Netanyahu addresses nation from quarantine, says he’s setting a ‘personal example’ to Israelis
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Cabinet said to approve exemption for group prayer at Western Wall

Despite new ban on gatherings of more than 2 people, quorum of 10 worshipers to reportedly pray at holy site 3 times a day

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man wearing a plastic-covered hat speaks on the phone at the nearly deserted Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on March 12, 2020, after Israel announced new restrictions to contain the coronavirus. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man wearing a plastic-covered hat speaks on the phone at the nearly deserted Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on March 12, 2020, after Israel announced new restrictions to contain the coronavirus. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

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

Woman dies in house fire in Petah Tikva

A woman has died in a house fire in the central city of Petah Tikva.

Medics who arrive at the scene pronounce her death.

Police are investigating what caused the fire.

There are no other injuries.

Palestinian virus cases climb to 109

The number of coronavirus infections in the West Bank reaches 100, according to the official PA Wafa news agency.

Another nine cases are reported in the Gaza Strip.

Wafa says 20 Palestinians have recovered from the virus and one has died.

According to the Walla news website, the Israel Defense Forces is preparing for the possibility of a more serious outbreak in the West Bank, amid concerns that twin economic and health crises could spark violence directed at Israel.

“When the atmosphere heats up and patience wanes, it happens very quickly,” a security official is quoted as saying. “We’ve already seen in the past few weeks threats by PA officials, with the call to release [Palestinian] security prisoners from jails in Israel, citing the claim they could be infected. It’s heating things up.”

At the same time, the official praises coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officials to stem the pandemic.

Police said to break up prayer gathering in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim

Police break up an illegal gathering for prayer in Jerusalem’s hardline ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood.

According to the Kikar HaShabat website, police are standing at the entrance to a synagogue to prevent people from entering.

Mossad said to obtain more ventilators, masks

The Mossad intelligence agency has acquired 27 ventilators, which arrived in Israel overnight, according to Channel 12.

The shadowy agency, which has been tasked with securing medical equipment from abroad from unspecified countries amid worldwide shortages, also obtained 25,000 N95 respiratory masks and 10 million surgical masks.

Another 180 ventilators will be brought to Israel on Wednesday, the report says.

Oil prices at 17-year lows as virus ravages world

Oil prices extend losses in Asian trade and languish at 17-year lows, with the coronavirus crisis escalating around the world and no end in sight to a vicious price war.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate falls 5.3 percent to trade at $20 a barrel, while international benchmark Brent crude is off 6.5 percent at $23.

The falls come after the death toll from the pandemic surges past 30,000 over the weekend as cases in hard-hit Europe and the United States showed no sign of letting up.

AFP

US regulator approves limited use of malaria drugs for virus

A limited emergency-use authorization for two antimalarial drugs touted as game-changers by US President Donald Trump has been issued by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat coronavirus patients.

In a statement published yesterday, the US Department of Health and Human Services details recent donations of medicine to a national stockpile — including chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, both being investigated as potential COVID-19 treatments.

It says the FDA had allowed them “to be distributed and prescribed by doctors to hospitalized teen and adult patients with COVID-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible.”

AFP

Health Ministry to scan Knesset footage to retrace infected PM aide’s footsteps

Health Ministry officials are expected to request Knesset security camera footage to determine who was in contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aide, who has been confirmed infected with COVID-19, according to a television report.

Health officials are set to debate whether the prime minister must self-quarantine after meeting Rivkah Paluch on Thursday.

Paluch had met with other ministers in the Knesset late last week, according to Channel 12.

Netanyahu is expected to undergo a virus test today.

Health Ministry director predicts serious cases will double by end of week

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells public radio schools are unlikely to resume after the Passover holiday, which ends April 15.

He predicts that by week’s end, there will 150 people in serious condition from the virus in Israel.

“I predict that we’ll reach the end of the week with more than 150 serious cases. I don’t see a model in which we come to the end of this with a low number of intubated or dead,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster.

By last count, there were 74 people in serious condition in Israel as of last night.

Jordan releases travelers quarantined at Dead Sea hotels

Jordan begins releasing releasing thousands of travelers who were quarantined for the last two weeks at five-star hotels on the Dead Sea in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

More than 4,200 Jordanians and 1,500 foreigners have been held at the hotels. The Jordanians will be sent home via Uber, the popular ride-hailing service, and are requested to remain at home for another 14 days.

Travelers with other nationalities will be released on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear where they would go, but authorities said they would be in contact with their embassies and the Foreign Ministry.

Jordan has reported 259 infections and three deaths from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus. At least 18 people have recovered.

