Ministers announce plans to remove elderly residents of Bnei Brak from city
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Health Ministry chief said to advocate lockdown of 2nd ultra-Orthodox city

TV report quotes Moshe Bar Siman-Tov saying that a quarantine of Elad will be needed, as government approves declaring Bnei Brak a ‘restricted zone’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli police man a checkpoint in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Bnei Brak as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus on April 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israeli police man a checkpoint in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Bnei Brak as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus on April 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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

2 men with coronavirus die, bringing toll to 28

The number of coronavirus deaths in Israel rises to 28 as two more patients die, the hospitals say.

A 77-year-old man with complex underlying health problems has died at the HaEmek Medical Center in Afula, according to the hospital.

Another man, aged 95, dies of the disease at Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv, the hospital says.

78-year-old man dies of coronavirus in Ashkelon, bringing death toll to 29

A 78-year-old man dies of the coronavirus in Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, bringing the country’s death toll to 29, the hospital says.

The man, whose name has not yet been released, was brought into the medical center last week, the hospital says.

The medical center notes the man suffered from preexisting conditions before contracting the coronavirus.

“His condition deteriorated over the weekend and he was put on a ventilator. Last night, his situation got much worse, and despite treatment with all possible measures, the patient passed away,” the hospital says in a statement.

US National Gallery to return Nazi-looted Picasso to German Jew’s heirs

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, will return a drawing by Pablo Picasso to the heirs of a German-Jewish banker who sold the work at a loss because he feared the Nazis would confiscate his estate.

Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a descendant of composer Felix Mendelssohn, sold the pastel work, titled “Head of a Woman,” in 1934, along with at least 15 other significant artworks. He died in 1935.

“Head of a Woman” was sold to art dealer Justin Thannhauser in 1934. The National Gallery of Art acquired the work through a donation in 2001, according to The New York Times.

The museum says it decided to settle with Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s heirs “to avoid the heavy toll of litigation,” not because it agreed that the heirs’ claims were valid, according to the report.

— JTA

Los Angeles Jewish school donates 2,000 face masks to local hospital, police

A Jewish day school in Los Angeles donates 2,000 N95 face masks to a local medical center and local police.

The de Toledo High School in the West Hills neighborhood says in a statement that while doing a thorough cleaning of the campus, it found boxes of the masks purchased for the school community during the wildfires last fall.

The school gave 700 of the masks to the West Hills Los Angeles Police Department and 1,300 to the Woodland Hills Medical Center, the school says.

“If we can make even a small impact on organizations that make a difference in this world … then it’s a win-win,” says Mark Shpall, the head of school.

Shpall tells People magazine that the school also plans to donate 10 cases of toilet paper, nine cases of paper towels, five cases of hand sanitizer and eight cases of Clorox wipes to Beit T’Shuvah, a local Jewish addiction center that has requested help obtaining additional supplies.

— JTA

Jewish school sues Miami hotel for $2.3m refund after Passover trip canceled

A Jewish day school in New York City has sued a Miami Beach hotel for a refund after canceling a 10-night Passover vacation due to the coronavirus crisis.

Students, parents and staff of the Magen David Yeshivah in Brooklyn had rented 621 rooms for about 1,200 guests for the April program at the Eden Roc hotel. The down payment for the vacation was $2.3 million.

The school files its lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, the Miami Herald reported Tuesday, on the basis of a clause in the contract that said the reservation could be canceled in the event of a “disease outbreak.” The hotel is demanding that the event be rescheduled for later in the year or proceed as scheduled.

Magen David canceled the event by March 18, the newspaper reported, and two days later New Yorkers were ordered to remain in their homes, with travel forbidden. Meanwhile, Miami Beach ordered hotels to close and cancel reservations.

— JTA

US virus deaths pass 5,000: Johns Hopkins

The US death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped 5,000 late Wednesday, according to a running tally from Johns Hopkins University.

As of 10:35 p.m. Wednesday on the US East Coast, 5,116 people had died, the tally showed, on the same day the United States set a one-day record of 884 people dead in 24 hours.

The US death toll is lower than those of Italy and Spain but above the 3,316 recorded for China, where the pandemic first emerged in December.

According to Johns Hopkins, the US leads the world in number of cases of the coronavirus, with 215,417.

President Donald Trump, who earlier had downplayed the pandemic’s impact on the US, said Wednesday that “we’re going to have a couple of weeks, starting pretty much now, but especially a few days from now, that are going to be horrific.”

Last Sunday, senior US scientist Anthony Fauci issued a cautious prediction that the coronavirus could claim 100,000 to 200,000 lives in the country.

— AFP

620 new coronavirus cases reported in 24 hours, bringing total to 6,211

The Health Ministry reports 620 new coronavirus cases since yesterday morning, bringing the country’s total to 6,211, including 107 in serious condition.

The ministry says 127 people are in moderate condition, while the vast majority — 5,659 — have light symptoms. Another 289 people have fully recovered from the disease.

87-year-old man dies of coronavirus in Beersheba, bringing death toll to 30

An 87-year-old man dies of the coronavirus in Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center, the hospital says, bringing the national death toll to 30.

