egg-based dishes, has led to scenes across the country of people lining up to buy eggs and storming shops for cartons.

In Rishon Lezion, Ynet reports, police were called to one of the last shops to stock eggs to try and restore order, as well as to enforce social-distancing rules between customers.

In Beit Shemesh, a video showed dozens accosting a truck handing out trays.

Source close to PM blasts Knesset coronavirus committee as political

A source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacks the Knesset’s new Coronavirus Committee overseeing the government response to the pandemic, after it criticizes various aspects of government policy.

The source claims the committee, led by Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah and staffed mainly with opposition MKs, has shown itself to be entirely political in nature.

“While the entire world commends Israel’s great success in combating the coronavirus, the committee’s attacks on the decision-making and closure policy are ridiculous,” the unnamed official tells Hebrew media outlets.

The committee in its report criticized slow testing for the virus, strict closures and economic policies, which members said were based on extreme forecasts, rather than realistic ones.

National closure enters into effect, with all intercity travel banned

The three-day national closure announced by the government has entered into effect, with all travel between cities banned. The lockdown will remain in force until Friday morning.

Britain set for 66,000 COVID-19 deaths, highest toll in Europe — study

Britain could see as many as 66,000 COVID-19 deaths during the first wave of the current pandemic, new research shows, making the outbreak there by far the deadliest in Europe.

Modelling conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine shows that approximately 151,680 people are likely to die from the virus across the continent.

More than 5,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Britain, fewer than in Spain, Italy and France.

But Britain’s epidemic lags behind the rest of the continent by several days, and its death toll trajectory is already steeper than other nations.

— AFP

37-year-old dies of coronavirus — the youngest Israeli victim so far

A 37-year-old coronavirus patient has died of the disease, the youngest person to die of the illness so far.

Officials say he suffered from multiple preexisting ailments.

His death brings the national toll to 61.

Hamas: Ball in Israel’s court on prisoner exchange

Responding to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s earlier comments, Hamas says “the ball is in Israel’s court and it must take steps” if it wants to push forward with a prisoner exchange deal.

Conference of Presidents issues message of ‘solidarity and compassion’ to Israel

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issues a message of “solidarity and compassion” ahead of Passover “as they and we face the modern day plague of COVID-19.”

They add: “We stand in support of you and the effort of your government to combat this deadly invisible foe. We are reminded that… all Jews are bound and responsible for one another, that we collectively share in the fate of communities around the world and especially in the Jewish State.

“We pray that we can soon again fulfill the proclamation we make at the end of the Seder: L’shana haba’a b’Yerushalayim, next year in Jerusalem.”

Knesset gives approval to NIS 500 grants to families with children, others

The Knesset has given final approval to NIS 500 ($140) grants for families with children as well as those receiving government stipends, ahead of the Passover holiday.

The government said the grants were intended to assist populations in need amid the global crisis.

Health Ministry head: When we drop to dozens of new cases a day we’ll ease rules

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells Channel 12 if in the next few weeks the country sees a drop in new coronavirus cases, from hundreds of new cases a day to dozens, the government will be able to raise the workforce allowed to work outside the home from 15 percent to 30% and permit people to once again venture out more than 100 meters from their homes.

He adds if numbers remain low after that, a phased return to school will be possible.

“Israel in a much better place than more or less all advanced countries we compare ourselves to,” he says.

Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

“The steps we’ve taken have proven themselves up to this point.”

Netanyahu again tests negative for virus, will end quarantine tomorrow

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has once again tested negative for the coronavirus after his contacts with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week.

Netanyahu will end his self-quarantine tomorrow night — 14 days after his last contact with Litzman, his office says.

China’s virus pandemic epicenter Wuhan ends 76-day lockdown

The lockdown that served as a model for countries battling the coronavirus around the world has ended after 11 weeks: Chinese authorities are allowing residents of Wuhan to once again travel in and out of the sprawling city where the pandemic began.

As of just after midnight Wednesday, the city’s 11 million residents are now permitted to leave without special authorization as long as a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.

The occasion is marked with a light show on either side of the broad Yangtze river, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers aiding patients, along with one displaying the words “heroic city,” a title bestowed on Wuhan by president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.

A general view shows buildings in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on April 7, 2020. (Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

— AFP

Trump removes watchdog tapped for virus rescue oversight

US President Donald Trump has removed the inspector general who was tapped to chair a special oversight board of the $2.2 trillion economic package intended to help businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus, officials say.

Glenn Fine, the acting Defense Department inspector general and a veteran watchdog, had been selected by peers last month for the position. Now it’s unclear who will oversee the rescue law.

The move threatens to upend the rigorous oversight that Democrats in Congress had demanded of the huge sums of money being pumped into the American economy because of the virus.

Glenn Fine in 2017 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“The president now has engaged in a series of actions designed to neuter any kind of oversight of his actions and that of the administration during a time of national crisis, when trillions of dollars are being allocated to help the American people,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California tells The Associated Press.