AP

Agriculture Ministry vows to speed up egg imports amid shortage

The Agriculture Ministry pledges to combat the egg shortages in supermarkets before the upcoming Passover holiday.

In a statement, it says the shipments of eggs had been delayed — and were poised to arrive after the holiday begins on April 8, “mostly as a result of shipping restrictions to Israel and delays in leaving the ports. Therefore, the Agriculture Ministry, along with the Finance Ministry, has decided to take the unusual step of changing their routes (they will give up on any stops) of the ships that are meant to arrive in Israel, such that they arrive faster and with more eggs, to reduce the shortage.”

COVID-19 cases rise to 4,347, with 80 in serious condition

The Health Ministry says 4,347 people are infected with COVID-19, a rise of 100 cases since last night.

This includes 80 in serious condition, of whom 63 are attached to ventilators.

Another 81 are in moderate condition.

Father, 74, and son, 40, among the seriously ill with COVID-19

Among the serious cases in the country are a father, 74, and son, 40, from the southern city of Ashkelon, the Ynet news site reports.

Relatives believe the two were infected while in synagogue.

They were hospitalized last Tuesday at the Barzilai Medical Center and are both in serious condition.

Both the father, who is retired, and the son, a lecturer at Ben Gurion University, are attached to ventilators, the report says.

Harrowing clips emerge from Brooklyn funerals of Jewish virus victims

Clips shared on social media show the funerals of some of the victims of the coronavirus in Brooklyn, New York.

In one video, the children of Rabbi Zevi Halberstam are seen crying over his grave, while wearing protective masks. Halberstam, 43, was survived by his wife and six children. A fund for his family has raised over $228,000.

Another video shared by Abby Stein shows the long list of victims lined up at a Brooklyn Jewish funeral home.

Likud said seeking government with up to 36 ministers

The Likud party is seeking to expand the cabinet of the emerging unity government to include as many as 36 ministers, a move opposed by Blue and White, according to reports, which cite sources in Benny Gantz’s party.

The negotiations on the issue are ongoing. Some have criticized politicians for planning to distribute portfolios to placate lawmakers, wasting government funds that could be used to fight the pandemic.

Listen to the Health Ministry, hardline Eda Haredit tells Haredi followers

The hard-line Eda Haredit faction publicizes a notice telling their followers in the ultra-Orthodox community they must heed the Health Ministry’s orders or commit a “big sin.”

In the notice, the religious authority warns of the dangers of the pandemic and says all state instructions from medical authorities must be followed. It says prayers can be conducted outdoors, if distance is kept between worshipers, in accordance with ministry rules.

The ruling comes two days after a rabbi’s funeral in Bnei Brak drew hundreds of people in violation of Health Ministry rules, causing a widespread outcry. Health authorities have warned the ultra-Orthodox cities are poised to face an outbreak due to a belated response to the pandemic and a television report Sunday said half of hospitalized patients are Haredi.

Report: Netanyahu expected to self-quarantine for week after aide infected

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to self-quarantine for a week after meeting with an aide on Thursday who was later diagnosed with COVID-19, Channel 12 reports.

Health officials are deliberating on what steps the premier should take following notice that Rivkah Paluch is infected with the coronavirus.

Foreign Ministry sending planes to Australia, New Zealand for stranded Israelis

El Al has decided to operate two additional commercial flights — to New Zealand and Australia — to pick up Israeli tourists stranded abroad, the Foreign Ministry announces.

“In these countries are the largest concentration of Israelis who are interested in returning home,” the ministry says.

In recent weeks, the ministry has cooperated with various airlines and foreign governments to bring thousands of backpackers back to Israel. Later today, two flights from India and Thailand carrying hundreds of Israelis are scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport.

“From the beginning of the corona crisis the Foreign Ministry proved that it will make every effort to repatriate every Israeli who is interested in coming home,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz says. “This is the central mission of our diplomats across the world, and of those who work in Israel.”

As of tomorrow, only 2,151 Israeli tourists interested in returning home will remain stuck abroad, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, easyJet, which usually operates many flights to and from Israel, announces that it has “fully grounded its entire fleet of aircraft.”

Raphael Ahren

Prime Minister’s Office: Netanyahu likely won’t need to self-quarantine

Contradicting reports, the Prime Minister’s Office says Netanyahu likely won’t need to self-isolate, according to preliminary assessments.

In a statement, it says the prime minister hasn’t been in the same room as his adviser Rivka Paluch, who is sick with the coronavirus, for two weeks, according to Hebrew media reports.

Drug smugglers open fire at IDF on Egypt border; no injuries

Drug smugglers opened fire at IDF troops along the Israeli-Egyptian border overnight while bringing the illicit substances into Israel, the military says.

No soldiers were injured nor was damage caused to their vehicles, according to the army.