The man appears to be the latest person to die after contracting the virus in a nursing home in the city, which has become a major hotspot of the disease.

The hospital says the man was brought in for treatment from his senior living facility in critical condition yesterday. He died earlier this morning, according to Soroka.

Health Ministry director-general to self-quarantine, will work from home

Director-General of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar Siman-Tov is going into self-quarantine after coming into contact with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who tested positive for the coronavirus, the ministry says.

He will continue to manage the country’s fight against the disease while in isolation.

“Bar Siman-Tov will remain in quarantine in a specialized facility that includes a work space and the relevant communication equipment,” the ministry says.

The director-general says the ministry had prepared for such a situation.

“We planned for a possibility like this and prepared accordingly. I will continue to manage this event together with my managerial colleagues with digital tools,” he says.

“Needing to go into quarantine can happen to anyone, and we must abide by the orders. I continue to call for citizens of Israel to abide by the Health Ministry’s directives,” Bar Siman-Tov adds.

President Rivlin to hold storytelling livestream at 11:45 a.m.

President Reuven Rivlin announces that he will hold another livestreamed storytelling event for children at 11:45 a.m.

The president says he will read the classic children’s book “Shmulikipod,” about a hedgehog — in Hebrew, kipod — named Shmulik.

Rivlin says his storytelling will be broadcast on educational television channels and through his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ReuvenRivlin/.

72-year-old dies of the coronavirus in Tel Aviv, bringing death toll to 31

A 72-year-old man died of the coronavirus in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital overnight, the medical center says, bringing the national death toll to 31.

According to the hospital, the man, whose name has not yet been released, had “many existing illnesses” when he contracted the disease.

He was brought into the hospital on March 26 and died last night, Ichilov says in a statement.

Health Ministry official: Litzman has only light coronavirus symptoms

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has light coronavirus symptoms after contracting the disease from an as yet unidentified source, a Health Ministry official says.

“His condition at this time is mild. He is not asymptomatic, there are some symptoms, but no more than that,” Dr. Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the ministry, says in an interview on Channel 12.

He says Litzman will be able to keep working while sick.

Grotto says the ministry is investigating from whom Litzman contracted the disease and is informing people who have been in contact with the minister to go into quarantine, including the director-general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen; and a number of other senior officials.

Grotto says he will not have to go into quarantine as all his recent meetings with Litzman have been held over the phone or through video conferences.

Asked if Litzman could have contracted the disease from another senior government official, Grotto says this is possible, but that he also could have become infected from someone within his ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem.

“There’s a high rate of the illness in the Haredi community, so it’s reasonable to think that it happened there,” he says.

Health Ministry: Litzman’s staff forced to self-quarantine, will keep working

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s staff will all go into self-quarantine after he was found to have contracted the coronavirus, the ministry says.

“The team of advisers, assistants and secretarial staff in the minister’s office will continue to work from home and will maintain constant telephone communication as needed with the minister, who is continuing to fully manage this event from his home,” the Health Ministry says.

Yesh Atid MK proposes giving fresh IDF veterans early access to release grants

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah proposes giving recently released soldiers immediate access to a grant that they normally have to wait up to five years to receive, in a bid to ease the economic hardships of the coronavirus pandemic.

When soldiers are released from the military, they are given an immediate sum of cash, as well as a larger grant — known in Hebrew as a pikadon — that they can only access to pay for school or vocational training, to open a business, after getting married, to buy a home or after five years.

Shelah proposes changing the laws to give recently released troops immediate access to up to NIS 10,000 of this fund through the end of the year.

“A recently released soldier would be allowed to receive a sum of money from this fund, less than NIS 10,000, to deal with coronavirus crisis,” Shelah says.

The MK says the Defense Ministry has already signed off on the proposal and that the Finance Ministry is reviewing it today.

Unemployment grows, but more slowly, as nearly 1 in 4 Israelis out of work

Over 7,200 Israelis signed up for unemployment benefits over the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s unemployment rate to 24.6 percent amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Israel’s Employment Service.

The government office says 7,290 people requested unemployment benefits from Israel’s National Insurance Institute, having been either fired from their jobs or put on unpaid leave.

In total, 866,907 have filed in the past month, with 89.3% having been put on leave and 6.6% having been fired, according to the employment service.

Public Health Services, hospital CEO enter quarantine after minister found sick

The head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health Services and the CEO of one of Israel’s largest hospitals are the latest senior government officials to enter self-quarantine after Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was found to have contracted the coronavirus.

Dr. Sigal Sadetzki of the Health Ministry says she will continue to work while in self-quarantine, adding that it is “the most effective way of stopping and slowing the pandemic.”

Zeev Rothstein, CEO of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, says in a statement that he too is entering home quarantine after meeting with Litzman earlier this week.

“Though we maintained a distance of two meters and there was no physical contact between us — not even an elbow bump — I decided to enter quarantine,” Rothstein says.

He says that he will continue running the hospital from home.

Netanyahu to again enter quarantine after meeting with Litzman

Interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will again go into quarantine after meeting with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who was found to have contracted the coronavirus, his office says.

Netanyahu only just left self-quarantine last night after meeting with an adviser who was found to have contracted the disease.

