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Ministers to approve new lockdown rules as virus death toll climbs to 3

Stricter emergency regulations not yet made public, are believed to include restrictions on outdoor exercise, restaurants, public transportation

Israeli police officers seen raiding the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, closing shops and dispersing public gatherings in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, March 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli police officers seen raiding the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, closing shops and dispersing public gatherings in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, March 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

High Court leading Israel into anarchy, Likud minister fumes

Likud Minister Yariv Levin is continuing to attack the High Court, a day after judges ordered Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to hold a vote on his position, despite the party’s vociferous opposition.

“The court is leading us into anarchy. It’s acting like it owns the state,” Levin tells Kan radio, accusing the court of being part of a deep state-esque conspiracy.

“Five judges chosen in a cronyish way without any oversight behind closed doors and off the beaten path are sitting and thinking they can be managers over everything,” he says.

On Monday, Levin was one of two ministers who urged Edelstein to refuse the court’s attempt to compel him to hold the vote, in what was seen as the seed of a possible constitutional crisis.

US Senate leader, Treasury chief say $2 trillion rescue package close

Top congressional and White House officials negotiating the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package say they expect to reach a deal sometime Tuesday.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer say they spoke by phone with US President Donald Trump as they met late into the night at the Capitol. While the sides have resolved many issues in the sweeping package, some disagreements remain.

Washington has been straining to respond to the worsening coronavirus outbreak, and tempers in Congress have flared at times. Meantime, Trump is musing openly about letting a 15-day shutdown expire next Monday.

— AP

IDF, US to hold air exercise with F-35 jets and no physical contact

The Israel and US militaries are launching a joint aerial exercise in southern Israel later today in which F-35 fighter jets will take part, the Israel Defense Forces says.

The exercise is allowed to take place, despite a general ban on international exercises during the coronavirus crisis, as it will be held solely in the air, with no person-to-person contact on the ground, the IDF says.

The military says the exercise will begin Tuesday afternoon and last through Thursday afternoon. During that time, residents of the area might notice fighter jets flying overhead.

The IDF says this exercise is not in response to any specific threat but is part of its general 2020 training schedule.

Driver rams car into Haifa testing site, causing damage

Police have arrested a man who rammed his car into a just-opened Haifa drive-thru coronavirus testing center overnight, according to the Ynet news site.

The man, who police say may have been deranged, ran over computers, cameras and other equipment, according to the report.

A drive-through coronavirus testing facility in Haifa on March 23, 2020. (Magen David Adom)

The site, which opened yesterday, is set to resume testing as scheduled according to the report.

Elkin says now is not the time for fight with Supreme Court

Likud Minister Zeev Elkin indicates Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein should abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling requiring him to hold a vote for his likely replacement, despite calls within the Likud party for him to ignore the court order.

“Though I think the involvement [of the court] was not legitimate, this sensitive period is not the time to have a crisis between the branches of government,” Elkin tells Army Radio.

The court ruled yesterday against Edelstein’s effort to block the vote for his likely replacement as Knesset speaker, arguing that this was an unjustified, anti-democratic move.

Likud: Knesset being stolen from us, we won’t take part

The Likud Party says it and its allied parties will boycott Knesset proceedings, complaining that the Blue and White-led bloc of lawmakers “stole the Knesset from the 2.5 million voters of the right-wing bloc.”

The party complains that six committees set up in late night proceedings have left their side of the political aisle neutered, without a majority or a leadership role in any of them, “in total contravention of the total distribution of seats between factions and the accepted procedure over some 22 previous sittings of the Knesset.”

“The right-wing bloc will not aid and not participate in these undemocratic discussions and votes which ignore 58 MKs chosen by the people,” the party says, accusing the other side of “bullying.”

There is no immediate comment from the Yamina, Shas and UTJ parties, which are aligned with Likud.

China lifting lockdown on virus epicenter Hubei province, but not its capital Wuhan

Chinese authorities are lifting the tight lockdown of Hubei province that was imposed to halt the spread of the new coronavirus.

People who are cleared to do so will be able to leave the province after midnight Tuesday.

In this March 23, 2020 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, workers prepares a subway train for restoration of public transport in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)

The city of Wuhan, where the outbreak started in late December, will remain locked down until April 8. China barred people from leaving or entering Wuhan starting Jan. 23 and expanded it to most of the province in succeeding days.

— AP

As Washington state locks down, prisoners break free

A dozen inmates at a Washington state jail managed to escape and six remain on the loose, after they became spooked by COVID-19 restrictions, according to a local media report.

A video shows several people jumping a fence and running away from the Yakima County Jail.

The six inmates who were rounded up said “they were upset after the Governor’s press conference regarding the statewide order to shelter in place and the virus outbreak has them all scared,” according to YakTRiNews.com.

Officials have expressed fears over the easy spread of the virus in prison. In Italy, inmates at several prisons rioted earlier this month as restrictions were put in place.