“IDF troops who tried to thwart the smuggling spotted a number of suspects who opened fire at them. The soldiers returned fire,” the military says.

The Israel Defense Forces confirms that the soldiers did not succeed in preventing the smuggling operation and that the drugs were successfully brought into the country.

Judah Ari Gross

Under the sea, submariners blissfully unaware of pandemic

Of a world in coronavirus turmoil, they may know little or nothing.

Submariners stealthily cruising the ocean deeps, purposefully shielded from worldly worries to encourage undivided focus on their top-secret missions of nuclear deterrence, may be among the last pockets of people anywhere who are still blissfully unaware of how the pandemic is turning life upside down.

Mariners aboard ballistic submarines are habitually spared bad news while underwater to avoid undermining their morale, say current and former officers who served aboard France’s nuclear-armed subs. So any crews that left port before the virus spread around the globe are likely being kept in the dark about the extent of the rapidly unfurling crisis by their commanders until their return, they say.

“They won’t know,” says retired Adm. Dominique Salles, who commanded the French ballistic submarine squadron from 2003 to 2006. “The boys need to be completely available for their mission.”

Speaking exclusively to The Associated Press, Salles says he believes submariners will likely only be told of the pandemic as they head back to port, in the final two days of their mission.

“Those who are at sea don’t need this information,” says Salles, who also commanded the nuclear-armed French submarine “L’Inflexible.”

AP

58-year-old man dies of virus, raising toll to 16

A 58-year-old man with “very significant existing conditions” dies of the coronavirus in central Israel’s Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center, making him the 16th and youngest person in Israel to succumb to the disease, the hospital says.

According to the medical center, located in the Tel Aviv suburb of Be’er Yaakov, the patient was brought into the hospital from Holon yesterday.

“Unfortunately, he passed away this morning,” the hospital says.

Judah Ari Gross

Global declared coronavirus cases pass 700,000, with over 33,000 deaths

More than 700,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been officially declared around the world since the start of the pandemic, according to an AFP tally at 0800 GMT Monday based on official sources.

There have been at least 715,204 cases, including 33,568 fatalities in 183 countries and territories.

These are notably in the United States which has reported 143,025 cases and 2,514 deaths, and Italy with 97,689 cases and the world’s highest death toll of 10,779.

China, where the outbreak first emerged in December, has registered 81,470 cases and 3,304 deaths.

The figures represent only a fraction of the number of infections as many countries only carry out tests on suspected cases if they are hospitalized or with severe symptoms.

AFP

EasyJet grounds fleet as virus decreases demand

EasyJet says it is grounding its entire fleet of aircraft amid a collapse in demand due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Luton-based carrier has parked all 344 of its planes, removing a significant cost as it copes with the impact of the virus.

EasyJet also says it has a strong balance sheet and is in “ongoing discussions with liquidity providers.’’ The budget carrier also announces it has reached an agreement with the Unite union on furlough arrangements for its cabin crew.

The announcement comes as Scottish regional airline Loganair said it expects to ask for a government bailout.

Britain’s government has so far demurred from creating a rescue package for aviation but has said it is ready for negotiations with individual firms once they had “exhausted other options.”

AP

4 arrested, dozens fined as police crack down on violations in Mea Shearim

Police crack down on violations of government restrictions against gatherings in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, arresting four people and fining at least another 30, amid an outcry against perceived inaction by police against segments of the Haredi population’s apparent flouting of the coronavirus regulations.

Officers entered the central Jerusalem neighborhood early this morning, checking for prayer services being held in violation of the government’s orders against such gatherings.

“During this [operation], the officers took out and broke up crowds of dozens and hundreds that had clustered in synagogues and informal houses of worship,” police say.

According to police, four people were arrested and brought in for questioning.

More than 25 people received fines of NIS 5,000 for violating the public health statutes and another five people received fines of NIS 500 for straying farther than the approved 100 meters (328 feet) from their homes.

Police say one house of worship, on Zonenfeld Street, was also shuttered for 30 days following a court hearing today after its owner was found to have violated the government regulations.

“Police operations in the past week have significantly brought down the number of people on the streets of the neighborhood, and [the officers’] presence will continue to ensure that all residents adhere to the regulations,” police say.

In police footage from the operation, residents of the neighborhood can be heard calling the officers “Nazis” and “criminals,” and referring to the female officers as shiksehs, a slur for non-Jewish women.

Judah Ari Gross

 

Spain surpasses China in number of virus infections

Spain has become the third country to surpass China in coronavirus infections after the United States and Italy. With a population of 47 million, the country’s tally of infections reached 85,195 on Monday, a rise of 8% from a previous day.