Netanyahu will work from his Jerusalem residence until Wednesday — assuming his coronavirus tests are negative — in accordance with Health Ministry instructions and the advice of his personal physician, the prime minsiter’s spokesperson, Shir Cohen, says in a statement.

— with Raphael Ahren

Leader of hardline Haredi group who fought virus restrictions contracts COVID-19

The leader of the Eda Haredit, a hardline anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox group based in Jerusalem, has contracted the coronavirus.

Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss’s diagnosis comes after he was admitted to Hadassah Hospital yeseterday with a high fever and low blood pressure, according to reports in Haredi media.

While the Eda Haredit initially refused to shut down its affiliated educational institutions according to government instructions, on Monday it released a notice instructing its followers in the ultra-Orthodox community to heed the Health Ministry’s orders lest they commit a “big sin.”

Ultra-Orthodox cities have led the country in numbers of coronavirus cases. As of Wednesday morning, a total of 730 people in Bnei Brak had the virus. In Jerusalem, a total of 780 people had the virus, up from 650 a day earlier.

— Sam Sokol

Calm in coronavirus-stricken Bnei Brak as police prepare roadblocks to shut city

The coronavirus-stricken city of Bnei Brak is relatively calm, with little movement on the streets, as police prepare to open checkpoints at its entrances and egresses to effectively close it off from the rest of the country in a bid to halt the spread of the disease.

Video footage from Channel 12 shows limited traffic around the city despite the fact that the roadblocks have not yet been put into use.

According to the TV report, police are expected to begin enforcing the restrictions shortly.

El Al plane lands in Australia to bring home 280 Israelis

An El Al plane has landed in Melbourne, Australia, ahead of a flight home for some 280 Israelis that were stuck in the land down under, Channel 12 reports.

In recent weeks, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been flying home hundreds of Israelis who had been living in or visiting foreign countries during the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The Melbourne flight is due to leave for Israel later today.

Coalition talks said to restart, as sides work to hammer out final details

Negotiations between the Likud and Blue and White parties reportedly restart as the two sides seek to work out the final details of their coalition agreement, which would result in the first fully functional government in roughly a year and a half.

Channel 12 reports the main sticking points in the talks remain final agreement on who will serve as justice minister and as Knesset speaker, as well as the issue of unilateral annexation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, which \Likud and parts of its bloc support and which Blue and White does not.

In recent days, the two sides have gone back and forth on the position of justice minister, with Blue and White demanding its MK Avi Nissenkorn take the role, while the Likud wants Blue and White MK Chili Tropper to take it.

The Likud has also been pushing for Yuli Edelstein to resume his position of Knesset speaker, after he left the position in protest of a Supreme Court order for him to hold a vote that saw his ouster. The Blue and White party has refused to have Edelstein return, with some in the faction seeing his actions as anti-democratic. Minister Yariv Levin has been floated as a possible replacement for him.

While the two are expected to eventually reach a compromise on these posts, the larger contentions seems to be over West Bank annexation, with Likud — pushed by the farther right Yamina faction — demanding that this be a requisite for forming a government, while Blue and White opposes a unilateral action, calling instead for a negotiated one.

Nearly 1 in 7 coronavirus patients are from Bnei Brak, new tally shows

Nearly one in seven coronavirus patients are from the central city of Bnei Brak, which has emerged as a major hotspot in the outbreak, with some 900 cases, according to Health Ministry statistics.

These 900 cases — out of the country’s total 6,211 — make it the city with the second highest number of cases after Jerusalem, with its 916 confirmed diagnoses out of a population roughly five times greater than that of Bnei Brak.

Tel Aviv has 324 confirmed cases, followed by Petah Tikva with 127, Rishon Lezion with 121 and Haifa with 81.

77-year-old man dies of coronavirus in Ashkelon, bringing death toll to 32

A 77-year-old man dies of the coronavirus in the city of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, the hospital says, bringing the country’s death toll to 32.

The medical center says the man, whose name has not yet been released, was brought to the hospital on March 22.

“His condition deteriorated and he was transfered a few days ago to the intensive care unit. In the past two days, his situation got much worse, and despite treatments with all possible equipment, the patient passed away,” the hospital says.

The medical center says he suffered from several existing medical conditions.

PA: 21 new Palestinian coronavirus patients, bringing total to 155

The Palestinian Authority reports 21 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total to 155.

Kamal al-Shakhra, director-general of primary care in the PA Health Ministry, says most of the Palestinians who have contracted the disease did so while working in Israel.

— with Adam Rasgon

Some 7,800 coronavirus tests performed yesterday across the country

The Health Ministry says 7,833 coronavirus tests were performed across the country in the past 24 hours.

The majority of these were performed by the Magen David Adom ambulance service, which performs tests door-to-door and at “drive thru” centers throughout Israel.

MDA says roughly 1,200 people were tested in Tel Aviv, nearly 900 in Jerusalem, over 1,000 in Haifa, and approximately 650 in Beersheba.

Defense minister visits coronavirus-stricken Bnei Brak to see how it’s doing

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett visits the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak to assess how the Tel Aviv suburb is responding to its major outbreak of the coronavirus.

