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Some European countries begin to plot lockdown exit amid signs of encouragement

Austria to re-open stores soon, Denmark says some daycares and schools may be back in businesses in 10 days, but France and other locales, still getting walloped by virus

A man walks along an empty street in the old town area of Salzburg on April 6, 2020 during the exit restrictions amid the new coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic. (BARBARA GINDL / APA / AFP)
A man walks along an empty street in the old town area of Salzburg on April 6, 2020 during the exit restrictions amid the new coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic. (BARBARA GINDL / APA / AFP)

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

Ministers to rule on locking down 8 cities, Haredi parts of Jerusalem

Ministers will rule today on enforcing a tighter closure over eight cities and 15 ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

The cities are: Tiberias, Elad, Migdal Haemek, Beitar Illit, Ashkelon, Or Yehuda, Modiin Illit, and parts of Beit Shemesh.

The Jerusalem neighborhoods that are to be sealed include Har Nof, Bayit Vegan, Givat Mordechai, Ramat Shlomo, Sanhedria, Shmuel HaNavi, Beit Yisrael, Mea Shearim, Geula, Bucharim, Zichron Moshe, Ramot, Makor Baruch, Givat Shaul, and Kiryat Moshe,

It remains unclear what the new guidelines will be, though they will likely include a broader military presence to enforce the restrictions. Israelis are already banned from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes, with exceptions made for work and purchasing essential supplies.

The restrictions would be less severe than those currently in place in Bnei Brak, with the Ynet news site terming them a “breathing closure.”

13 hospitalized, 1 dead from cruise ship in Florida

Authorities say 14 people have been taken to hospitals from a cruise ship that docked in Florida with coronavirus victims aboard and one of them has died.

Two fatalities were reported earlier aboard the Coral Princess, which docked Saturday in Miami. The ship had more than 1,000 passengers and nearly 900 crew members.

Authorities do not immediately disclose whether the 14 people removed for immediate medical attention had a confirmed coronavirus link.

The Princess Cruises line ship began disembarking fit passengers cleared for charter flights Sunday. The cruise line said it was delayed by a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy preventing passengers from being placed on commercial flights.

Anyone with symptoms of the disease or recovering from it is being kept on ship until medically cleared.

AP

UN chief decries ‘horrifying’ surge of domestic violence

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says there has been “a horrifying global surge in domestic violence” in recent weeks as fear of the coronavirus pandemic has grown along with its social and economic consequences.

The UN chief, who appealed on March 23 for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts around the world to tackle COVID-19, says in a statement it is now time to appeal for an end to all violence, “everywhere, now.”

Guterres says that “for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest — in their own homes.”

“And, so, I make a new appeal today for peace at home — and in homes — around the world,” he says.

The secretary-general says that in some countries, which he doesn’t name, “the number of women calling support services has doubled.”

At the same time, he says, health care providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed, local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds, and some domestic violence shelters are closed while others are full.

“I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19,” Guterres says.

AP

Blue and White said willing to bend on annexation, but not on judge appointments

Blue and White is willing to compromise on West Bank annexation in order to form a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, which has demanded support for the move, sources in Benny Gantz’s party tell the Kan public broadcaster.

But Likud’s demand for veto power on the appointment of judges could see the coalition negotiations blow up without agreement, the sources say.

The issue of West Bank annexation, which Likud favors, was previously reported to be a sticking point in the talks.

Health Ministry official says Israel likely headed to national lockdown Seder night

Health Ministry Deputy Director-General Itamar Grotto says Israel is likely heading to a full lockdown on Wednesday, coinciding with the first night of Passover, when Jews hold their Seder meals.

He confirms, in an interview with Army Radio, comments by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who said Sunday night the government was considering a nationwide closure over the Passover holiday.

Grotto also says it’s too early to be optimistic about infection rates in the country.

“We see an increase at a measured pace, but it’s still too early for optimism,” he says. “We will need to wait for a week after Passover [which begins April 8 and ends April 15] to see what the damage is.”

Virus death toll rises to 51, infections at 8,611

The Health Ministry says 51 people have died of the coronavirus, raising the death toll by two since last night.

There is no immediate information on the latest victims.

In its morning roundup, the ministry says 8,611 are infected with the virus. Of them, 141 are in serious condition, including 107 on ventilators. Another 191 are in moderate condition.

China reports 39 new virus cases, all but one imported

China reports 39 new cases of coronavirus infection — 38 of them imported — one additional death, 10 suspected cases and 1,047 asymptomatic cases under observation.

There are no new confirmed or suspected cases in the epicenter city of Wuhan, where a 14-week lockdown is due to be lifted on Wednesday.

China has now recorded a total of 81,708 cases and 3,331 deaths since the COVID-19 illness was first detected there in late December.

AP

Shares rebound on signs of progress in battling virus

Asian shares and US futures rebound as investors grasp at threads of hope that the battle against the coronavirus pandemic may be making some progress in some hard-hit areas.

Markets in Tokyo and Sydney gain more than 4% and Hong Kong climbs 2.3%. New York futures are more than 4% higher.

The gains follow another Friday session of losses after the US said employers cut 701,000 more jobs than they added last month, the first drop in nearly a decade. Investors fled the market ahead of the weekend.

Oil prices fell back after a meeting between OPEC and Russia reportedly was delayed until April 9.

Reports have shown the number of people dying appears to be slowing in New York City, Spain and Italy. The news was cautiously welcomed by leaders, who also noted that any gains could easily be reversed if people did not continue to adhere to strict lockdowns.

AP

Per capita, Efrat settlement most infected area in Israel

The Health Ministry offers a breakdown of virus cases by city.

Jerusalem is the most infected, with 1,424 cases.

Bnei Brak is next, with 1,323.

Tel Aviv-Jaffa is third, with 387.

It’s followed by Ashkelon (207), Petah Tikva (167), Elad (163) Rishon Lezion (149),  Beit Shemesh (148), Modiin Illit (145), and Netanya (141).

This is based on Monday’s data.

But per capita, the settlement of Efrat is the most infected, the ministry says, citing figures from Saturday. It has 63 cases.

In second place is Kiryat Yearim, with 33 cases.

Bnei Brak, which is under lockdown, is third.

Kfar Chabad follows, with 37 cases.

Other small towns and settlements, due to their small populations, also make the top 10 list of most infected by population, including: Kochav Hashahar, Neve Daniel, Mizpe Ramon, Kochav Yaakov, Merkaz Shapira, and Migdal Haemek.

First plane with medical equipment arrives in Israel from China

The first planeload of medical supplies from China has touched down in Israel, the Defense Ministry says.

It includes 20 tons of equipment, including masks and protective suits.

Another plane is making its way to Tel Aviv from China now, with a third set to take off later in the day.

Overall, Israel will bring 11 planes full of medical equipment, including ventilators, from China, in an operation overseen by the Defense Ministry and carried out by El Al.