— AP

France reports over 1,400 daily deaths, bringing total to more than 10,000

France is reporting 1,417 deaths over the past day from coronavirus, bringing the national total to over 10,000 deaths.

A total of 7,131 people are being treated in intensive care, top health official Jerome Salomon tells journalists, warning that “the epidemic is continuing its progression.”

— with AFP

NYC virus deaths exceed 3,200, topping toll for 9/11 attacks

New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus eclipses the number of those killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11, health officials say.

At least 3,202 people have died in New York from COVID-19, according to the count released by the city. The deadliest terror attack on US soil killed 2,753 people in the city and 2,977 overall, when hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.

New York state recorded 731 new coronavirus deaths, its biggest one-day jump yet, for a statewide toll of nearly 5,500, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says.

“Behind every one of those numbers is an individual. There’s a family, there’s a mother, there’s a father, there’s a sister, there’s a brother. So a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers,” he says.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, left, gestures during a brief news conference as he stands beside Rear Adm. John B. Mustin as the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship with a 1,000 bed-capacity, pulls into Pier 90, March 30, 2020, in New York. (AP/Kathy Willens)

— AP

With 242 new cases, number of coronavirus infections in Israel at 9,248

The number of coronavirus cases in the country has risen by 242 to 9,248, the Health Ministry says.

Of those cases, 149 are in serious condition and 117 are on ventilators.

95-year-old dies of coronavirus; national death toll at 65

A 95-year-old woman with preexisting medical conditions has died of coronavirus at Haemek Hospital in Afula.

The national death toll is now at 65.

Doctor at forefront of virus fight to light Independence Day torch

Culture Minister Miri Regev announces that Prof. Galia Rahav, Head of the Infectious Disease Unit at the Sheba Medical Center, will light a torch at this year’s Independence Day celebrations in Mt. Herzl due to her work in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The ceremony this year will be held without an audience due to social distancing rules.

Rabin’s grandson apologizes after wishing for Netanyahu to catch virus

The grandson of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Yonatan Ben Artzi, has apologized after tweeting that he wishes for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to catch coronavirus.

In a now deleted tweet, Ben Artzi claimed Netanyahu had used the pandemic as a trick to lure Blue and White’s Benny Gantz into unity talks while actually seeking a new election.

Yonatan Ben Artzi, grandson of Yitzhak Rabin, speaks at a memorial ceremony at Mt. Herzl marking 24 years since Rabin was assassinated (Ynet screenshot)

“If Netanyahu lied to the people of Israel… then he deserves to get coronavirus and end his life in prison sick. Karma,” he tweeted.

The tweet elicited outrage, including by the Likud party, which said Ben Artzi was “inciting the death of the prime minister.”

Ben Artzi later apologized: “I don’t wish for anyone to catch coronavirus, including Netanyahu. Sorry about the matter.”

In November Ben Artzi clashed with Netanyahu after calling on him to resign in a speech during an annual memorial ceremony for his grandfather. The premier accused him of politicizing the event.

Israel signs deal with Chinese firm to enable 10,000 virus tests a day

Israel has signed a NIS 90 million ($25 million) deal with Chinese firm BGI to supply equipment that will allow 10,000 coronavirus tests a day.

The new equipment will be installed in six different labs over the next few weeks.

Britain’s Johnson ‘stable’ in intensive care

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is battling the coronavirus in intensive care, raising deep concerns about his health as the country recorded its highest daily death toll.

“The Prime Minister’s condition is stable and he remains in intensive care for close monitoring. He is in good spirits,” his official spokesman says in an update some 24 hours since he was admitted to intensive care.

He earlier said the 55-year-old Conservative leader was receiving “standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any other assistance” and had not required a ventilator.

In this image taken from a video on Twitter, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks from self isolation which he has been in since contracting coronavirus, Friday April 3, 2020. (TWITTER/@BorisJohnson via AP)

Johnson is the most high-profile government leader to become infected with COVID-19 and messages of support flooded in from across Britain and the world.

— AFP

Report: Israel believes Hamas ‘serious’ about prisoner swap

Sources close to the negotiations with Hamas on the return of missing Israelis tell Channel 12 Hamas’s recent overtures to strike a deal “look serious,” adding, “it’s possible we can get this over with.”

Hamas is believed to be holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip of their own accord, as well as the bodies of two soldiers killed during 2014’s Gaza war.

A composite photo of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul, left, and Hadar Goldin, right.
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Land border between China and Russia closing after new virus cases found

China and Russia are closing their land border and river port near Vladivostok following the discovery of 59 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus among Chinese citizens returning home via the crossing.

Beginning today, all Chinese citizens who arrive in the border region aboard Russian domestic flights will be forced to undergo a 14-day quarantine, according to a notice posted on the website of the Chinese consulate in Vladivostok.

Only those holding special passes will then be permitted to travel on the Russian side of the border area, the notice says. It wasn’t clear whether pass holders would be able to cross into China.

In addition, all guesthouses, nursing homes, on the Russian side of the border area will also be closed to outsiders through June 1, the notice says.

— AP