Wearing a face mask but no gloves, Bennett visits stores and supermarkets in the city and meets with its mayor, Avraham Rubinstein, and the head of the coronavirus task force, Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa, his office says.

“Residents of Bnei Brak are behaving exceptionally. IDF soldiers gave support to Bnei Brak residents, who are our brothers. The situation in Bnei Brak is complex, but I am glad that we are seeing a big response by residents of adhering to directives,” Bennett says in a statement.

Spain virus death toll tops 10,000: government

The coronavirus death toll in Spain surges over 10,000 after a record 950 deaths in 24 hours, with the number of confirmed cases passing the 110,000 mark, the Spanish government says.

Spain has the world’s second-highest death toll after Italy, with the virus so far claiming 10,003 lives although the rate of new infections and deaths continued its downward trend, the health ministry figures show.

— AFP

Coronavirus victim identified as Michael Jackson, 87

A coronavirus patient who died earlier today in Beersheba has been identified as Michael Jackson, 87.

Jackson is the third resident of Beersheba’s Mishan senior living facility to die of the disease, after an outbreak in the home.

Jackson’s children tell the Walla news site that he appears to have contracted the disease from another resident of the facility, with whom he used to sit.

Healthcare provider estimates 38% of Bnei Brak residents have coronavirus

The CEO of one of Israel’s four public healthcare providers estimates that nearly 40 percent of Bnei Brak residents have contracted the coronavirus, a far higher figure than the current number of confirmed cases in the ultra-Orthodox city.

Dr. Ran Saar, who runs the Maccabi healthcare provider, tells the Knesset’s special coronavirus committee that the government must take action in the city to keep residents from infecting one another during the Passover holiday in order to prevent a catastrophe.

“Maccabi treats half of the residents of Bnei Brak, and according to various indicators, some 38% of Bnei Brak residents are sick, which is 75,000 people,” he tells the committee.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, who chairs the committee, later clarifies that Saar was referring specifically to an estimated 75,000 people being sick with the coronavirus.

“I call on all the responsible offices to deploy the police ahead of the Passover holiday. Otherwise the situation will get worse. Bnei Brak is a city with a high elderly population, and we will find ourselves with many, many more dead in Bnei Brak if we do not prepare,” he says.

Shelah says Saar’s dramatic estimation requires immediate action.

“From different healthcare providers, it appears the ultra-Orthodox public is afraid of getting tested before Passover, and the decisions on the matter at the government level are lacking and are influenced by political considerations,” Shelah says.

90-year-old man dies of coronavirus in Tel Aviv, bringing death toll to 33

A 90-year-old man dies of the coronavirus in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital, the medical center says, bringing the country’s death toll to 33.

The hospital says the man, whose name has not been released, suffered from “many existing conditions” before contracting the disease.

The 90-year-old is the seventh reported coronavirus of the day.

Blue and White MK says coalition deal nearly done

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper tells Channel 12 that a coalition agreement between his party and Likud is “nearly completed.”

The television station reports — with no attribution — that the negotiations are in their “final hours” and that a government could be sworn in before next week’s Passover holiday, which begins Wednesday evening.

“They really want to sew this up, so the government secretariat has submitted to the Knesset a request that on Monday the relevant legislation can be passed in an expedited process… We’re talking about swearing in [the new government] on Monday or Tuesday,” the station’s political correspondent says, citing no sources.

However, such reports of an imminent agreement have been heard before in recent days with no tangible result.

According to Channel 12, the two sides appear to be close to reaching a deal in which Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn would be named justice minister — which Likud previously refused — and Minister Yariv Levin would be named Knesset speaker instead of Yuli Edelstein, whom Likud had been pushing for the post.

The remaining sticking point is the issue of unilateral annexation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu made the matter a campaign issue and is being pushed by members of his bloc to make the point a requirement for a coalition agreement, while Blue and White opposes a unilateral action, though it appears to be softening on the matter.

Tropper confirms to the station that his party has given up on its demand of taking the Health Ministry, allowing Yaakov Litzman to remain in the post.

Report: Litzman to get internet for first time to remotely manage his ministry

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is reportedly on track to get internet in his house for the first time in order to be able to manage his ministry remotely.

Litzman, a member of the Gur Hasidic sect, has never before had an internet connection in his home nor does he have a smartphone, in accordance with his religious views.

This has not been a problem as he never before had to work from his home, something that became necessary after he was diagnosed earlier this morning with the coronavirus.

According to the Kan broadcaster, citing those close to the minister, he has received special dispensation from his rabbi to get an internet connection and a team from his office will install it later today.

Until now, Litzman has used printouts and paper statements and his simple cellphone to run the ministry from his home.

Cabinet okays money for self-employed, moves to give funds to disabled Israelis

The government approves a measure to give grants of NIS 6,000 to self-employed Israelis as they have been some of the hardest hit economically during the coronavirus pandemic, lacking the safety net provided by working for large companies.

The Prime Minister’s Office says the move was approved by the cabinet through a telephone vote. The funds will be handed out by the Tax Authority.

In addition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to expand his proposed one-time stipend to Israeli families — of NIS 500 per child, up to four children — to also include disabled Israelis, who would receive NIS 500, his office says.