Israeli jailed in Thailand to serve rest of sentence in Israel

Nati Hadad, an Israeli man who was sentenced in 2018 to four years in prison in Thailand for operating an illegal medical clinic, as well as firearms offenses, will serve out the remainder of his sentence in Israel, President Reuven Rivlin says.

“Thai authorities have decided that Nati Hadad will be transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in Israel,” Rivlin’s office says in a statement.

“President Rivlin would like to express his thanks to the King of Thailand and all those involved in handling the process, which was led by MK Ayelet Shaked.”

Screen capture from video Israeli Nati Hadad during his arrest in Thailand, July 2017. (Ynetnews)

Israel has been working for over a year to bring back Hadad, who has been reported to be in ill health. It’s unclear if the decision is related to the coronavirus crisis.

The news comes as Thailand’s prime minister declares a state of emergency following an uptick in cases of the virus there.

Exactly a year ago, Israeli media reported on Hadad’s imminent return, though it apparently never materialized.

Almost 450 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Israel

Israeli health authorities say they have confirmed 449 new cases of COVID-19 since Monday night, bringing the total to 1,659.

Thirty-one people are in serious condition, up from 29 last night.

They say 3,743 people were tested over the past 24 hours.

 

Tally of 449 new cases likely includes previously reported 371 infected

The ministry’s report of 449 new cases since “the last update” does not comport with a Monday night tally of 1,442 cases, which would place the total at close to 1,900.

The discrepancy may be explained if “the last update” refers to an update sent out on Monday morning, which showed a total of 1,238 cases.

The ministry generally sends out two updates a day, in the morning and at night, which are styled differently.

Assuming the 449 cases refers to the past 24 hours, the total would show a more modest uptick of 78 since last night’s tally.

The ministry is not immediately responding to requests for clarification.

Health Ministry: 49 recovered from virus, over 135,000 quarantined

The new numbers released by the Health Ministry show 49 people have recovered from the virus, up from 41 reported the night before.

Forty-seven people are in moderate condition, up from 40 the night before.

Over 71,000 people are in quarantine, down from nearly 75,000 reported on Monday morning. In total, over 135,000 have been in self-isolation, almost 6,000 more than the number reported on Monday morning, meaning more people are leaving isolation than entering it.

UK tells Brits to come home as airspace contracts

The United Kingdom is urging all its citizens who are currently abroad to immediately make their way home, as more and more countries close their airspace to fend off the widening coronavirus pandemic.

“We are strongly urging UK travelers overseas to return home now where there are still commercial routes to do so,” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says in a statement.

“Around the world, more airlines are suspending flights and more airports are closing, some without any notice. Where commercial routes don’t exist, our staff are working round the clock to give advice and support to UK nationals. If you are on holiday abroad the time to come home is now while you still can.”

Israel has also urged its own citizens to come home, while telling foreigners who cannot shelter in place to leave. Since March 8, over 98,000 foreign nationals have left Israel, according to data published by the Interior Ministry on Monday. The ministry does not say how many are British nationals.

London’s initial response to the crisis caused by the coronavirus was somewhat lackluster, with  few restrictions on public life.

Last night, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced draconian steps to slow the spread of the disease, ordering citizens to stay home unless they are engaged in essential activities, such as buying food and medicine.

— Raphael Ahren

Tel Aviv Stock Exchange jumps as Asia responds to bond purchases

In a rare bit of sunny news, major indexes on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange are all showing solid gains after the opening bell, joining other Asian markets responding positively to government efforts to buoy coronavirus-wracked economies.

The benchmark TA-35 and TA-125 indexes saw a spike of over 4% before a drop pared back the gains slightly. Market benchmarks in Tokyo and South Korea have risen nearly 6% while Shanghai, Hong Kong and Australian markets also gained.

The Bank of Israel said Monday it would purchase NIS 50 billion ($13.4 billion) in government bonds on the open market to ease credit conditions and bolster the economy.

In the US, the Federal Reserve promised to buy as many Treasurys and other assets as needed to keep financial markets functioning.

Two more troops diagnosed with virus, bringing IDF total to 25

The military says it now has 25 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, following the diagnosis of two more servicemembers over the past day.

The Israel Defense Forces says the two soldiers have not been in their units for the past two weeks, so there is no threat they contaminated their comrades, though a full epidemiological study of their movements is ongoing.

According to the military, 5,579 soldiers and civilian employees of the IDF are currently in quarantine, a decrease from previous days.

Last Friday, 6,908 soldiers were in quarantine, with roughly 1,200 completing their two-week stint and getting released the next day. Yesterday, 5,735 servicemembers were in quarantine, according to IDF figures.

— Judah Ari Gross

Over 600,000 Israelis looking for work

Unemployment has reached 18.6% with over 600,000 newly unemployed people now looking for work amid the coronavirus crisis, the Israeli Employment Bureau reports.

Over 31,000 people registered as job-seekers over the last day, a slight drop from the 38,000-plus who registered a day earlier.

A man wearing protective clothes in downtown Jerusalem on March 20, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In total, 615,834 Israelis registered as out of work since the beginning of March, with 91 percent of them saying they have been placed on unpaid leave, according to the bureau.