Liberman: Deri seeking national lockdown to placate ultra-Orthodox

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman attacks ultra-Orthodox politicians, accusing them of endangering public safety with their policy decisions relating to the pandemic.

Citing several instances of violence by Haredim against police and medics enforcing the lockdown orders, Liberman writes on Facebook: “It’s important to remember the sacred work that Magen David Adom and the security forces are doing right now, and it’s important to remember that most of the ultra-Orthodox are listening to the instructions and behaving accordingly.

“But what must concern us is not the minority of lawbreakers, but the Haredi leadership. MK Porush who opposed the entry of the IDF into Bnei Brak and its assistance to the residents; MK Gafni who threatens, in his name as well as on behalf of [UTJ leader and Health Minister Yaakov] Litzman and [Shas leader and Interior Minister Aryeh] Deri that they won’t be partners in a coalition that imposes a closure on Haredi cities and neighborhoods. And MK Deri who announced that all cities in the country will be locked down, without regard for the number of cases.

“This decision is unreasonable and is designed to placate the Haredi street,” claims Liberman. “I repeat: I have no claims against the Haredim, but rather against their leaders who are behaving irresponsibly and are endangering not only the health of the Haredi community, but the health of all Israeli citizens.”

Deri on Sunday night said the Israeli government was considering imposing a full closure over Passover, amid fears Israelis would travel to visit their relatives, causing a spike in infections.

Nearly one-quarter of virus casualties were residents of assisted living

Nearly one-quarter of the victims of the coronavirus in Israel were residents of assisted living facilities, the Walla news website reports.

They are 12 of the 51 casualties.

Researcher: Gathering sensitive personal info, Zoom a threat to its users

Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank sounds the alarm about the privacy issues plaguing popular videoconferencing application Zoom.

As the app moves to tighten its security amid widespread criticism, Shwartz Altshuler says the changes being implemented are “appropriate” but the service continues to collect sensitive data on its users and records all conversations.

“Unlike other apps, Zoom operates under a scandalous privacy policy in which it collects information on all its users without their explicit consent. This is true for those who have downloaded the app and authorized its privacy policy – and it is also true for users who access the meetings without downloading the app or giving any confirmation of the privacy policy. Zoom considers all its users as a ‘product’ and therefore all their information, including credit card details, employment information and other sensitive details remains in the possession of the company,” she says in a statement.

She adds: “Zoom not only collects data via cookies, it also records all conversations that take place using the application. Just a few examples how the company can use this data include: training artificial intelligence systems to convert video or voice to text or to identify emotions, gathering information on the users as individuals — what their voices sound like, how they conduct meetings, their personal interest and even what their homes looks like. All of this information is of incalculable value to advertisers and other commercial interests.”

And she warns that as the restrictions on movement due to the pandemic persist, Zoom will continue to collect additional compromising information.

“The longer social distancing practices due to the coronavirus continue – the more data Zoom can collect – and the more serious the problem will become. It is only a matter of time until even more serious repercussions become apparent from the mass use of this program. The relative ease in which sensitive information on Zoom can be abused poses a serious threat to its users,” she says.

Putting up fences overnight, Ramat Gan blocks entry to pedestrians from Bnei Brak

The city of Ramat Gan has set up makeshift fences and checkpoints to prevent pedestrian traffic from adjacent Bnei Brak, which has a high concentration of virus cases.

According to Hebrew media reports, the fences have been put up overnight to separate the cities.

There is currently a closure in and out of Bnei Brak to vehicles.

“So long as the Israel Police don’t block the entrance points, and so long as the movement between cities is forbidden by law, the responsibility for public health leads to the conclusion that it is appropriate and correct to plug all openings,” the Ramat Gan municipality says after taking matters into its own hands.

Ramat Gan ordered to take down fences separating it from Bnei Brak

The Interior Ministry has ordered the city of Ramat Gan to dismantle the fences it put up overnight to separate it from adjacent Bnei Brak.

Footage posted on social media appears to show municipal workers taking down the fences.

British PM still in charge despite ‘frustrating’ hospitalization with virus

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in charge of the government despite being hospitalized in what his office described as a “precautionary step,” after contracting the new coronavirus.

Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick tells BBC that Johnson is awaiting the results of tests after spending the night in an undisclosed hospital.

Jenrick says that he’s “sure this is very frustrating for him,’’ but that “nonetheless he’s still very much in charge.’’ Jenrick does not rule out a more prolonged stay.

The 55-year-old leader had been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 — the first known head of government to fall ill with the virus.

He has continued to preside at daily meetings on the outbreak and has released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation.

AP

IDF officer moderately hurt as soldier’s gun goes off during exercise

An IDF officer is moderately injured after he was shot by one of his soldiers during an exercise before the unit was meant to take position in the West Bank city of Hebron, the military says.

The officer is taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

This is the second case of an accidental discharge within that Golani Brigade battalion in the past week, after a similar incident last Friday in which no injuries were reported.

The IDF says the head of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, has halted all exercises in his units in response to the incident until an initial investigation can be completed. In addition, the head of the Gaash Division, Brig. Gen. Avi Gil, also calls off all exercises in the Golani Brigade until the matter can be investigated.

The Military Police have also opened a probe into the incident to determine if a crime was committed, the IDF says.

Judah Ari Gross

Police break up 2 illegal prayer gatherings in Jerusalem

Police break up two illegal prayer gatherings in Jerusalem, each with 30 worshipers.

According to Channel 12, following the raids on two locations in the Mea Shearim and Bucharim neighborhoods, all participants were fined NIS 500 ($137) each.

Austria could begin loosening virus restrictions by April 14

Austria could start loosening its coronavirus lockdown measures from next week, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announces at a press conference Monday, but warns this depends on citizens abiding by social distancing rules.

“The aim is that from 14 April… smaller shops up to a size of 400 square metres, as well as hardware and garden stores can open again, under strict security conditions of course,” Kurz says.

AFP

Gantz said to threaten Likud if it doesn’t sign coalition deal ‘within hour’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz sends a letter to Likud, warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign a coalition deal with him within the hour or face political consequences, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Gantz, who is serving as interim Knesset speaker, threatens to advance legislation “today” against Netanyahu that would bar politicians facing criminal charges from forming a government, effectively disqualifying the Likud leader, if passed.

Jerusalem municipality to collect chametz for burning ahead of Passover

The Jerusalem municipality says it will be collecting chametz, or leaven products, to burn ahead of Passover.

Special trash bins will be distributed in each neighborhood and collected by Wednesday at 9 a.m.

The city will oversee the burning, it says.

Burning chametz, a tradition before the holiday, has been banned this year due to the pandemic, to avoid people congregating outdoors.

To find the chametz dropoff point closest to you, click here.

Netanyahu and Putin have ‘warm’ conversation on Passover and pandemic

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone, in a conversation described as “warm” by the Israeli leader’s office.

Putin wished Netanyahu and Israelis a happy Passover and good luck in combating the pandemic, the statement says.