Iran, US elevate war of words amid virus pandemic

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says it “only acts in self-defense” after US President Donald Trump warned it against attacks on American troops in Iraq, as a new war of words heats up despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Tensions between the foes flared in Iraq, where the United States deployed Patriot air defense missiles, prompting neighboring Iran to warn of consequences and demand a US withdrawal.

Both countries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the United States and more than 3,000 in Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweets that “unlike the US — which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates — Iran only acts in self-defense.”

“Don’t be misled by usual warmongers, AGAIN,” he says, addressing US President Donald Trump.

“Iran starts no wars but teaches lessons to those who do,” he adds.

Trump warned Iran yesterday that it would pay a “heavy price” in the event of further attacks on US troops.

— AFP

Cabinet to discuss approval of ordinance declaring Bnei Brak a ‘restricted zone’

The cabinet will hold a conference call at 4:30 p.m. to approve emergency directives declaring the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak a “restricted zone,” Hebrew media reports say.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the new ordinances will include further restrictions on movement and the transfer of city residents required to quarantine to facilities run by the state.

Duterte tells Philippine police to shoot dead virus lockdown troublemakers

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has told security forces they should shoot dead anyone causing “trouble” in areas locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

About half the country’s roughly 110 million people are currently under quarantine — including millions in deep poverty, left jobless by tough restrictions on movement.

Hours before Duterte gave the order in a speech, nearly two dozen people from a slum community in the capital Manila were arrested for holding a protest that accused the government of failing to provide food aid to the poor.

“My orders are to the police and military, also village officials, that if there is trouble or the situation arises that people fight and your lives are on the line, shoot them dead,” Duterte says.

“Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave,” he says, adding that the outbreak is getting worse more than two weeks into the lockdown.

The Philippines has so far detected 2,311 cases and reported 96 deaths, but the country has only begun ramping up testing and so the number of confirmed infections is expected to keep rising.

Duterte, who came to power in a landslide 2016 election victory, is known internationally for his foul-mouthed tirades and deadly crackdown on drugs, which is overwhelmingly supported by Filipinos.

— AFP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, jokes to photographers as he holds an Israeli-made Galil rifle which was presented to him by former Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa at the turnover-of-command ceremony at the Camp Crame in Quezon city northeast of Manila, April 19, 2018. (Bullit Marquez/AP)

Israel to halt some West Bank demolitions during virus outbreak

COGAT, the Defense Ministry’s liaison to the Palestinians, announces a pause on certain West Bank demolitions during the coronavirus pandemic, but the scope of the measure is not immediately clear.

— AFP

Israeli labs said close to running out of reagents used in virus tests

Medical laboratories across Israel are running out of the reagents needed for coronavirus tests, Channel 12 reports.

The network quotes lab managers warning that in two days they won’t be able to do more testing, as the reagents will have run out.

Nearly a week on, UK’s Johnson still has virus symptoms

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still showing symptoms almost a week after he announced he had the new coronavirus.

Johnson’s spokesman says the prime minister “continues to have mild symptoms.”

Johnson said Friday he had tested positive for COVID-19 after developing a fever and a cough. He said he was following UK health officials’ advice to self-isolate for seven days.

That period is almost up.

Spokesman James Slack doesn’t confirm whether Johnson would end his quarantine. Slack says the prime minister is following “the best medical and scientific advice” about when to end his quarantine.

— AP

In this handout photo provided by Number 10 Downing Street, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs the morning Covid-19 Meeting remotely after self isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus, at 10 Downing Street, London, March 28, 2020. (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street via AP)

Germany’s far-right AfD party divided over radical wing

BERLIN — Leaders of Germany’s far-right AfD party are at loggerheads over whether its radical “Fluegel” (The Wing) faction should be split off to create a separate party.

Two parties could probably reach more voters than the “current… conflict-prone constellation,” party co-leader Joerg Meuthen tells the Tichys Einblick news magazine in an interview published yesterday.

“Everyone knows that Fluegel and its key exponents are costing us a massive amount of votes in the conservative camp,” he says.

But AfD grandee Alexander Gauland says today that two parties would diminish, rather than strengthen, one another.

“Joerg Meuthen’s thoughts are not very constructive and highly apolitical,” he says, according to German news agency DPA.

Thuringia’s AfD faction leader Bjoern Hoecke attends a rally in Erfurt, Germany, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Fluegel, which has about 7,000 members, was co-founded by notorious AfD lawmaker Bjoern Hoecke, who has sparked outrage with attacks on Germany’s culture of remembrance for Nazi crimes.

Hoecke also criticizes Meuthen’s comments in a Facebook post, describing them as “foolish and irresponsible.”

“The discussion about the division of our party into a western and an eastern AfD, into a Fluegel and a non-Fluegel AfD is superfluous,” Hoecke writes.

The AfD in March said it was planning to dissolve the radical Fluegel group after it was placed under formal surveillance by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

— AFP

Robert Kraft sends Patriots team plane to China to pick up protective masks

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sent the team plane to China to pick up new protective gear for medical personnel.