The bureau expects the number to reach 1 million by Passover in early April, according to Army Radio.

Londoners cram tube as UK has trouble minding the lockdown

Confusion has rippled through Britain on the first morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week halt to all nonessential activity to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

The government has told most stores to close, banned gatherings of three or more people and said everyone apart from essential workers should leave home only to buy food and medicines or to exercise.

But photos show crowded trains on some London subway lines Tuesday, amid confusion about who is still allowed to go to work.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweets: “I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all non-essential use of public transport now. Employers: please support your staff to work from home unless it’s absolutely necessary. Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.”

The government says police will have powers break up illegal gatherings and fine people who flout the rules. But some expressed doubts about whether the lockdown could be enforced.

British Army trucks wait at traffic lights in Parliament Square in London, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP/Matt Dunham)

“There is no way really that the police can enforce this using powers. It has got to be because the public hugely support it,” Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, tells the BBC.

AP

Yisrael Beytenu puts bill on table to outlaw indicted PM

The Yisrael Beytenu party has proposed a bill that would essentially disqualify Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu from being prime minister.

According to the proposed law, a prime minister would to resign within 30 days of being indicted for a criminal offense.

Under the current law, a prime minister only has to leave office once he is found guilty and all appeals are exhausted.

According to Channel 12 news, the proposal is softer than one proposed by the party earlier, which specifically forbade allowing an MK under indictment to form a government. According to the channel, the new proposal, which is based on a proposal once supported by Netanyahu himself, would only apply to a prime minister leading a non-caretaker government.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on criminal charges last year, but has led a caretaker government since late 2018.

Iran death toll nears 2,000

Iran is reporting 122 new coronavirus deaths, raising the country’s toll to 1,934.

Worldwide, the death toll has now surpassed 16,700, with many of the hardest-hit European countries yet to report on new tallies since Monday.

African jazz great Manu Dibango dies of virus

Renowned jazz man Manu Dibango, to many the beloved “Papy Groove,” has died after being infected with the coronavirus, his official Facebook page announced. He was 86.

The saxophonist who inspired what is known as “world music” was recently hospitalized with an illness “linked to COVID-19,” his official Facebook page said last Wednesday, adding that he was “resting well and calmly recovering.”

In this Jan.24, 2018 file photo, saxophonist Manu Dibango performs during Franck Sorbier’s Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2018 fashion collection in Paris. (AP/Christophe Ena)

The announcement did not say where he had been hospitalized, but Dibango, who was born in Cameroon, was known to live in France.

“He can’t wait to meet you again,” the earlier message said.

The artist inspired “world music” in the 1970s with the song “Soul Makossa.”

— AP

IDF preparing troops to help police enforce potential lockdown

The Israeli military is preparing to assist the police enforce a full national lockdown if one is declared to combat the coronavirus pandemic, dedicating eight battalions — over 2,000 soldiers — to the cause, with the potential for more.

However, the Israel Defense Forces stresses that no such lockdown has been ordered yet.

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says the soldiers will act as an auxiliary force to the Israel Police, who will have the actual legal authority to enforce the lockdown. Zilberman says the IDF troops would not be armed.

Israeli police officers seen in Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim as they close shops and disperse public gatherings on March 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel is currently in a partial lockdown, with most people discouraged from leaving their homes, but police are only enforcing orders against gatherings and shuttering stores where social distancing rules are not kept.

The military says it is also readying to open an internal laboratory to test hundreds of IDF soldiers each day in order to relieve the pressure on civilian laboratories.

This lab, which was converted from an existing DNA testing center used to identify the remains of soldiers, will at first only test soldiers suspected of carrying the virus, and then it will begin checking all soldiers in order to guarantee that units are free of the disease.

Zilberman says that in total 23 servicemembers are currently known to be sick with the disease, not the 25 that the military reported earlier in the day, as one recovered completely and a second was recently released from the IDF.

— Judah Ari Gross

Germany misplaces 6 million facemasks in Kenya

A German army shipment of six million face masks needed to protect against the novel coronavirus has vanished in Kenya, the defense ministry in Berlin confirms.

“We are trying to find out what happened” to the massive order of protective equipment meeting the FFP2 standard for protection against particles and aerosols, a spokeswoman says.

News weekly Der Spiegel had earlier reported that the masks went missing at a Kenyan airport at the end of last week.

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

It was not immediately clear why the shipment was transiting via the East African country, the spokeswoman said.

The German army’s procurement office — plagued in normal times by equipment shortages and breakdowns — is providing the health ministry with logistical support during the coronavirus crisis.

Due to arrive in Europe’s largest economy on March 20, the missing mask shipment was one of the first major deliveries needed to gird Germany’s health system for its battle against the coronavirus, Der Spiegel reported.

— AFP

Spain announces 514 new deaths, pushing global death toll above 17,000

Spain says it has recorded 514 more deaths from the coronavirus over the past day, bringing the country’s toll to 2,696.

The announcement pushes the global death toll from the virus above 17,000, less than a day after it breached the 15,000 mark, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

On Monday, the world’s top health official said the disease’s spread was accelerating, even as new figures in Italy and Germany showed a slight leveling off as social distancing measures begin to show results.