The two leaders also discussed cooperation in the purchase of medical supplies amid a global shortage and “agreed to enable movement between Russia and Israel so that citizens of both countries may return to their [home] countries,” the statement says.

Litzman: Stop blaming ultra-Orthodox for virus spread

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman urges Israelis to stop attributing the spread of the pandemic to members of his ultra-Orthodox community.

“The statements that Haredim are seemingly are infecting [the broader population] with the virus are false and dangerous,”says Litzman, who heads the Haredi United Torah Judaism party. “The Haredi public is heeding the instructions and meticulously obeying the safety rules. In every community there is a small minority that does not observe the rules sufficiently and for this, enforcement by the authorities is required. But you cannot generalize and, heaven forbid, turn the coronavirus crisis into a clash between the communities in Israel.”

“Residents of Bnei Brak and Haredi areas are not supposed to receive discriminatory and humiliating treatment,” he adds.  “I call on the mayor of Ramat Gan to avoid steps that increase friction and contention between the communities.”

He is referring to gates put up by Ramat Gan to separate it from adjacent Bnei Brak, which the state has ordered pulled down. Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, is under lockdown amid a serious outbreak in the city.

Litzman himself is sick with the coronavirus. TV reports have accused him of flouting his own Health Ministry rules and attending illegal prayer gatherings, which he denies.

France heading for worst recession since WWII, minister says

France is likely to see its deepest recession since the end of World War II this year because of the coronavirus crisis, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warns.

“The worst growth figure in France since 1945 was -2.2 percent in 2009, after the financial crisis of 2008. We will probably be very far beyond -2.2 percent” this year, Le Maire tells a Senate panel.

“It’s an indication of the amplitude of the economic shock we’re facing,” he says.

France imposed a nationwide stay-at-home order from March 17 after shuttering all nonessential businesses. Officials have said the lockdown will last until at least April 15.

Statistics office Insee said last month that the lockdown has slashed overall economic activity by 35 percent, and estimated every month of shutdown would cut annual GPD by three percentage points.

Services, heavy industry and construction are all taking big hits, Insee said, as factories are shut and only a handful of business sectors, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, remain open.

AFP

Police disperse illegal prayer at Lod mosque

Police disperse an illegal prayer gathering at a mosque in Lod in central Israel.

Seven worshipers were inside the mosque and another two were located hiding in a bathroom stall.

According to reports, the man who organized the prayer was detained for questioning and fined.

Israel sends matzahs, Passover items to Jews in… Egypt

As Jews across the world ready to celebrate the Exodus from Egypt later this week, the Israeli government was busy sending matzahs and other essential Passover items to the Jewish community in Egypt.

In a “complex operation,” Israel’s Embassy in Cairo and Jewish organizations managed to get boxes of kosher for Passover food to the Jewish communities in Cairo and Alexandria, the Foreign Ministry says in a statement.

“Even in the difficult reality created by the worldwide coronavirus crisis, we are not forgetting our brothers in the small Jewish community of Egypt,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz says. “And I am happy that we could help them celebrate Passover this year according to religious law. The ties with Jewish communities around the world is a central aspect of Israeli diplomacy, and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its missions across the globe.”

Raphael Ahren

TV report: Netanyahu and Gantz holding coalition talks since morning

According to a report by Channel 13, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz have been holding coalition talks at the Prime Minister’s Residence since the morning hours.

Netanyahu has been in quarantine since Health Minister Yaakov Litzman contracted the coronavirus last week, so the talks were likely held at a distance.

Cabinet meeting tonight to discuss closures

A ministerial meeting scheduled for this afternoon, during which lockdown measures on eight cities were meant to be authorized, has been canceled.

Instead, ministers will meet remotely in a cabinet meeting tonight.

During that meeting, they will approve new emergency regulations.

Some reports suggest the closure will be extended to the entire country ahead of Passover, rather than a handful of cities, after ultra-Orthodox ministers Yaakov Litzman and Aryeh Deri protest the restrictions being rolled out largely in Haredi areas.

It remains unclear how this closure, aimed at preventing Israelis from traveling to relatives for Passover, will differ from the current rules.

Likud, Blue and White confirm meeting between Netanyahu and Gantz

In a joint statement, Likud and Blue and White confirm their respective party leaders met this morning to hammer out a coalition agreement.

 

Labor and Blue and White announce planned merger

Labor’s Amir Peretz and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz meet to discuss a merger of their parties.

“In the first stage, rules will be set on joint and coordinated work inside the Knesset, with the aim of merging the parties,” a joint statement says.

The statement suggests the two parties could run on a joint ticket in future elections, and taps MKs Avi Nissenkorn and Itzhik Shmuli to discuss these arrangements.

Lebanon pleads for international help as pandemic spirals

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun appeals for the international community to help his country, which is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, made worse in recent weeks by the new coronavirus.

Aoun says in a speech in front of ambassadors of the International Support Group for Lebanon that includes the UN, US, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, EU and the Arab League that Beirut was getting ready to launch work to revive the economy when the coronavirus hit the world.

“We are facing all these challenges and welcome any international assistance,” Aoun says, adding that the presence of a million Syrian refugees is adding to the crisis.

Lebanon has reported 541 cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths.

Also in Lebanon, which has been imposing a lockdown for weeks, security forces began implementing strict measures that allow vehicles with even or odd plate numbers to drive for three days a week each. Driving will be banned on Sundays to try limit the spread of the virus.

AP

Global coronavirus death toll tops 70,000

The new coronavirus has killed more than 70,000 people across the globe, the majority in Europe, according to an AFP tally Monday at 1100 GMT.

Out of a total of 70,009 killed in the pandemic, 50,215 are in Europe, according to figures compiled from official government data and the World Health Organization.

Italy is leading the global death toll with 15,877 fatalities, followed by Spain with 13,055, the United States with 9,648 and France with 8,078.

AFP

IDF officer accidentally shot during exercise now in serious condition

The Golani officer who was accidentally shot during a training exercise in Hebron earlier today is now in serious condition in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, the hospital says.

According to the medical center, the officer sustained a “complicated” injury to his hip, which required immediate surgery.

He has since been moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit, where he is unconscious and connected to a ventilator. His condition is stable, the hospital says.

Judah Ari Gross

Blue and White, Likud say they want to form government quickly

Blue and White and Likud, in a joint follow-up statement, say coalition talks are making progress.

“We will emphasize that the negotiations are underway and in good spirits, with the aim of establishing a national emergency government as quickly as possible,” it says.

IDF to deliver 1,000 tons of food to Bnei Brak residents ahead of Passover

The Israel Defense Forces’ 98th Paratroopers Division primary mission is delivering roughly 1,000 tons (2 million pounds) of food to needy residents of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak before the upcoming Passover holiday on Wednesday evening, a senior military official says.

This is expected to be an incredibly difficult task, requiring the hundreds of soldiers operating inside the coronavirus-stricken Tel Aviv suburb to work days and nights to get the food to the people who need it in time, the officer says, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The senior official tells reporters that while this is the 98th Division’s current focus, it is not their only one. The soldiers — from the divisions’ Paratroopers Brigade and Commando Brigade — are also working to assist medical authorities to evacuate confirmed coronavirus carriers and otherwise help local authorities.