The plane was on the ground for just under three hours in Shenzhen as workers in masks and full-body suits loaded boxes of N95 masks onto the plane, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker had arranged to purchase 1.7 million of the protective face masks from several manufacturers across the country. The logistics of flying them out of China required more help, however.

Kraft and his son Jonathan also agreed to pay $2 million, or approximately half the cost of the masks, according to the report.

At Robert Kraft’s request, Massachusetts will send 300,000 of the masks to New York.

— JTA

IDF to deploy 98th division to Bnei Brak to provide aid during virus lockdown

The Israel Defense Forces says it is preparing to deploy its 98th Division to the coronavirus hotspot of Bnei Brak to assist residents amid a lockdown of the area.

The military says the troops will not be used to enforce restrictions on the area, but will instead serve under the Home Front Command to provide food, medicine and other services to those inside the Tel Aviv suburb, which has seen a large and growing outbreak of the disease in recent days.

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says these soldiers — two battalions’ worth, meaning several hundred soldiers — are currently undergoing specialty training to prepare for this assignment.

Zilberman says in total the military has 12,000 soldiers who “get up each morning to fight the coronavirus” — responding to questions on hotlines, bringing food and medicine to the elderly and disabled, driving medics to perform tests, and operating quarantine facilities across the country.

“Next week there will be much, much more,” he says.

The IDF spokesman says there are nearly 100 diagnosed coronavirus cases within the military, while thousands more soldiers are in quarantine, including IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and two other major generals, who came into contact with a confirmed carrier but tested negative.

Zilberman says Kohavi and the other generals are able to work from their offices as normal.

— Judah Ari Gross

Ministers announce plans to remove elderly residents of Bnei Brak from city

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announce plans to move 4,500 elderly residents of Bnei Brak to hotels to prevent them from getting the coronavirus.

According to the Haaretz daily, the government is looking into forcibly removing them from their homes if they don’t agree to leave.

Coronavirus testing facilities open in Mea Shearim, East Jerusalem

A coronavirus testing facility has opened near Mea Shearim, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, the city’s Mayor Moshe Lion says.

Earlier today, a “drive-through” testing center opened in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.

Coronavirus test for Mossad chief comes back negative

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen has tested negative for the coronavirus.

The diagnosis comes after Cohen was forced into quarantine after being near Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who tested positive for the virus.

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Iran’s parliament speaker tests positive for COVID-19

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s parliament says speaker Ali Larijani has tested positive for the new coronavirus and is in quarantine.

Larijani is the highest-ranking official within Iran’s government to test positive for the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes.

The parliament announces Larijani’s illness today on its website, saying he was receiving treatment in quarantine.

Iran has one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the virus.

— AP

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani gives a press conference in Tehran, Iran, December 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Over half of world’s population now under instruction to remain at home

PARIS — More than 3.9 billion people, or half of the world’s population, are now being called on to remain in their homes to combat COVID-19, according to an AFP tally.

The measures — which include compulsory or recommended confinement, curfews and quarantines — are in place in more than 90 countries and territories. The introduction of a curfew in Thailand, which takes tomorrow, pushes the number past half of the global population of 7.8 billion.

Some 2.78 billion residents of 49 countries and territories are currently subject to obligatory confinement at home.

— AFP

Unemployment rate rises to 24.9 percent

The unemployment rate rises to 24.9 percent, with 879,372 having signed up with the Employment Service since the start of March.

According to the Employment Service, a total of 1,036,586 Israelis are now out work.

Number of coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 6,808

There have now been 6,808 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, up from 6,211 earlier in the day.

The Health Ministry says 107 people are in serious condition, 83 of whom are on ventilators.

A total of 334 people have recovered from the virus.

98-year-old woman in Jerusalem dies from coronavirus, raising toll to 34

A 98-year-old woman infected with the coronavirus dies at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem.

She is the 8th Israeli to die today from COVID-19 and the 34th overall.

Democrats delay nominating convention until August

The Democratic National Committee is delaying its presidential nominating convention until the week of August 17 after prospective nominee Joe Biden said he didn’t think it would be possible to hold a normal convention in mid-July because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Convention CEO Joe Solmonese confirms the decision in a statement today.

“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” Solmonese says.

Biden last night told NBC late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon that he doubted “whether the Democratic convention is going to be able to be held” on its original July 13-16 schedule in Milwaukee.

— AP

98-year-old who died from virus was resident of hard-hit assisted living center in Jerusalem

The 98-year-old woman who died in Jerusalem from the coronavirus was a resident of the Nofim Tower assisted living center in the city, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

She is the fourth person to die of the coronavirus from Nofim Tower, which has seen a large number of infections among residents and staff.

Italy reports 760 more virus deaths, as rise in new infections continues to level off

ROME — Italy adds another 760 dead to its coronavirus toll, bringing the count in the country with the most deaths to 13,915. But new infections continue to level off three weeks into the West’s first nationwide shutdown, with 4,668 new infections for a total official caseload of 115,242.

Pressure on hospitals in hard-hit Lombardy continues to ease, with more than 800 people recovered and 165 fewer people hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to a day earlier.

Intensive care units are still saturated, but overall, Lombardy adds just under 1,300 new positive cases, with about half of those infected being treated at home.