— with AFP

Blue and White says Likud blocking coronavirus committee

The Blue and White party is accusing Likud of dragging its feet on the formation of a vital ad hoc Knesset committee to oversee the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Likud said earlier Tuesday it and allies would boycott Knesset committee discussions after the Blue and White-led Arrangements Committee voted overnight to form six oversight panels that Likud  said was unfairly apportioned.

According to Blue and White, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Likud lawmaker, has blocked a necessary plenum vote on forming and staffing the committee.

“Do not delay the formation of a Knesset committee whose purpose is to help the country contend with coronavirus,” the party says in a statement.

“Today, more than ever, the people need their elected representatives to put their political considerations aside and go to work for them. We call upon Likud and other parties to participate in parliamentary activity and join us in our work on behalf of the people.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at a Likud party faction meeting in the Knesset, on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

There is no immediate response from Likud.

Netanyahu has until now managed the crisis with input from professionals but no Knesset oversight.

A High Court ruling last week requires a panel to be formed by Tuesday to oversee the Shin Bet’s use of phone tracking technology to inform possible coronavirus carriers. Without oversight, the program would have to be shut down, the court ruled.

Diaspora Minister Hotovely enters quarantine

Diaspora Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) is being forced into quarantine, after the deputy director of her ministry was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

Hotovely is the fourth minister to enter quarantine, along with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas), Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud).

Two Blue and White MKs and two Shas MKs are also in quarantine.

On Monday, the Knesset allowed its quarantined lawmakers to vote from a glassed off gallery above the plenum.

Some government officials have said the Knesset will have to suspend activity if too many members enter quarantine, but legal authorities have put the kibosh on shuttering parliament for such a reason.

Synagogues are coronavirus breeding grounds, study finds

Almost a quarter of Israelis who contracted the novel coronavirus in Israel did so at a synagogue, according to a new data released by a Health Ministry body and published in Hebrew-language media.

The data, based on about half of the cases that have been confirmed so far, shows 24 percent of those who came down with disease contracted it at a synagogue.

Synagogues have been allowed to remain open, though gatherings of more than 10 are generally prohibited. Many religious leaders have asked congregants to pray at home, though some, especially in the ultra-Orthodox community, have continued to congregate in quorums of at least 10 men.

Workers wearing protective gear against the coronavirus disinfect a synagogue in the central coastal city of Bat Yam on March 18, 2020. (Flash90)

Some 5% of cases were contracted at yeshivas, while 1% came from ritual baths, which Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has reportedly sought to keep open despite many people sharing the same water in succession.

Hotels were also a major contributor, with some 15% of cases coming from there, and restaurants contributed 12%.

Six percent of cases came from schools or daycares and another 3% from old age homes, while groceries and other stores contributed 14% together.

Voting booths contributed to 1% of cases, according to the study.

 

Right-wingers make way to Jerusalem to protest High Court

For the second day running, a convoy of protesters in cars are making their way to Jerusalem, but this time it’s the turn of right-wingers, who plan to protest the High Court for ordering Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to hold a vote on replacing him.

The protest is being held under the banner “Save democracy, stop the judicial coup,” Walla news reports.

On Monday, a convoy of left-wing activists in cars made their way to Jerusalem to protest Edelstein for refusing to hold votes. A new so-called balcony protest is planned for Tuesday, as organizers look for ways to make their voices heard while keeping social distancing rules.

 

Vote on coronavirus oversight panel placed on Knesset agenda

The Knesset agenda indicates that a vote on forming four ad hoc committees to oversee the health crisis will indeed be held later Tuesday.

Blue and White earlier accused Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of blocking the vote amid a Likud boycott of the Knesset.

Netanyahu to Gantz: Meet me, we can make a unity government today

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu has made a public request for a meeting with rival Benny Gantz, insisting that the two can come together and form a unity government in hours.

“The people of Israel need a unity government that will work to save lives and livelihoods. This is not the time for fourth elections,” he tweets.

“We both know the gaps between us are small and we can overcome them and create a government. Let’s meet now and we’ll form a government today. I’m waiting for you.”

Likud politicians have threatened that a vote on forming committees, held yesterday, or replacing Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, ostensibly slated for no later than Wednesday, would torpedo any unity effort and lead to a fourth round of elections.

A main bone of contention between the two is reportedly who would serve as prime minister first in a rotation agreement.

 

Netanyahu ally: I don’t know if Knesset speaker vote will be held

Likud whip Miki Zohar, among Netanyahu’s fiercest allies, tells Army Radio that he does not know if Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will comply with a court order for him to hold a vote on replacing him.

Edelstein has yet to speak publicly since the court ruling last night. In a response ahead of the ruling, he argued that the court did not have jurisdiction to tell him when to hold a vote, and some hardliners have urged him to defy the bench.

Almost all new infections coming from Europe and US — WHO

Some 85% of new infections of COVID-19 are coming from Europe and the United States, the World Health Organization says, as the number of cases swiftly nears 400,000.