“[Passover] is just a point where we’ll halt activities out of respect for the holiday and then we’ll continue [operating],” the officer says.

He says it is not yet clear when the military will complete its operations inside Bnei Brak.

The officer says he is not sufficiently familiar with the IDF’s plans for sending troops to other cities around the country to comment on the matter.

Though residents and officials of Bnei Brak, as well as some ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, have publicly condemned and criticized the military’s presence inside the city, the officer says that his troops have yet to encounter a single “irregular incident” of violence or opposition.

“The opposite is true,” he says, citing cases of residents crying with happiness upon receiving assistance from troops.

Judah Ari Gross

Two die of coronavirus at Jerusalem hospital

Shaarei Zedek hospital in Jerusalem announces that two of its patients have died of COVID -19.

One patient was a 77-year-old man with “many complicated pre-existing conditions.”

The second victim is a 91-year-old woman who also had many underlying conditions, according to the hospital.

The two deaths apparently bring the death toll up to 53.

Eggs on their way to Israel getting business class treatment

Precious eggs — the regular old cooking kind, not Faberge — are making their way to Israel in style, flying business class, and every other class, on El Al, according to Cargo Division manager Ronen Shapiro.

Shapiro tells Channel 12 that eggs, on five special flights meant to sate Israel’s Passover needs, are being placed everywhere on the plane, not just the cargo holds.

When asked if that includes business class seats, Shapira replies, “Absolutely.”

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

 

UK’s Johnson in good spirits after night in hospital

Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweets he is “in good spirits” following his first night in the hospital for what his office described as a “precautionary step” after contracting the new coronavirus.

Johnson remains in charge of government despite being sent to St. Thomas’ Hospital after COVID-19 symptoms of a cough and fever persisted. His spokesman James Slack says he remains in hospital under observation.

The 55-year-old leader had been quarantined in his Downing Street residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26. He is the first known head of government to fall ill with the virus.

He has released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation.

— with AP

Two die of COVID-19 in Tel Aviv, bringing toll to 55

Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital announces two more deaths from the new coronavirus, bringing the toll to 55.

The hospital says a man, 72, and a woman, 87, died. Both had pre-existing conditions.

Spain, Netherlands report lower numbers of sick

Health officials in Spain and the Netherlands are reporting lower numbers of sick people straining the hospitals, offering rays of hope in two hard-hit parts of Europe.

Officials in Madrid say the rush of incoming patients is easing in hospitals and allowing authorities to think about how to start reverting those facilities to normal operations.

Patients awaiting treatment in emergency wards across the region of 6.6-million that has been hard hit by the new coronavirus went down Monday to 390 cases. That’s one tenth of the arrivals that were seen one week ago.

The number of people being treated for the coronavirus in intensive care units had fluctuated but stabilized at around 1,500 for five straight days.

Regional health minister Enrique Ruíz Escudero says officials are considering returning beds that have been used for positive COVID-19 patients to beds used for normal activity in hospitals.

The development follows a week of social media postings showing patients resting on the floor and in chairs at the suburban hospital.

In the Netherland, the Dutch public health institute says the country’s coronavirus death toll saw the lowest daily increase in a week. The number of deaths rose by 101 to 1,867.

The institute says the number of people who have tested positive for the virus rose by 952 to 18,803. That is also a smaller rise than the increase of 1,224 reported on Sunday.

The number of people suffering the effects of the virus who were admitted to a hospital rose by 260, slightly higher than Sunday’s 253 increase.

— with AP

 

Italian officials okay experimental Israeli drug for use on COVID-19 patients

Tel Aviv and North Carolina-based RedHill BioPharma announces that Italian officials have approved use of one of its experimental treatments for COVID-19 patients under a compassionate use program.

The chemical compound, opaganib, is still in testing stages as a drug for relieving lung inflammations, such as pneumonia, and doctors hope it could help COVID-19 patients with other underlying conditions.

“The approved opaganib expanded access program allows physicians in the three major hospitals in Italy to treat patients at high risk of developing pneumonia and those with pneumonia, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, secondary to SARS-CoV-2 infection,” says Dr. Mark L. Levitt, medical director at RedHill.

The Italian National Institute for Infectious Diseases and Central Italian Ethics Committee okay the treatment for use on 160 patients in three major hospitals.

Bank of Israel slashes rates to 0.1%

The Bank of Israel announces it is cutting interest rates to 0.1%, hoping to help the coronavirus-battered economy weather the crisis.

The move follows other similar rate cuts in the US and around the world, which have generally caused temporary jumps in the stock market.

The rate matches the lowest ever and brings the bank back to where it was from 2015 until 2018, when it sought to spur lending to ease a housing crisis.

The bank says the the crisis has “led to a shock in capital markets in Israel and worldwide, with steep declines in equity prices and an increase in volatility and risk.”

It says GDP contracted by 5% in the first quarter of 2020, and 5% negative growth is predicted for the next quarter as well.

Bank of Israel predicts more than a year to erase unemployment spike

In another move aimed at spurring lending and jump-starting Israel’s economy, the Bank of Israel announces it will offer banks three-year loans at a fixed rate of 0.1%, so long as the banks extend loans to “small and micro businesses.”

The bank says that if Israel starts to roll back restrictions by late June, the economy will likely rebound and see growth in 2021. However, it predicts that will take until late 2021 for unemployment numbers to return to pre-crisis levels.

But it warns that “there is considerable uncertainty regarding the forecast crisis, in view of the lack of clarity about the length and magnitude of the crisis.”

Full ban on intercity movement expected from 4 p.m. Tuesday

Hebrew media is reporting that the cabinet is expected to pass a measure tonight forbidding all movement between cities, beginning Tuesday.

According to a Channel 13 reporter, the measure will mean people are not allowed to leave their hometowns, or in the case of Jerusalem, their neighborhoods.

The measure is expected to go into effect Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., and is expected to be lifted Friday at 6 a.m.

Only in extraordinary cases will people be allowed to move between cities, according to Channel 12 news.

Wednesday night marks the first night of Passover, when families traditionally get together for the festive retelling of the biblical exodus from Egypt.

In a sign of the possible lockdown measures to come, Israeli police officers are checking buses heading into Jerusalem and pulling out families trying to enter the city to spend Passover with their extended families, in contravention of Health Ministry regulations.

Channel 12 news airs footage of an ultra-Orthodox family being pulled off of a bus, and being forced to walk along a highway to find their way back home.

Blue and White said to agree to some annexation under Trump plan

Blue and White and Likud have reportedly come to an agreement regarding the government’s policy toward annexation of parts of the West Bank under the aegis of the Trump administration’s peace proposal.