Monday also sees 812 fatalities, for a total of 7,300 since the outbreak started in earnest in early March, Spain’s Health Ministry says in a statement.

In Madrid, where nearly half of the total deaths have been recorded, flags are hoisted at half-mast as authorities declare an official mourning, with a minute of silence expected at noon time.

Authorities also step up the country’s half-a-month lockdown on Monday, beginning with a new two-week period of “hibernation,” as described by a Spanish Cabinet member in order to alleviate the pressure of the illness in the country’s health system.

Only workers in hospitals, pharmacies, the food supply chain and other essential industries are required to work until the end of Easter, in mid-April, while the rest have been asked to scale back operations to weekend-level.

At least six of Spain’s 17 regions are at their limit of ICU beds and three more were close to it, authorities said, while frantic construction of field hospitals continues.

AP

Blue and White said seeking health portfolio, willing to drop foreign affairs

As coalition negotiations between Likud and Blue and White continue, the centrist alliance is reportedly offering to drop its demand for the Foreign Ministry, if it receives the health portfolio.

The Health Ministry is currently held by United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman, a key political ally of Netanyahu.

Health minister condemns rock-throwing in Jerusalem targeting medic

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman condemns a rock-throwing incident in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, which saw a medic lightly injured.

“I strongly condemn the attack on MDA [Magen David Adom] personnel by a handful of residents in Jerusalem,” says Litzman, who heads the Haredi UTJ political party. “This is serious behavior that is contrary to Jewish law and harms those who are performing holy work for the public’s health and security, while endangering themselves, in particular during this time of emergency.”

Drive-thru virus testing center opens in Wadi Ara

The Health Ministry and Magen David Adom emergency service open a new drive-thru coronavirus testing facility for Arab Israelis.

The testing center opens in Arara, in the Wadi Ara region of northern Israel, after protests by Arab Israeli lawmakers, who accused the Israeli health authorities of failing to provide equal treatment for their community.

According to Channel 12, there have just been 36 cases of the virus confirmed in Arab Israeli cities and towns, raising eyebrows and stoking fears an outbreak is going undetected in these areas.

3 prison guards contract coronavirus

Two prison guards at the Ofer Prison and another at the Nitzan detention facility contract COVID-19, according to Channel 12.

It remains unclear whether the three were in contact with prisoners.

The prisons service is investigating.

Israeli woman, 25, charged with handing over information to Hezbollah

An Israeli woman is indicted on charges she sent information, including photographs, to the Hezbollah terrorist group in 2018.

According to the charges, the woman was contacted on Facebook by a man from southern Lebanon who identified himself as Ali, and took the photos at his prodding.

She is charged with contact with a foreign agent, handing over information with the intent of harming Israel’s national security, and aiding a terrorist group.

 

Emergency service to file complaint after medic hit with rocks in Jerusalem

The Magen David Adom ambulance service confirms that one of its teams of medics was attacked with rocks earlier today in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, while it was testing someone for the coronavirus.

“A volunteer MDA emergency response medic who was standing near the building where the subject being tested lived, while wearing gear to prevent him from contracting [the virus], was suddenly struck by a number of rocks. Miraculously, he was only lightly injured in the shoulder, and the windshield of a Jerusalem municipality vehicle, which was being used by the MDA to carry out the coronavirus tests, was shattered,” MDA says.

“A complaint will be filed with the police,” the ambulance service says.

Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu and staff entering self-quarantine as precaution after aide infected

As a precaution, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisers are voluntarily entering quarantine until Health Ministry officials finish their epidemiological investigation into whether he was exposed to the coronavirus, his office says.

“Even before the epidemiological investigation is over and to remove all doubt, the prime minister has decided that he and his close staff will remain in isolation until the epidemiological investigation is completed, and according to the findings, the Health Ministry and the personal physician of the prime minister will set a day to end the isolation,” his office says.

Netanyahu’s aide Rivka Paluch was confirmed infected with the virus on Sunday, but it remains unclear whether the prime minister was in close contact with her.

Rivka Paluch, left, walks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prince Charles out of isolation, 7 days after COVID-19 diagnosis

Britain’s Prince Charles, 71, is no longer in isolation, seven days after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 with mild symptoms.

A spokesperson says he’s in good health.

Report: Ministers to debate limiting gatherings to 2 people

Cabinet ministers meeting later today to vote on tighter lockdown rules will debate a proposal to limit gatherings from 10 to two people, with the exception of family members, Channel 12 reports.

The updated emergency regulations also call for cutting in-office workers in the public sector by a further 50 percent.

The rules would come in addition to existing regulations that ban Israelis from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes, with the exception of shopping for food or medicines or going to work.