More than 10,000 medical personnel have been infected nationwide and 69 doctors have died, according to the National Institutes of Health and the Italian association of doctors.

— AP

Litzman said to have broken restrictions on group prayer before diagnosed with virus

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman took part in group prayers barred by the Health Ministry days before he was diagnosed with the coronavirus, Channel 12 news reports.

Citing unnamed witnesses, the network said Litzman prayed at the Jerusalem home of a member of the Gur Hasidic sect he belongs to over Shabbat. He also prayed at a synagogue near his home after the Health Ministry barred group prayers in closed spaces and synagogues, according to the report.

“My father prays everyday at the ‘Beit Israel’ synagogue in the Ezrat Torah neighborhood [in Jerusalem] and told me that last Monday he prayed there together with Litzman,” one of the witnesses said.

Litzman’s office says he has adhered to Health Ministry directives, including in regards to prayers.

Senior minister said to fume at Litzman: ‘He’s put all our lives in danger’

Government ministers are furious at Health Minister Yaakov Litzman after he was confirmed to have the coronavirus, Channel 12 news reports, accusing him of having “knowingly shown contempt” for his own ministry’s guidelines by failing to follow the rules on social distancing.

Litzman tested positive for the virus late Wednesday, a development that has required most of the Israeli leadership handling the pandemic crisis to go into quarantine. He has denied allegations that he broke the rules against group prayer aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

The TV report quotes an unnamed senior minister accusing Litzman of having “put all of our lives in danger.”

“He knowingly demonstrated contempt for the rules and did not maintain social distancing,” the minister is quoted saying.

“We’re all taking the greatest possible care [to follow the guidelines] in these days. And yet the health minister, of all people, doesn’t recognize the gravity of the situation, endangers us all, ultimately harming decision-making,” the minister reportedly adds.

The report also cites senior ministers saying the Health Ministry is not providing sufficient details on Litzman’s case.

“They’re hiding the epidemiological investigation regarding him from us,” the ministers are reported to say.

Litzman, 71, is currently participating in a cabinet meeting via videoconference from his home. He and his wife, who is also infected, are said to be doing well.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 70, and Litzman are in a relatively high-risk group for the virus because of their age. Netanyahu had just emerged from precautionary quarantine on Wednesday when forced back into isolation.

Litzman has participated in numerous consultations and appearances with Netanyahu and health chiefs in recent days and weeks. He also came to the Knesset last Thursday for a vote on the Knesset speaker — and there is concern that may have exposed fellow MKs to the virus even though the vote was held with no more than 10 people in the plenum.

Litzman was also interviewed on Channel 12 recently, sitting in the studio alongside former Histadrut trade union chief Ofer Eini and Channel 12’s resident medical expert, the former Health Ministry chief Prof Gabi Barabash. Both have gone into quarantine.

Rivlin speaks by phone with France’s Macron about coronavirus

President Reuven Rivlin spoke by phone today with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron about the coronavirus, his office says.

Rivlin raised Israel’s efforts to bring back Israelis currently in other countries in the world, including France, and discussed potential cooperation on research about the virus, according to a statement from his office.

The president also met today with the British ambassador to Israel and Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s envoy for Middle East peace.

“[Rivlin] again stressed the importance of cooperation between Israel and the UN with regards to the health of the peoples of the region and Israel’s commitment to this cooperation,” the statement says.

Number of worldwide deaths from coronavirus tops 50,000

The number of deaths from COVID-19 has passed 50,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker.

The university says 50,230 people have died and that there have been 981,221 confirmed cases of the virus.

France reports 471 more virus deaths, toll tops 4,500

PARIS — France reports 471 more deaths in the hospital from COVID-19, bringing the country’s official toll from the coronavirus epidemic to 4,503.

The French figures include only those who died in the hospital and not those who died at home or in old age homes. However, top health official Jerome Salomon tells reporters that an initial count shows 884 people died in old people’s homes since the epidemic began.

— AFP

Hamas chief warns Israel if more ventilators not brought to Gaza, ‘we’ll take them by force’

The head of the Hamas terror group in Gaza is warning Israel if more ventilators for coronavirus patients are not brought into the Palestinian enclave then it will “take them by force.”

“If ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis,” Hebrew media reports quote Yahya Sinwar saying.

There have only been a handful of confirmed COVID-19 cases so far in Gaza, but a World Health Organization official warned earlier today that 80 to 90 percent of the ventilators in the Strip and the West Bank are already in use.

Health Ministry publishes updated coronavirus figures

The Health Ministry updates the coronavirus figures that it published earlier this evening.

According to the ministry, there have been 6,857 confirmed cases so far in Israel.

There are 108 people in serious condition, 87 of whom are connected to ventilators.

Another 126 are in moderate condition and the rest of mild symptoms.

Thirty four people in the country have died from the virus and 338 have recovered.

Large number of Jerusalem coronavirus cases in ultra-Orthodox areas — report

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Jerusalem are largely concentrated in areas with significant ultra-Orthodox populations, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Kan says some of the neighborhoods with the most cases are Har Nof, Beit Vegan, Geula, Romema and Ramot.