According to the deal, the sides decided that “the prime minister and acting prime minister will act with the full agreement of the US and in talks with the international community while preserving strategic interests and peace deals,” according to Kan.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks to reporters near the West Bank settlement on Migdal Oz, after yeshiva student Dvir Yehuda was killed in a terror attack, on August 8, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Channel 13 news earlier reported that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was prepared to accept a limited degree of annexation in order to reach a unity government agreement, but was not willing to agree to any move until after the coronavirus pandemic has ended, and is only willing to agree on annexation of settlement blocs located west of the security barrier.

Channel 12 reports that the agreement okays moves on annexation within 2.5 months. It also reports that parties will have freedom to vote for whomever they want for Knesset speaker, and that Blue and White will have its choice of the Foreign Ministry or Education Ministry, but not both portfolios.

Apparent deal on annexation seen as win for Likud

The apparent agreement between Likud and Blue and White on annexation is being seen as a win for the right wing, though its vague wording makes it far from clear.

In Walla news, reporter Tal Shalev notes that while the agreement calls for Netanyahu to “consult” with Gantz on annexation moves, the Blue and White leader can’t actually veto anything.

A billboard shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, Avigdor Liberman, center, and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, wearing masks in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan on March 29, 2020. The text urges them to take off the masks, because “the people want unity.” (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

“This means that Netanyahu can bring an annexation order to the Knesset and the government for approval even if Gantz does not agree.” She notes that any such measure would be likely to pass, given that Yisrael Beytenu would likely back it from outside the coalition.

The pro-settler Israel National News website quotes an unnamed Likud source calling the apparent agreement a “big victory for Likud.”

“If true this means that Gantz caved big-time,” tweets Channel 13 reporter Barak Ravid, who adds that the Blue and White leader will be playing the role of “the donkey of the Messiah” in the next government.

On the other side, analyst and academic Tomer Persico tweets that the agreement actually leaves Gantz with the advantage, though noting that it leaves things foggy.

“The questions that will determine it are how much Netanyahu really wants it, what voices he will hear from Europe and the Democrats, and Jordan’s situation. In my opinion, he will not annex,” he writes.

 

Meretz, Joint List blast Gantz for ‘selling out’ on apparent annexation deal

Reacting to the apparent coalition deal on annexation, Meretz leader Nitzan Horovitz slams what he calls the formation of an “annexation and corruption government.”

“Gantz has fallen to a new low and sold out all his values. In exchange for a handful of sweetheart appointments, Gantz will enter a government under a premier with three indictments and will cave on annexation demands. The generations cry out. Gantz and [Labor head] Amir Peretz are aligning with [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Naftali] Bennett and dealing a fatal blow to the Zionist vision and the opportunity to split into two states,” he says in a statement, referring to two far-right leaders.

Joint List chair MK Ayman Odeh speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, says Gantz “giving in on annexation is the most severe yet.”

“This means killing any chance at peace and the cementing of an apartheid state with Jewish citizens and Palestinian subjects,” he says in a statement.

 

 

Woman, 90, dies from COVID-19 – report

Several Hebrew-language news sites report the death of a 90-year-old woman in Beersheba, bringing Israel’s death toll to 56.

The woman is identified as a former resident of the Mishan assisted living facility, which would make her the seventh fatality from that home alone.

There is no immediate confirmation from any area hospital or the Health Ministry.

 

Stocks in US, Israel leap amid signs of hope crisis may be receding

Stocks in the US are leaping after some of the hardest-hit areas offered sparks of hope that the worst of the coronavirus outbreak may be on the horizon.

US stocks have climbed 4.5% in morning trading, following up on gains that were nearly as big in Europe and Asia.

Two runners jog past the Oculus and World Trade Center transit hub, and One World Trade, Sunday, April 5, 2020, in New York’s Lower Manhattan. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The S&P 500 was up 4.5%, as of 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. It’s already on pace to erase all its losses from the prior week, when the government reported a record number of layoffs sweeping the economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 964 points, or 4.6%, to 22,017, and the Nasdaq was up 4.5%.

In Israel, the benchmark TA-35 and TA-125 indexes both gained around 5% Monday.

— with AP

Army deploys more troops to enforce lockdown, manage old age homes

The Israel Defense Forces is expanding its part in the national effort against the coronavirus, doubling the number of troops assisting police to enforce the partial lockdown and taking over the management of the country’s geriatric facilities.

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says an additional 700 troops have begun working alongside police — bringing the total up to roughly 1,400 — to ensure Israelis are abiding by government regulations against large gatherings and travel outside their homes except to perform a limited list of necessary tasks, like shopping for food and medicine.

These troops will also largely be unarmed, acting as auxiliary forces to police, who retain the legal authority to make arrests and issue fines.

Police officers and Israeli soldiers at a temporary “checkpoint” in Jerusalem, to check people are not disobeying the government’s orders on a partial lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, April 05, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Zilberman says the military has also taken responsibility for some 450 geriatric facilities around the country in accordance with a government directive.

Roughly 18,000 soldiers are taking part in this effort. They will not be working directly with the residents of these facilities, but will instead help their staff to better protect themselves and their patients from the coronavirus.

This will include screening people before they are able to enter these facilities, sanitizing any areas where an infected person has been and teaching staff how to properly wear and maintain protective gear, according to Zilberman.

The IDF spokesman says earlier today the IDF General Staff held a meeting to discuss the military’s training schedule in light of the coronavirus pandemic, finding that much of it will have to change due to the new circumstances.

— Judah Ari Gross

Settler group says Netanyahu committed to starting annexation within months

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told the head of a umbrella settler group Yesha Council that his government will start annexing West Bank settlements within months, the group says.

According to the statement, Netanyahu updated David Elhayani on coalition “understandings” and “committed” to start the annexation process within the next few months.

(From L-R) Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani in front of a Gush Etzion lookout point in the West Bank on November 19, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

David Elhayani says in a statement that he thanked Netanyahu “for not letting the opportunity of extending sovereignty pass by.”

Israel getting Japanese drug Avigan for experimental use

Israel has received a shipment of the drug Avigan, also known as Favipiravir, and will begin experimenting on COVID-19 patients with it, the government and two hospitals say.

The drug, made by a Fujifilm subsidiary, has been touted by Japan and China as helping mildly sick patients quickly recover from the virus and not get any sicker.

There have been no clinical trials completed yet, but a Chinese minister recently called the drug “very safe and clearly effective,” while declining to release any raw data, according to Wired magazine.

According to the Chinese authorities, patients on the drug were cleared of the virus within four days on average, a week earlier than those who recovered when put on other treatments.

A joint statement from the Foreign Ministry, the Health Ministry and Ichilov and Hadassah hospitals says the drug was approved for experimental use, pending final approval from the Health Ministry.

In this file photo taken on October 22, 2014 anti-influenza Avigan tablets produced by Japan’s Fujifilm are displayed in Tokyo. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

The statement says Israel is one of the first countries to get the drug from Japan, crediting its diplomatic contacts with Tokyo.

The drug is already being used in China, Turkey and Italy, according to reports.