According to the television report, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has asked that a full closure be implemented in Bnei Brak, as the densely populated ultra-Orthodox city has become a hotspot for the virus, with hundreds of cases reported.

 

After waking from coma, New Rochelle’s ‘patient zero’ released from hospital

The attorney at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in New Rochelle, New York, has been released from the hospital, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says.

Cuomo did not identify Lawrence Garbuz by name during his daily news conference on Sunday.

“The ‘patient zero’ — what we call patient zero in Westchester, New Rochelle — who was very sick for a very long time, he has actually gone home,” Cuomo says, adding: “He’s out of the hospital.”

Originally diagnosed with pneumonia, Garbuz, 50, had been on a ventilator and in an induced coma from March 1. His wife, Adina Lewis Garbuz, announced on social media on March 18 that he had wakened from his coma. Garbuz was directly connected to 37 other confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York, including his wife, two of their children and a neighbor. Following his diagnosis, a one-mile containment zone was set up around his synagogue, the Young Israel of New Rochelle.

JTA

Lapid: Emerging government is ‘corrupt,’ we won’t let them destroy democracy

Yair Lapid, who is likely to be appointed opposition leader in the emerging government, attacks the unity negotiations between Netanyahu and his former Blue and White partner Benny Gantz.

“The fifth Netanyahu government being formed before us is bloated, wasteful, corrupt. 36 ministers. What insensitivity. What a disgrace. By the end of the week there will be a million Israelis unemployed and they’re sorting jobs for themselves,” he says, referring to reports on the proposed distribution of ministerial portfolios.

“The formation of this government looks like a disengagement plan from reality. Hundreds of millions of shekels on offices and cars. Zero responsibility. Zero promises kept. We chose to live up to our promises. I won’t give up my principles to be a foreign minister by Zoom,” he says.

Lapid says he’ll back up the government in its efforts to stem the pandemic, but adds: “But it’s time to say out loud what’s really going on. What’s really going on is that this crisis isn’t being properly managed.”

“Netanyahu gives good speeches but there is nothing behind them. He’s giving out empty orders. No one is carrying them out. There is no organized strategic work. There is no cooperation between government bodies. The Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Health are fighting in the press. The economy is collapsing… Wherever the government does the right thing, we’ll work with it. Wherever it doesn’t, we’ll fight it.

He also pledges to defend Israel’s democracy.

“Let’s be clear, we won’t let Netanyahu destroy the Israeli democracy under the guise of coronavirus. All the important strongholds of democracy – Public Security Ministry, the appointment of a police chief, the Speaker of the Knesset, Chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee – have been handed over to the enemies of democracy. The enemies of the rule of law. Their only goal is to help Netanyahu escape justice. To take control of the police. To destroy the courts,” he says. “We’ll fight against them in every way we can.”

Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July 23, 2021

TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics will open next year in July, the same slot scheduled for this year’s games.

Tokyo organizers say the opening ceremony will take place July 23, 2021. That is almost exactly one year after the games were due to start this year. The IOC and Japanese organizers last week postponed the Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The rescheduled Olympics will start July 23, with the closing ceremony on August 8. The Paralympics were rescheduled to August 24 to September 5.

— AP

Head of prominent Jerusalem heder tests positive for coronavirus

Rabbi Avraham Pinzel, the head of one of the largest heders in Jerusalem, has tested positive for the coronavirus, causing a large number of staff and students to enter quarantine.

According to ultra-Orthodox news sites, Chochmat Shlomo had remained open until last Wednesday at the orders of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the most prominent rabbis in the Lithuanian Haredi community.

Jordanian man caught after crossing into northern Israel, returned to Jordan

Israeli troops apprehend a Jordanian man who crossed the border and entered Israel near the community of Beit Yosef, north of Beit She’an, the Israel Defense Forces says.

A resident of Beit Yosef spotted the man near the community and detained him until security forces could arrive. IDF soldiers and police interrogated the man at the scene before returning him to Jordan, the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Knesset calls on MKs who were near PM aide with virus to enter quarantine

The Knesset is calling on lawmakers and parliamentary workers who were in close proximity to an adviser of Prime Minister Netanyahu who tested positive for the coronavirus to enter quarantine.

The Knesset Guard has examined security camera footage from the parliament building and found that Rivka Paluch was there three times in the past two weeks — on March 16, 23 and 26.

Netanyahu’s office said earlier today that the prime minister and his advisers would enter quarantine after Paluch was confirmed to be infected with the virus.

Knesset security footage said to show PM was near aide infected with virus

Prime Minister Netanyahu was recently in close proximity to an aide who was tested positive for the coronavirus, Channel 12 news reports.

The network says surveillance footage shows Rivka Paluch greeting Netanyahu and his entourage as they entered the Knesset and then escorting them through the building.