The death toll from the virus is at least 17,156 according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, which also says there have been over 392,000 cases since the start of the outbreak.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris cites a “glimmer of hope” in hard-hit Italy after two days of slight declines in the number of new cases and deaths, while cautioning it’s “early days yet” — and the trend needed to be monitored.

Still, Harris says the scope of the global outbreak is “enormous” and that cases are expected to increase “considerably.”

“Just to put it in proportion: It took two years in the worst Ebola outbreak we ever had, the West African outbreak, to reach 11,000 deaths,” Harris says.

— with AP

Japan, IOC agree to postpone Olympics to next year

Japanese Prime Minister Abe says the International Olympics Committee president has agreed “100%” to a proposal to postpone the Olympic Games for about a year.

— AP

Egypt imposes partial nighttime curfew

Egypt will impose a two-week, nightly curfew in the Arab world’s most populous country in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly announces.

Madbouly tells a news conference that the 11-hour curfew from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. would go into effect Wednesday across the country. He says many kinds of transportation will be halted during the curfew.

Egypt has 366 confirmed cases and 21 fatalities, including two senior military officers.

Madbouly also announces the closure of schools and universities for an additional two weeks until April 12. He says shops and malls will be closed Fridays and Saturdays, the weekend in Egypt, and are allowed to work five days a week from 7 a.m. till 5 p.m. He says groceries, bakeries and pharmacies will be excluded from the closure order.

— AP

2020 Olympics to be held in 2021 as ‘testament to defeat of virus’

The International Olympic Committee officially announces the postponement of the Olympic Games.

The IOC says the games will be held “not later than summer 2021” but they will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the games will be held “in a complete form as a testament to mankind’s defeat of the new virus.”

— Agencies

1k runs, dog walks still okay under new rules, health official says

Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto says new restrictions set to be put in place soon will stop well short of a full lockdown, but will still drastically restrict people’s movement.

He says people will only be allowed to go a bit outside their homes, enforced by police “on an individual level,” which likely refers to phone tracking.

Israeli police at the Tel Aviv beach promenade on March 23, 2020. Police were dispatched all over the country to keep people from gathering in public spaces in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

He says exercise will still be allowed in pairs, for up to a kilometer radius, as walking the dog can continue (that was a close one, Rover), but adds that the details are still being hammered out by the government.

According to reports, pharmacies and groceries that adhere to social distancing rules will remain open.

“I’m in favor of extreme measures to close all food stores, but then we would need to provide people will meals ready to eat,” he says, according to the Walla news site.

Troops shoot Palestinian rock-thrower near Ramallah — IDF

Israeli troops shoot a Palestinian suspect who the military says was part of a pair throwing rocks at cars along a highway in the northern West Bank.

The IDF says two suspects were seen by the soldiers throwing rocks “and planning to also throw stun grenades” at cars near the Palestinian village of Deir Abu Mashal, northwest of Ramallah.

“The troops opened fire, which hit one of the suspects,” the IDF says.

The military says soldiers are searching for the suspects.

— Judah Ari Gross

67-year-old woman becomes Israel’s second virus fatality

A woman has died of the coronavirus at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, the hospital announces.

She is the second Israeli fatality of the pandemic.

The woman, 67, suffered from “a serious preexisting medical condition,” the hospital says.

UN rights chief urges sanctions relief for Iran amid pandemic

The UN rights chief calls for any sanctions imposed on countries like Iran facing the new coronavirus pandemic to be “urgently re-evaluated” to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse.

“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended,” Michelle Bachelet says in a statement.

“In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us,” she says.

Bachelet insists “humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be given broad and practical effect, with prompt, flexible authorization for essential medical equipment and supplies.”

Her comments come as the number of cases of COVID-19 approached 400,000 worldwide, including nearly 17,000 deaths, according to an AFP tally using official sources.

AFP

US stocks rebound at the open from Monday’s rout

Beaten-down US stocks open solidly higher Tuesday on hopes that Washington lawmakers will agree on a massive stimulus package, while the G7 pledges to “do whatever is necessary” to restore growth.

About five minutes into trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 7.0 percent, or 1,300 points, at 19,890.77.

The broad-based S&P 500 gained 6.4 percent to 2,379.37, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index jumped 5.9 percent to 7,262.31.

AFP

Reversing diagnosis, premature baby in Jerusalem cleared of coronavirus

The Health Ministry says a premature baby who was exposed to a nurse who was later diagnosed with COVID-19 has tested negative for the virus.

The ministry on Monday said the baby had been infected. But today, it says three additional tests run on the baby have turned up negative.

The other babies in the preemie ward at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center are also safe, says the ministry.

London rabbis permit some products not supervised for Passover due to virus

Why will this Passover be different from all others?

This year, the London Beth Din, or religious court, has created a list of permissible products not made under special supervision for Passover due to difficulties caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The Kashrut Division of the court developed the list, titled “Product guidelines in extremis,” from an array of basic goods to help quarantined families and those who are struggling financially due to the virus, the UK Jewish News reports.