A notice from the Italian Pharmaceutical Agency last month warned that evidence for the drug’s efficacy was scant and that it does not seem to help those already seriously ill.

However, Dr. Esti Sayyag of Ichilov Hospital says in the statement that Avigan “stands out” among other drugs being tried as possible cures for COVID-19 for its “safety and it’s possible potential.”

She adds that the drug can “contribute to flattening the curve and improving our ability to deal with the scope of sickness that we are experiencing in Israel.”

 

Official: PM plans to push annexation within months; Gantz sidelined

A government official briefed on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conversation with Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani tells The Times of Israel that the premier told the settler leader that he has taken full responsibility of the annexation issue and that he will bring it to a vote “in the coming few months,” without the ability for Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz to veto.

The move will require cooperation with the United States and will be “in conversation” with the international community, the official says, adding that he does not expect those two conditions to railroad the process.

— Jacob Magid

In first, US designates white supremacists as terrorists

The United States has branded a Russian far-right group as a foreign terrorist organization, the first time it has targeted white supremacists with tools regularly used against Islamist extremists.

The State Department says that the Russian Imperial Movement runs paramilitary training camps in St. Petersburg and has drawn neo-Nazis from across the Western world.

“This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacist terrorists, illustrating how seriously this administration takes the threat,” said Nathan Sales, the State Department counterterrorism coordinator.

— AFP

30 British Jews with coronavirus buried in last three days

An official with the British Board of Deputies, an umbrella Jewish group, says 30 burials of Jewish victims of COVID-19 have been carried out between April 2 and April 5, bringing the number of Jewish victims of the virus to at least 115.

The announcement comes as London confirms 439 deaths over the last day across the UK, bringing it’s total above 5,000.

The number is a drop from the previous day, when 621 deaths were recorded there.

Millions of dollars earmarked to help Holocaust survivors during crisis

Millions of dollars in additional funds are being made available to agencies around the world that provide aid to Holocaust survivors, whose advanced age and health issues makes them particularly vulnerable to the new coronavirus, the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany says.

The conference says $4.3 million in initial funding will be made available to agencies around the world providing care for some 120,000 survivors.

The emergency funding includes 200,000 euros ($215,000) from the Alfred Landecker Foundation, established last year by one of Germany’s richest families, whose assets include Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, as a way to help atone for its use of forced laborers during the Nazi era and support of Adolf Hitler’s regime.

People waiting outside a supermarket in the northern Israeli city of Safed on April 6, 2020. (David Cohen/ Flash90)

“The coronavirus pandemic is a frightening time for Holocaust survivors as this is a population, like many elderly, that already tends to experience too much social isolation,” says Claims Conference President Julius Berman. “The social isolation caused by this health crisis can take a serious emotional toll which, if unchecked can lead to physical ailments.”

— AP

Man, 48, fighting for life after contracting coronavirus

A 48-year-old coronavirus patient is in critical condition in Petah Tikva’s Beilinson Hospital, the medical center says.

“This morning the condition of a 48-year-old coronavirus patient deteriorated as he was unconscious and on a ventilator,” the hospital says, noting that he had pre-existing conditions before contracting the virus.

“His condition is critical and his life is in danger,” a Beilinson spokesperson says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Report: MDA told to scale back swabbing due to reagent shortage

Health Ministry officials have told the Magen David Adom emergency service to reduce the number of coronavirus test samples it takes each day because of a testing bottleneck, the Haaretz daily reports.

According to the report, MDA was told to only take 5,000 swabs a day, down from the approximately 9,000 it has been taking, because there is not enough reagent to test all the samples.

On Sunday, the Health Ministry said it had solved the reagent shortage, without specifying how, and said it was still working toward the goal of 10,000 tests a day.

Blue and White scotches coalition talks over judge appointment row

The Blue and White party announces that it has walked out of talks with the Likud party over the latter’s efforts to walk back an agreement regarding the committee to appoint judges.

“After reaching understandings on all issues, the Likud party asked to re-open discussions regarding the committee to appoint judges. In light of this, negotiations have been halted. We will not allow any change in the functioning of the judiciary nor damages to the democracy,” Blue and White says in a statement.

— Jacob Magid

Settlers attack Palestinian farmers, rights group says

Israeli settlers descended from the direction of the Esh Kodesh outpost toward a group of farmers working their land on the outskirts of the Palestinian town of Qusra and began pelting the Palestinians with stones, the Yesh Din rights group says.

After the sides began fighting, Israeli forces arrived and used riot dispersal measure including stun grenades and tear gas to distance the Palestinians.

Tear gas fired as settlers and Palestinians fight near the West Bank town of Qusra on April 6, 2020. (courtesy: Qusra Municipality)

Two farmers were evacuated to a nearby hospital for tear-gas inhalation treatment, Yesh Din reports.

— Jacob Magid

Abuse victims’ rights group shines light on violence during lockdown

The Magen victims rights group formerly known as Jewish Community Watch, has launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of the dangerous rise in domestic abuse targeting children during the ongoing quarantine period. Magen, in coordination with a series of other victims rights groups is urging members of the public “not to be apathetic to signs of distress report to us and reach out for help.”

The campaign is launched a week after the Welfare Ministry published a report showing a 751% increase in domestic violence targeting children since the government began urging Israelis to remain at home due to the coronavirus.

— Jacob Magid

WHO chief says masks are no silver bullet against virus

The World Health Organization is warning that wearing masks alone will not be enough to defeat the global coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed more than 70,000 people.

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

“Masks should only ever be used as part of a comprehensive package of interventions. There is no black or white answer, and no silver bullet. Masks alone cannot stop the COVID-19 pandemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells a virtual news conference.

— AFP

Health Ministry director tests negative for virus

Health Ministry Director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov has tested negative for the novel coronavirus, his ministry says.

He will remain in quarantine at Sheba Hospital, under ministry guidelines, it says.

 

Yamina also threatening to bolt coalition over judge appointments

A Yamina party official tells The Times of Israel that it is preparing for the real possibility that it will sit in the opposition in light of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “relinquishing” of the right’s control over the justice system to the “descendants of former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak” in his negotiations with the Blue and White party.

The statement comes after Blue and White said it was walking away from talks because Likud wanted to renegotiate an agreement on how judges are picked.

With only six seats, Yamina would likely lose out to Blue and White if Likud were forced to choose.

Barak is seen in Israel as a prototypical activist judge for his rulings against right-wing interests and attempts to rein in settlers and others on the right while defending the rule of law.

— with Jacob Magid

Over 300 people nabbed while trying to travel for Passover — report

Channel 12 news reports that more than 300 people trying to travel to extended family for the Passover holiday were caught and sent back Monday.

Police are expected to ramp up enforcement against movement as the holiday approaches.

According to the channel, people going out to do shopping Monday ahead of the holiday caused the exact type of gatherings that the country is desperately trying to avoid out of fears of a resurgence of the virus.