The report did not say which date the footage was from.

The Prime Minister’s Office said earlier that Netanyahu was not in close contact with Paluch, but that he would enter quarantine anyway as a precaution.

Rivka Paluch, left, walks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bnei Brak reportedly to set up virus testing center amid rise in cases

The Bnei Brak municipality will set up a coronavirus testing center amid a growing number of COVID-19 cases in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city, the Ynet news site reports.

Tests will be randomly carried out at supermarkets and a drive-through testing facility also will be set up in Bnei Brak, according to the report.

1st person in Israel in serious condition from COVID-19 recovers

The first person in Israel to be hospitalized in serious condition from the coronavirus has recovered and been released from the hospital.

In a video from Baruch Padeh Medical Center, a doctor says the patient, a 38-year-old bus driver from East Jerusalem, was the first person who required a ventilator in Israel to recover from the virus.

He was hospitalized on March 4 after driving a group of Greek tourists who were later confirmed to have the virus.

The hospital said earlier this month that he was the first person in Israel to be treated with Remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug developed by Gilead Sciences.

Health minister said to ask Netanyahu to quarantine Bnei Brak

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman asked Prime Minister Netanyahu today to impose a quarantine on Bnei Brak amid a rise in COVID-19 cases there, according to Hebrew media reports.

Responding to the reports, Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein calls on the Health Ministry to provide information to the municipality on residents of the Tel Aviv suburb who have the coronavirus and says a full lockdown won’t help those who are sick.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Info on coronavirus patients, Israelis under quarantine to be given to local authorities

The Health Ministry says it will begin transferring information on coronavirus patients and Israelis required to self-quarantine to the Interior Ministry, which in turn will give the data to local authorities to ensure virus-related directives are being adhered to.

A statement from the ministry stresses the information will be transferred in a secure manner while “guaranteeing the right to privacy.”

Gantz said refusing to back unilateral annexation in West Bank

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz is refusing to agree to unilateral annexation in the West Bank with US-backing, Channel 12 news reports.

Gantz has previously indicated he backs US President Donald Trump’s peace plan as a basis for negotiation, but not as a basis for unilateral action.

According to the network, coalition negotiations between Blue and White and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud have hit a snag, with the parties at odds over how many ministers there will be in the next government.

The parties are also wrangling over who will be Knesset speaker, justice minister and health minister, with each backing different candidates for the posts.

Nearly 3,000 tickets handed out for violations of virus restrictions

Police say they have given out 2,941 tickets for violations of Health Ministry directives meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

They have also opened 135 criminal cases against Israelis suspected of violating mandatory home quarantines and another 40 against people suspected of spreading fake news about the virus.

Additionally, police say they’re using helicopters and drones to enforce emergency ordinances limiting movement and banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

Number of virus cases in Iran tops 40,000; Tehran warns outbreak could last until summer

TEHRAN, Iran — The number of declared coronavirus infections in Iran tops 40,000, as the government warns the outbreak could run for several more months and cost over 10,000 lives.

With the tally climbing, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stands accused of failing to take prompt action by some of his political opponents.

The row comes as a report by Iran’s anti-coronavirus committee says the country may struggle with the outbreak until at least early summer.

Parviz Karami, who published the study on Instagram, says 11,000 people would die in the case of “medium government intervention,” including measures already taken by Iran.

Potential fatalities could drop to 7,700 with “maximum” intervention, such as banning movement inside cities and imposing quarantines, he says.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says today that another 117 people died from the virus over the past 24 hours and 3,186 new cases have been confirmed, raising the total to more than 41,000.

The death toll reaches 2,757.

— AFP

Netanyahu aide infected with COVID-19 says she’s feeling fine

An aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu says she’s feeling fine after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“I feel excellent,” Rivka Paluch tells Channel 12 news. “I don’t feel that I have anything at all.”

US military hospital ship arrives in New York

NEW YORK — A military hospital ship arrives in New York today as America’s coronavirus epicenter prepares to fight the peak of the pandemic that has killed over 2,500 people across the United States.

The navy’s 1,000-bed USNS Comfort enters a Manhattan pier around 10:45 a.m. local time.

It will treat non-virus-related patients, helping to ease the burden of hospitals overwhelmed by the crisis.

— AFP

The USNS Comfort medical ship moves up the Hudson River as it arrives in New York on March 30, 2020. (Angela Weiss / AFP)

IDF says it’s working to boost adherence to virus directives after photo shows troops packed together

The Israel Defense Forces says it is still working to get all parts of the military to abide by government restrictions against gatherings, after a large group of fresh recruits are photographed sitting in a densely packed room at the IDF’s main enlistment center in clear violation of those regulations.