“We are acutely aware of the pressures at this unprecedented time,” the Kashrut Division director, Rabbi Jeremy Conway, says in a statement. “We already know why this Seder night will be different to all other nights and this Pesach will be one unlike any other.”

He adds: “This list should be used when regular supervised products are not available, or for people who are older or in isolation and so are unable to go shopping themselves or have Pesach products delivered to their home.

All hand sanitizers have been approved for use on Passover, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

JTA

WHO: US could overtake Europe as coronavirus epicenter

The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States has the potential to exceed that in Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) says as the number of reported US cases surges.

The pandemic began in China in December but the epicenter has since shifted from Asia to Europe.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris tells reporters during a virtual press conference that 85 percent of the new cases reported to the global body overnight had come from Europe and the United States, now the two “main drivers of the outbreak.”

The latest WHO coronavirus daily situation report — published late Monday, before the overnight figures — showed that Europe reported 20,131 new cases in the preceding 24 hours, while the United States reported 16,354, more than doubling its total caseload.

Asked whether the United States could overtake Europe as the epicenter of COVID-19, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in the number of cases from the US, so it does have that potential.

“We cannot say that that is the case yet but it does have that potential. They have a very large outbreak and an outbreak increasing in intensity.”

AFP

Health Ministry says supermarkets not closing after top official sows panic

The Health Ministry says Israel is not considering shutting down supermarkets, after a top official appeared to suggest such a step could be taken.

The ministry says: “We would like to clarify that this is a scenario that is being appraised for a very extreme situation, and is not currently on the agenda.”

Itamar Grotto, deputy director of the Health Ministry, had said: “Maybe this sounds like an extreme step, but I think we need to close the food stores and maybe distribute [IDF] meals to the public. But this requires a lot of infrastructure.”

 

Likud’s Regev pans court ruling on Knesset speaker, but says it must be upheld

Likud minister Miri Regev condemns the High Court of Justice for ruling that the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, must hold a vote by Wednesday to elect a successor. In its ruling, the court accused him of undermining democracy by refusing to do so.

She tells Channel 12 that the High Court decision is a “disconnected from reality.”

But “clearly if this is the High Court’s decision, we will have to implement it. I say again, it’s a bad decision. A decision that harms our parliamentary system. A decision that harms the Jewish, Zionist majority… [But] at the end of the end of a day… we are a state beholden to the rule of law and nobody is above the law.”

Europe eyes smartphone location data to stem virus spread

Several European nations are evaluating powerful but potentially intrusive tools for fighting the coronavirus pandemic, a move that could put public health at odds with individual privacy.

The tools in question are apps that would use real-time phone-location data to track the movements of virus carriers and the people they come in contact with. The aim would be to develop a better sense of where infections are flaring up, how they are spreading and when health authorities need to order quarantines and related measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Britain, Germany and Italy are among the nations considering the enlistment of individual location data in the fight against the virus. That worries privacy advocates, who fear such ubiquitous surveillance could be abused in the absence of careful oversight, with potentially dire consequences for civil liberties.

Israel has already started tracking phones to prevent the spread of the disease.

with AP

India announces 21-day virus lockdown for its 1.3 billion citizens

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announces a “total lockdown” in the country of 1.3 billion people during a televised address Tuesday night, the most extensive stay-at-home order yet in the world’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The 21-day lockdown is set to begin at midnight.

“To save India and every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi says, adding that if the county failed to manage the next 21 days, it would be set back by 21 years.

Indian health officials have reported 469 actives cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 10 deaths.

AP

Nurse in geriatric ward diagnosed with coronavirus

A nurse in a geriatric ward at the Reut rehabilitation hospital in Tel Aviv has been diagnosed with COVID-19, reports say.

Twenty staff members have been placed in self-quarantine.

The nurse has been home for eight days, according to the Ynet news site.

It’s unclear whether any of the patients under her care have been tested.

Netanyahu says deliveries from restaurants to continue

As top government officials continue to debate increasingly stringent lockdown measures, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says food deliveries from restaurants will continue under the new directives.

But pickup from the restaurants will be forbidden, he adds.

It remains unclear when the government will unveil the new lockdown rules.

Knesset votes to form panel to oversee response to pandemic

Lawmakers vote to form four Knesset committees, including a panel that will oversee the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

That committee will be chaired by Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah.

The other parliamentary panels are focused on preparing the education system for next year, headed by Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz; a special labor and welfare committee; and a committee to reduce violence and crime in Arab communities.

Right-wing lawmakers boycotted the plenary votes to form the panels.

Britain urges public to respect coronavirus lockdown

Britain’s leaders urge people to respect an unprecedented countrywide lockdown, saying that following advice to stay at home would stop people dying of coronavirus.

“Unless you stay at home, then the people you love most may die,” senior minister Michael Gove says in a round of broadcast interviews.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson late on Monday bowed to pressure to follow other European countries in shutting most shops and services, as the death toll reached 335.

Many streets were deserted on Tuesday morning, although reduced traffic still circulated in London and construction workers were allowed to stay on site.