New York records 599 deaths, pushing US death toll past 10,000

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reports 599 new deaths in his state over the last day, a slight increase from a day earlier, but several dozen fewer than the record 630 deaths recorded Friday.

A total of 4,758 people in the state have died of the virus, according to The New York Times.

The numbers push the US death toll past 10,000.

Cuomo also says the state has now recorded 130,689 cases, more than any country in the world outside of Italy, which has had more than 135,000 cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Netanyahu to speak, minister pushes for stricter lockdown

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to address the nation at 9:15 p.m., his office says.

His office has not said what Netanyahu will speak about, but one assumes it is related to the coronavirus crisis and/or coalition talks.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan essentially confirms to Channel 12 that the cabinet will decide on a general lockdown later tonight, but says he pushed for even harsher measures.

He says all stores will be shut down by 6 p.m. on Wednesday, or earlier, except for in Arab towns.

He says police will be stepping up enforcement over the next two days, but adds that he does not think there will be an operation to remove people with the virus in Bnei Brak or other places to supervised facilities by force.

France records 833 deaths, highest single-day toll

France is reporting that 833 more people died of COVID-19 in hospitals and nursing homes over the previous 24 hours, its highest daily toll since the epidemic began.

“We have not reached the end of the ascent of this epidemic,” Health Minster Olivier Veran told reporters, as he announced the new toll which brought the total number killed in the coronavirus epidemic in France to 8,911.

France is now giving a daily combined toll of deaths in hospitals and nursing homes. Previously it had only given the hospital toll on a daily basis.

A health worker uses a sprayer to disinfect the corridor of a gymnasium used as a decontamination center for health worker and home-based medics, on April 6, 2020, in Trignac, France. (Loic VENANCE / AFP)

The French toll runs counter to other places in Europe, that have seen death tolls roll back slightly or flatten in recent days.

In hard-hit Italy, as well, the death toll jumped by 636 on Monday, an increase from the toll of 525 the day before.

Sunday’s toll was the lowest since March 19. It also represented a drop of 23 percent from the 681 deaths reported on Saturday.

Italy’s world-leading official death toll now stands at 16,523.

— with AFP

New York City official says dead may be buried in a park

A New York City councilmember says the city may begin burying bodies in a park, as morgues fail to handle the massive death toll wreaked by COVID-19.

Mark Levine, the head of the New York City Council health committee, says “temporary internment” will involve trenches being dug for 10 caskets in a line.

“It will be done in a dignified, orderly — and temporary — manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take,” he tweets.

“The goal is to avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets,” he adds.

Levine adds that the idea is a contingency plan, and will not be needed if the death toll in the city drops to more manageable levels.

According to the New York Times, Levine refuses to say what park is being considered, other than that it would have to be large and out of the way.

According to the newspaper, another possible location is Hart Island in the Bronx, where the indigent are buried in potter’s field by inmates from Rikers Island State Penitentiary.

Over 3,000 people in the city have died of the virus thus far, according to officials.

WHO advises countries against rushing to end lockdowns

The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief says countries looking to exit their lockdown strategies need to use a “calibrated, step-wise approach” that does not release all the restrictions at once.

Dr. Mike Ryan says that the lockdowns seen in many countries involve shutdowns of schools, workplaces, and social gatherings in venues such as public places and parks.

“It probably would be a bad idea to lift all the lockdown restrictions (at once),” Ryan said, noting that countries should not be looking to transition out of a shutdown without having a plan in place to keep the spread of COVID-19 to manageable levels.

“The lockdown is pushing the disease down. Once you raise the lockdown, you have to have an alternative method to suppress the infection,” Ryan said, explaining countries should have systems in place to detect cases, track contacts, quarantine suspect cases and test widely for the disease.

— AP

Austria plots out gradual return to ‘normal’

Austria could start easing its coronavirus lockdown measures from next week, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says, but warns that this depended on citizens abiding by social distancing rules.

“The aim is that from April 14… smaller shops up to a size of 400 square meters, as well as hardware and garden stores can open again, under strict security conditions of course,” Kurz said at a press conference.

He adds that if the government’s timetable goes to plan, larger shops will reopen on May 1.

From mid-May hotels, restaurants and other services could also start to open their doors again in stages, Kurz said, adding that a decision on this would be made at the end of April.

A member of the medical staff measures the temperature of a traveler at a autobahn park place near Gries am Brenner, Austrian province of Tyrol, at border crossing with Italy on March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson )

Schools will remain closed until at least mid-May and public events will remain banned until the end of June.

If trends in infection begin to worsen again, the government “always has the possibility to hit the emergency brake” and re-introduce restrictions, Kurz says.

— AFP

Extremist settler youth exposed to virus bust out of bus on way to isolation

A group of 20 hilltop youth shattered the windows of the bus that was taking them to a state-run isolation site in southern Israel, police say in a statement.

Several of the far-right activists managed to flee the bus, but were subsequently apprehended by Border Police.

The group had initially been ferried to Jerusalem for isolation in a hotel there, but refused the service, leading authorities to provide an alternative in southern Israel that evidently was not acceptable to the extremist activists.

The bus driver was ordered to return the group to Jerusalem, and authorities are considering where to place them next.

Police say an investigation will be opened against the teens over the bus vandalism.

The 20 youngsters were ordered into isolation after one of their peers was found to be a coronavirus carrier. This teen was also responsible for placing Central Command head Nadav Padan in quarantine, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

— Jacob Magid

Coronavirus cases near 9,000; death toll up to 57

The number of coronavirus cases in Israel is up to 8,904, the Health Ministry says, up from 8,437 the night before.

The death toll is up to 57, a rise of 8 over the last 24 hours.

A total of 140 patients are in serious condition, including 107 currently on ventilators.

 

Netanyahu says Israel doing better, but next few days will determine fate

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the next few days will determine Israel’s fate, “rise or recede, life or death,” he says.

He wishes the best to UK President Boris Johnson.

He says Israel is trending in the correct direction. “Our situation is better when compared to the world,” he says.

But he advises against relaxing social distancing, notes that there was a dramatic rise in cases of the virus as a consequence of Purim festivities, and vows that “Passover will not be Purim.”

Netanyahu announces 3-day general lockdown, with further tightening for Passover eve

Netanyahu announces a “general lockdown” starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday and extending 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 tighter restriction will end at 7 a.m. on Thursday.

The measures still need to be approved by the cabinet.

Netanyahu: Restrictions may begin to ease after Passover

Netanyahu says Israel may begin to roll back some restrictions after Passover and the holiday of Mimouna, which immediately follows Passover.

“There is a realistic chance that if the trends continue, we’ll begin to gradually exit from the lockdown after Passover and Mimouna,” he says.

“It depends on you,” he adds. “Don’t get complacent.”

He says that when that easing of restrictions comes, it will be done on a phased basis, with those who are most vulnerable required to stay in isolation long after those those who less vulnerable are allowed out.

He defends Israel’s testing strategy and says the country is determined to reach 10,000 tests a day, saying the country is already testing more than anywhere else, per capita.