According to Health Ministry figures published this morning, Jerusalem has the most COVID-19 cases in Israel, followed by Bnei Brak, a predominantly ultra-Orthodox city.

Meretz chief calls for Litzman to be axed for allegedly violating virus restrictions

MK Nitzan Horowitz, head of the left-wing Meretz party, calls for Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to be fired after a report said he took part in group prayers that violated Health Ministry directives in the days before he tested positive for the coronavirus.

“A health minister who violates the directives that he himself signed off on… cannot continue to serve in his role for even another day,” Horowitz tweets.

Government declares virus-hit city of Bnei Brak a ‘restricted zone’

The cabinet has approved new ordinances allowing for movement to be further restricted in areas in Israel with a large number of coronavirus cases.

This includes the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which the government declares as a “restricted zone” under the new ordinances.

The cabinet also approves a requirement that Israelis returning from overseas enter quarantine for 14 days at a designated city, among other measures.

2 more Israelis die from coronavirus, bringing Thursday’s death toll to 10

Another two Israelis have died this evening from the coronavirus, raising the number of fatalities in the country from COVID-19 to 36.

Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva says one of the dead is a 91-year-old man who had serious preexisting diseases.

The other is an 84-year-old man who died at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. The hospital says the man had numerous preexisting diseases and was brought to Shaare Zedek a few days ago in moderate condition, but his health quickly deteriorated.

They are the ninth and tenth people to die in Israel today from the virus.

Health Ministry chief said to advocate lockdown of 2nd ultra-Orthodox city

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said during this evening’s cabinet meeting that the government will also need to impose a lockdown on the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, Channel 13 news reports.

During the cabinet meeting, which was held by telephone, ministers approved declaring Bnei Brak a “restricted zone,” allowing the government to significantly restrict movement there.

Europe’s only kosher slaughterhouse for geese switches to chicken due to coronavirus

A kosher slaughterhouse for geese in Hungary, which specializes in foie gras, switches to producing chicken meat to mitigate a projected shortfall in kosher meat due to the coronavirus.

At the slaughterhouse in Csengele, which is 80 miles southeast of Budapest, about 10,000 chickens will be slaughtered each day, Rabbi Shlomo Koves, who heads Hungary’s Chabad-affiliated EMIH Jewish federation, says today.

As a slaughterhouse for geese, the Csengele institution, Quality Poultry KFT, had a capacity of only 2,400 animals a day when it opened in 2017. It is the only kosher slaughterhouse for geese in Europe, providing foie gras — a delicacy made from goose liver — to France, Israel and beyond.

The switch to chicken is meant to alleviate what Koves expects to be a growing shortage in kosher meat in Europe at least because of the virus.

Travel restrictions have made it impossible for rabbis, slaughterers and kashrut inspectors to travel across Europe. This means that many kosher slaughterhouses that operated on an ad hoc basis can no longer provide kosher meat. Ad hoc kosher slaughterhouses, mainly in Poland and other parts of central Europe, account for a significant portion of the total produced in Europe.

Additionally, kosher slaughterhouses in Western Europe have shuttered temporarily — also because many of their laborers are foreign nationals from elsewhere in Europe and have returned to their countries of origin because of the virus.

England and France “provide for us with the consumption of our kosher products” yearlong, Koves says. “Now it is our turn to look after them.”

— JTA

Rabbis examine the production line at Quality Poultry KFT in Csengele, Hungary, February 2017. (Zsolt Demecs via JTA)

Biden urges sanctions relief for Iran due to virus outbreak

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden calls for the US to ease sanctions on Iran to reduce suffering as the Islamic Republic reels from the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden says the United States should set up a dedicated channel for banks and other companies to operate in Iran and issue licenses for the sale of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

The former US vice president also calls for guarantees to aid groups that they will not be penalized for operating in Iran — and says Tehran should reciprocate by freeing detained Americans.

Biden says that US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, which includes sweeping sanctions, had “badly backfired” by encouraging aggression from the clerical regime.

“It makes no sense, in a global health crisis, to compound that failure with cruelty by inhibiting access to needed humanitarian assistance,” Biden says in a statement.

“Artificially limiting the flow of international humanitarian assistance to pursue a political point will not only allow the Iranian government to deflect responsibility for its own botched response, it will increase the threat this virus poses to the American people, now and in the future,” he says.

— AFP

US condemns Pakistan’s overturning of death sentence in Daniel Pearl murder

WASHINGTON — The United States criticizes a Pakistani court’s overturning of a death sentence handed down over the gruesome killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl, calling the decision an “affront.”

“The overturning of the convictions for Daniel Pearl’s murder is an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere,” says Alice Wells, the top US diplomat for South Asia.

She welcomes indications that Pakistani prosecutors will appeal the decision on British-born terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.

“Those responsible for Daniel’s heinous kidnapping and murder must face the full measure of justice,” Wells writes on Twitter.

— AFP

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Ministers announce plans to remove elderly residents of Bnei Brak from city

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announce plans to move 4,500 elderly residents of Bnei Brak to hotels to prevent them from getting the coronavirus.

According to the Haaretz daily, the government is looking into forcibly removing them from their homes if they don’t agree to leave.