Pictures on social media showed packed rush-hour trains on the London Underground “Tube” network, but this is partly as a result of a dramatic reduction in services.

AFP

8 Jerusalem hospital staff test positive for COVID-19

Eight hospital workers at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem and Hadassah Har Hatzofim medical centers test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The ill include doctors and nurses, according to reports, which say 134 Hadassah employees had been tested.

Second fatality of virus named as Malka Keva, 67

Hebrew media reports identify the woman who died of COVID-19 as Malka Keva, 67, of the central city of Bat Yam.

Keva, who died at the Wolfson Medical Center, had worked at the hospital for 30 years, according to Channel 12. Several years ago, she fell ill with cancer and had been in a weakened state when she contracted the virus.

Her grandson, Mor Yeffet, writes on Facebook that Kevah was “the lioness of the family, you did everything for us up until the last moment.”

“If only I could hug you one more time,” he writes. “I wanted to leave quarantine and come visit you in the hospital to say goodbye, but they wouldn’t let me. Why is the world so cruel?”

Israel sending plane to Colombia to rescue backpackers

Israel is sending a plane to Bogota to pick up some 150 Israeli backpackers stranded in Latin America, the Foreign Ministry says.

The El Al plane will leave Tel Aviv for Colombia on Wednesday night, the ministry says.

“The worried families of the backpackers in Colombia can smile,” says Foreign Minister Israel Katz. “Israel doesn’t abandon its children.”

Virus claims third victim in Israel, an 87-year-old man in Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center announces the death of an 87-year-old man from the coronavirus, the third fatality in the country.

The man was brought to the hospital earlier this week from the assisted living residence where he lived, after testing positive for the virus, the hospital says. He had a series of underlying medical problems, including diabetes and dementia, it says.

The man is not named.

Holocaust survivor rabbi who led US House in prayer dies of virus

A New York rabbi who recently led the US House of Representatives in prayer and is credited with saving 56 families as a young partisan during the Holocaust has died of the coronavirus.

According to reports, Romi Cohn was 91 years old.

2 of 3 virus fatalities were residents of Jerusalem assisted living facility

The 87-year-old man who died of the virus is the second resident of the Nofim Tower assisted living facility in Jerusalem to succumb to the illness.

The first was Aryeh Even, 88, who passed away on Friday.

Trump seeks to relax social distancing, send people back to work

With lives and the economy hanging in the balance, US President Donald Trump is weighing how to refine nationwide social-distancing guidelines to put some workers back on the job amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The White House is eyeing ways to ease the advisories that have sidelined workers, shuttered schools and led to a widespread economic slowdown. The US is now more than a week into an unprecedented 15-day effort to encourage all Americans to drastically scale back their public activities.

“I gave it two weeks,” Trump says during a virtual town hall Tuesday afternoon hosted by Fox News from the Rose Garden. He argues that tens of thousands of Americans die from the seasonal flu or in automobile accidents and “we don’t turn the country off.”

“We’ll assess at that time and we’ll give it some more time if we need a little more time, but we need to open this country up,” he adds. “We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought.”

AP

Ministers to okay tighter lockdown at 8:30 p.m; rules not made public

Ministers will approve the new emergency regulations tightening the country’s lockdown to stem the coronavirus pandemic, even as citizens remain in the dark about what the new rules entail.

The government has yet to announce the new restrictions, but media reports say it will ban outdoor exercise and limit residents from strolling 100 meters away from their homes. It will also introduce new restrictions on restaurants and is expected to see public transportation scaled back, if not canceled entirely.

TV report: Lockdown violators will face 6 months in jail

Channel 13 is reporting that the government will seek hefty fines and six-month jail sentences for violators of the new lockdown rules, which will be approved tonight.

The emergency regulations, until now, have largely been unenforced.

TV: Health Ministry document says Israel has only 50 backup ventilators

A Health Ministry document says Israel has only 50 ventilators in storage for use in emergency situations, according to Channel 13.

Israel is looking to purchases additional ventilators to meet the expected demand amid the pandemic.

High Court green lights virus surveillance as Knesset oversight panels formed

The High Court of Justice lifts its injunction barring police from using Israelis’ cellphone locations to track whether they are breaking coronavirus quarantine.

Last Thursday, the High Court handed down an injunction, stating that it would shutter the government’s new mass surveillance program if Israel’s parliament failed to establish parliamentary oversight over it within five days.

Those oversight panels were created on Tuesday by lawmakers, prompting the court to pull its objections.

Hours before the injunction, the Shin Bet security service had been ordered to begin digitally tracking the movements of Israelis in an effort to keep tabs on the spread of the new coronavirus through the population. The tracking, done through the location data of Israelis’ cellphones, aims to alert and order into quarantine people who, in the previous two weeks, were within two meters for 10 minutes or more of someone who turns out to have the virus.

President sends condolences to families of COVID-19 victims

President Reuven Rivlin sends condolences to the families of the three coronavirus victims.