He urges people to buy Israeli-made goods wherever possible, to help the economy.

Netanyahu: Putin urged me to reach a unity government

Netanyahu says he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and they agreed on cooperation regarding medical supplies.

He says when he spoke to Putin, he was in the middle of negotiations on a unity government with Benny Gantz, and mentioned to the Russian president that he needed to go deal with coalition talks.

Putin, says Netanyahu, hinted at his support for a unity government saying, “It’s very important that you unite forces, for Israel’s sake.”

“I agree with him,” Netanyahu says, “though it’s not simple.” Some roadblocks remain in the way, he says, but he thinks the sides can reach a coalition deal.

“With good will, and a joint effort, we can get there,” he says.

He says Israel’s “heart is with Bnei Brak,” the ultra-Orthodox city that has become a coronavirus hotspot, and condemns “terrible incitement” in the media and social media against the ultra-Orthodox.

The story of Passover is one the exodus from Egypt, and of overcoming crisis, he says. “In every generation, we overcome crises,” he says.

This time, too, “we will overcome… We’re writing a resonant chapter in the history of our people and our stage.”

This, he says, will be a Passover of “exodus from isolation to freedom.”

 

New Jersey surpasses 1,000 deaths

New Jersey’s death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed 1,000 people, according to data released by the state’s health department.

In the past 24 hours, New Jersey fatalities from COVID-19 climbed from 917 to 1,003.

New Jersey and New York are among the hardest-hit states in the country. New Jersey is likely weeks away from hitting the peak of the outbreak, according to health officials.

Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties in suburban New York have seen the most cases.

— AP

Cities show solidarity with quarantined Bnei Brak

Cities are expressing solidarity with Bnei Brak, Israel’s only city under full quarantine.

In Tel Aviv, the city hall building, usually lit up with flags or logos in solidarity with countries or cities around the world following tragedies, is now lit up with the words “Bnei Brak.” (For future reference, the ultra-Orthodox city’s logo is an LGBTQ-friendly rainbow book.)

Hadera as well has projected a large sign (this time with the city’s logo) reading, “From Hadera with love.”

Government officials have railed against what they term incitement against the ultra-Orthodox community, which has been slow to adopt social distancing rules and has seen high rates of infection.

On Monday, neighboring Ramat Gan tried to fence off his city, before Bnei Brak  officials took down the barriers.

Meanwhile, a group of city residents is suing to have the quarantine lifted. The High Court has given the state until 10 a.m. Tuesday to respond to the petition, according to Channel 12 news.

UK’s Johnson moved to ICU after virus symptoms worsen

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved to the intensive care unit of a hospital after his coronavirus symptoms worsen.

Dominic Raab deputized for PM duties by ailing Johnson

Sky News reports that Johnson has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to take over his duties “where necessary.”

“Over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the prime minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the intensive care unit at the hospital,” a spokesperson for 10 Downing tells the outlet.

Johnson conscious, not on ventilator

Boris Johnson’s office says the British premier is conscious and does not require ventilation at the moment.

According to The Guardian, he was moved into the intensive care unit less than two hours ago.

— with AP

At least 19 Palestinians around world dead from coronavirus

The Palestinian Authority says the number of cases in its territory is up to 253, after a single person tested positive, official organ Wafa reports.

It says 23 people have recovered, including five in Gaza.

On Sunday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said six people in the territory had recovered.

The PA’s foreign affairs office reports that worldwide, 433 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed among the Palestinian diaspora, including 19 deaths.

The majority of the cases, 303, were in the US, where 13 deaths were recorded.

Belgium has also seen an outbreak among the Palestinian community, with 52 cases, though all of the serious cases but one have been released from the hospital, according to Wafa.

A Palestinian woman in Chile died as well, but its unclear whether she had COVID-19, the report states.

Denmark may re-open schools later this month

Denmark’s prime minister says the country is planning on opening day care centers and elementary schools on April 15.

Mette Frederiksen says malls, movie theaters, museums and gyms may open up soon after.

But she warns that the restrictions could be slammed back in place if the country sees a regression, with the Easter holiday coming up.

A ban on gatherings of more than 10 people will remain in effect until May 10 at least, and a ban on large concerts until August at least.

New coronavirus case reported in Gaza, bringing total to 13

The Hamas-run Health Ministry announces another case of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.

Thus far, Palestinian authorities have said that 13 people in Gaza have been infected by the virus, including six who recovered.

The ministry says the newly infected man was in a quarantine facility and describes his condition as “reassuring.”

— Adam Rasgon

Georgia to let in 15 Israelis having kids through surrogates

The Georgian government has agreed to let in a group of 15 Israelis whose children are due to be born through surrogacy in the Eastern European country by the end of the month, the Foreign Ministry says in a statement, crediting Israel’s Ambassador to Georgia Ran Gidon for the effort.

“The embassy is continuing to work to ensure the arrival of more families carrying out the surrogacy process in the coming months,” the Foreign Ministry adds.

— Jacob Magid

Israeli Arabs say they should not need to shut down for Jewish holiday

Some Israeli Arabs are expressing anger over Israel’s plans to place a 4-day lockdown over the whole country for the start of the holiday of Passover, the Ynet news site reports.

The lockdown, in which Israelis will not be allowed to leave their hometowns, is designed to keep people from traveling for the Passover holiday. A curfew in place on Wednesday night confining people to their homes will not apply to Arab towns.

“If they were talking about a Muslim holiday, they would only place a closure on Arab towns. I’m for the closure, but without discrimination,” Khamis Abdallah of Jisr al-Zarqa tells the news site.

Government officials had initially leaned toward only locking down certain towns — mostly ultra-Orthodox — where there are outbreak, but shifted strategies on Monday to a nationwide effort.

“If this is about Passover, what does it have to do with us,” Rabia Melham of Arara tells Ynet.

Earlier Monday, Police minister Gilad Erdan said Arab towns were as compliant with social distancing regulations as anywhere else and there had been no large outbreaks in any of them.

Officials have already begun to speak of placing special restrictions on movement for the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which falls in late May.

Thoughts and prayers for UK’s Johnson from Israel

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz says he is praying for the speedy recovery of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“Our thoughts are with British Prime Minister @BorisJohnson this evening. We are praying for his speedy recovery,” he tweets.

Blue and White Chief Benny Gantz also tweets out his hopes for Johnson to feel better.

He calls Johnson “a committed and capable leader and a true friend of Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier wished Johnson a full recovery during a televised address, but has not issued any statement since the British premier entered the ICU.

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Man, 48, fighting for life after contracting coronavirus

A 48-year-old coronavirus patient is in critical condition in Petah Tikva’s Beilinson Hospital, the medical center says.

“This morning the condition of a 48-year-old coronavirus patient deteriorated as he was unconscious and on a ventilator,” the hospital says, noting that he had pre-existing conditions before contracting the virus.

“His condition is critical and his life is in danger,” a Beilinson spokesperson says.

— Judah Ari Gross