An IDF spokesperson confirms that the incident occurred earlier today.

“The IDF views all violations of the regulations with the utmost severity. In light of the incident, an investigation was launched, the matter was clarified, and an order was given to the [enlistment center] to more forcefully ensure that crowds are prevented,” the military says in a statement.

The IDF says it is working to ensure across-the-board adherence to the Health Ministry’s restrictions.

“We will stress that the health of service members is our top mission and that a number of efforts have been made to abide by the Health Ministry’s and military’s regulations on the matter,” the IDF says.

“In addition, commanders are increasing their enforcement in order to prevent such incidents.”

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu, finance minister to give press conference at 7:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will give a press conference at 7:30 p.m. to roll out their economic assistance plan for the coronavirus outbreak.

A statement from Netanyahu’s spokeswoman says the press conference will be held in two locations: the Prime Minister’s Residence and the Finance Ministry.

Netanyahu entered self-quarantine earlier today as a precaution after one of his aides tested positive for the virus.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019 (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Unemployment rate in Israel rises to 23.1 percent

The Employment Service says over 800,000 Israelis have signed up with it since the beginning of March, bringing the unemployment rate to 23.1 percent.

Shots fired at undercover officers, border cops in East Jerusalem refugee camp

Undercover officers and border policeman are fired upon during an operation in the Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, police say.

“At this stage there are no injuries among our forces,” police say in a statement.

A suspect was arrested and officers are continuing to operate in the area, according to police.

Cabinet to meet at 8:30 p.m. to approve further virus restrictions

The cabinet will convene at 8:30 p.m. to approve further restrictions against the coronavirus, the Prime Minister’s Office says.

IDF troops to begin distributing food, other necessities to elderly

Israeli troops will tomorrow take responsibility for the country’s senior living facilities, following a number of cases of coronavirus outbreaks in these homes, the Israel Defense Forces says.

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says the Home Front Command will coordinate the effort through its five district headquarters, while soldiers from units located in those districts will be in touch with the roughly 250 facilities and provide them with whatever is necessary.

One commander and four soldiers will be assigned to each facility, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says.

In a wide-ranging phone briefing, the spokesman says the IDF has yet to deploy soldiers to assist police in enforcing the government’s partial lockdown of the country, but that this is due to take place shortly, once the final approvals are received.

Asked about the military’s changing policy on whether the troops will be armed or not during these patrols, Zilberman says the issue is still being discussed, but it appears that all soldiers stationed in Israeli settlements in the West Bank will almost certainly carry weapons, while those operating inside the Green Line may not or may only partially do so.

Zilberman says the military is also working to establish two new coronavirus facilities, which will be converted from hotels, to treat members of the ultra-Orthodox community who contract the disease and display only light symptoms. These facilities — one in Bnei Brak and one in Beit Shemesh — are in addition to the six such converted hotels that the IDF is operating around the country, which currently hold over 1,000 people, both patients and those who need to be in monitored quarantine.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu addresses nation from quarantine, says he’s setting a ‘personal example’ to Israelis

Prime Minister Netanyahu gives a press conference from his official residence in Jerusalem, where he is self-isolating after one of his aides tested positive for the coronavirus.

Netanyahu says he voluntarily entered quarantine as a “personal example” to Israelis. He says the various tests to determine whether he is actually required to be isolation are ongoing.

The camera is the required distance away, “and I did my own make-up and hair, which is why it looks like this,” he says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a televised statement at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 30, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

He says the government will approve further restrictions on Israelis’ movement when it meets later this evening, along with measures to support the economy.

“It’s true that in Israel we’re in a better situation than almost every other country,” he says, but adds that more needs to be done to curb the spread of infection. “We want to reach the level of some countries in Asia that have slowed the pace of infection still further.”

Netanyahu says there are “particular groups” in the country not adhering to emergency directives — “deliberately breaching and even showing contempt” for the rules– and that he therefore ordered security forces to step up enforcement in areas with a high number of violations.

He stresses that most Israelis, including those in the ultra-Orthodox community, are acting responsibly. The “extremist groups” who are flouting the rules, he says, endanger themselves and everybody else, and are trampling on the principle of “love thy neighbor.”

“There won’t be gatherings of over two people who are not from the same nuclear family,” he announces.

Additionally, he says no kind of prayer will be allowed even in open areas — “pray only on your own” — and that religious events should be restricted as much as possible.

Even weddings must be restricted only to immediately family, he says. Funerals remain limited to 20 people, and circumcisions to 10 — all while maintaining two-meter social distancing.

He says companies will need to reduce their workforces to 15 percent.

Netanyahu also calls on Israelis not to visit family during the Passover holiday.