“At this difficult time, my heart is with the families dealing with the loss of their loved ones from this terrible virus, and with a distant, terrible parting. I am full of thanks and admiration for the medical staff helping the sick and their families. Guardian angels,” he writes on Twitter.

Iran rejects ‘foreign’ help as virus death toll nears 2,000

A senior Iranian official rules out “foreign” help on the ground to deal with the coronavirus epidemic after an offer from a France-based medical charity, as the country’s death toll from the illness nears 2,000.

“Due to Iran’s national mobilization against the virus and the full use of the medical capacity of the armed forces, it is not necessary for now for hospital beds to be set up by foreign forces, and their presence is ruled out,” Alireza Vahabzadeh, advisor to Iran’s health minister, says on Twitter.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had said Sunday that it planned to send a nine-member team and equipment to set up a 50-bed hospital, stirring opposition from ultra-conservative circles in the Islamic Republic who charged that MSF staff would serve as “spies.”

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour earlier said a record 1,762 new cases have been confirmed in Iran over the past 24 hours and 24,811 people are now known to have been infected with the new coronavirus.

He announced 122 new deaths from the virus, raising the official toll to 1,934 in one of the world’s worst hit countries.

AFP

Moscow congregation self-isolates after synagogue’s rabbi gets coronavirus

The congregation of a Moscow synagogue has been placed under quarantine after one of its rabbis contracted the coronavirus.

Rabbi Gershon Lisus, 36, is in the hospital in stable but serious condition. He attended several communal events at the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue, including a Purim party on March 8, the news site NG reported Sunday. The synagogue closed 10 days later because of the coronavirus.

Joseph Kogan, the senior rabbi at Bolshaya Bronnaya, reached out to inform his congregation of the situation earlier this week, the report says.

“We closed down the synagogue and asked people to go into self-isolation immediately,” Kogan tells the news site.

He says Lisus did not travel abroad in the months leading to the outbreak of the pandemic. Several dozen people and their relatives have gone into self-isolation as a result.

JTA

Milan Jews mourn virus death of father of four

Giorgio Sinigaglia, a father of four and an engineer, was being remembered for volunteering in his Milan Jewish community, his generosity and his wry sense of humor after dying of the coronavirus.

The Jewish Community of Milan, the city’s Jewish communal life organization, reported his passing on Monday.

Dozens eulogize the 54-year-old Sinigaglia on the website’s article about his death following several days of fever and respiratory distress.

“He played everything down,” his longtime friend Francesco Ceserani writes.

Micol Naccache also remembers his hospitality, including the time he invited friends without family in Milan to attend the Passover seder with his wife and four kids.

The report about Sinigaglia’s passing does not specify how and when he will be buried.

JTA

Jordan arrests over 1,600 for violating virus curfew

More than 1,600 people have been arrested in Jordan over three days for violating a curfew aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus, a security official says.

The source says the 1,657 people arrested across Jordan since the curfew came into effect on Saturday had been placed in quarantine centers run by the army.

The government has warned that people caught breaking the rules would be quarantined for 14 days and could also face up to one year of jail time.

The kingdom reports 26 new cases of the COVID-19 illness on Tuesday, bringing the total number to 153 confirmed infections in the country of around 10 million people.

To date, authorities have not declared any deaths from the disease.

Jordan imposed a curfew after citizens failed to heed instructions not to leave home except for emergencies, and it has deployed the army to enforce the measure.

AFP

Health Ministry: Number of coronavirus cases rises to 1,930

The Health Ministry says the number of virus infections in the country has climbed to 1,930, with three fatalities.

Of the sick, 34 are in serious condition, 45 are in moderate condition, while the vast majority are displaying mild symptoms.

Dow has biggest one-day jump since 1933, surging 11.4% on stimulus hopes

Wall Street posts its best performance in nearly 90 years on Tuesday, as indices rally on hopes that lawmakers would soon agree on a massive stimulus measures to blunt the coronavirus’ economic impact.

At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had risen by 11.4 percent to 20,704.91, its biggest one-day percentage increase since 1933.

The tech-rich Nasdaq gained 8.1 percent to close at 7,417.86, while the broad-based S&P 500 finished the day at 2,447.33, a gain of 9.4 percent.

AFP

State comptroller enters home quarantine

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman enters a 14-day home quarantine after being exposed to a COVID-19 patient.

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London rabbis permit some products not supervised for Passover due to virus

Why will this Passover be different from all others?

This year, the London Beth Din, or religious court, has created a list of permissible products not made under special supervision for Passover due to difficulties caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The Kashrut Division of the court developed the list, titled “Product guidelines in extremis,” from an array of basic goods to help quarantined families and those who are struggling financially due to the virus, the UK Jewish News reports.

“We are acutely aware of the pressures at this unprecedented time,” the Kashrut Division director, Rabbi Jeremy Conway, says in a statement. “We already know why this Seder night will be different to all other nights and this Pesach will be one unlike any other.”

He adds: “This list should be used when regular supervised products are not available, or for people who are older or in isolation and so are unable to go shopping themselves or have Pesach products delivered to their home.

All hand sanitizers have been approved for use on Passover, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

JTA