This year’s Passover Seder will be “the lockdown seder” — with only the nuclear family attending. “Don’t visit relatives on the eve of the festival either,” he stresses.

“These same restrictions apply as relevant to all faiths,” he notes.

Netanyahu limits all gatherings to 2 people, except for family members; demands ‘lockdown Seder’

Netanyahu says there are “particular groups” in the country not adhering to emergency directives — “deliberately breaching and even showing contempt” for the rules– and that he therefore ordered security forces to step up enforcement in areas with a high number of violations.

He stresses that most Israelis, including those in the ultra-Orthodox community, are acting responsibly. The “extremist groups” who are flouting the rules, he says, endanger themselves and everybody else, and are trampling on the principle of “love thy neighbor.”

“There won’t be gatherings of over two people who are not from the same nuclear family,” he announces.

Additionally, he says no kind of prayer will be allowed even in open areas — “pray only on your own” — and that religious events should be restricted as much as possible.

Even weddings must be restricted only to immediately family, he says. Funerals remain limited to 20 people, and circumcisions to 10 — all while maintaining two-meter social distancing.

Netanyahu also calls on Israelis not to visit family during the Passover holiday.

This year’s Passover Seder will be “the lockdown seder” — with only the nuclear family attending. “Don’t visit relatives on the eve of the festival either,” he stresses.

“These same restrictions apply as relevant to all faiths,” he notes.

He says companies will need to reduce their workforces to 15 percent.

Netanyahu says the government has approved a NIS 80 billion economic aid passage due to the coronavirus crisis.

He calls for an emergency unity government, as “the imperative of the hour.”

After hours of negotiations in recent days with his rival Benny Gantz over such a government, Netanyahu says: “Everybody has to compromise… Everybody has to help carry the stretcher.”

“This is an event we’ve never faced in all our years of independence. I wish I would could tell you this evening that were are near the end of it, but that would be premature, even very premature. Nobody knows what the next day will bring.”

Still, “with the help of God, we’ll overcome the coronavirus,” he says.

Speaking after Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says he believes that economic activity will gradually resume after the Passover holiday.

“We won’t let the economy collapse,” he says.

Kahlon says he’ll retire from politics when new government sworn in

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon officially announces he will be leaving politics when a new government is sworn in.

Kahlon had been expected to step down and is no longer a Knesset member, after not running in the March 2 elections.

He was a long time Likud lawmaker before going his own way and heading the Kulanu party in the 2015 elections, after which he became finance minister. Kulanu was absorbed into Likud after a poor showing in the first of three elections over the past year.

Italy records 812 more virus deaths as rate of new infections further slows

ROME — Italy is seeing a continued slowdown in the rate of its new confirmed coronavirus cases, while registering a record number of people cured, as the country enters its third week into a nationwide lockdown.

Another 812 people died in the last day, bringing Italy’s toll to 11,591, more people having died there than in any other country.

Overall, Italy added 4,050 new infections Monday, bringing its official total to 101,739 and keeping its place as the European epicenter of the pandemic and second only to the United States. Epidemiologists say the real number of Italy’s caseload, however, is as much as five to 10 times more than the official number, but that those cases are not being counted because Italy is only testing people with severe symptoms. Of those infected, 14,620 have been declared cured, including a record 1,590 in the past day.

— AP

Coronavirus test for Netanyahu comes back clean, will stay in self-quarantine

Coronavirus tests for Prime Minister Netanyahu, his family, and close advisers have come back clean, his spokeswoman says.

Netanyahu will remain in self-quarantine at his official residence in Jerusalem, after one of his aides tested positive for COVID-19.

348 new confirmed virus cases in Israel, bringing total to 4,695

The Health Ministry announces 348 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total in Israel to 4,695.

It says 79 people are in serious condition, 66 of whom are hooked up to ventilators.

Another 90 people are in moderate condition, while the rest have mild symptoms.

Sixteen people in Israel have died from the virus, while 161 have recovered.

France reports 418 virus deaths in new single day record for country

PARIS — France reports its highest daily number of deaths since the coronavirus epidemic began, saying 418 more people had died in the hospital to bring the toll to 3,024.

There are now 20,946 people hospitalized in France with COVID-19, with 5,056 of them in intensive care, the government says in its daily update.

The French death toll includes only those who died in the hospital and not those who died at home or in nursing homes, or the like.

— AFP

Germany’s Merkel again tests negative for coronavirus

FRANKFURT, Germany — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s third coronavirus test has come back negative, but the German leader will stay in home quarantine for the coming days, her spokesman says.

Merkel, 65, has been in self-isolation at her Berlin apartment for just over a week, after learning on March 22 that a doctor who gave her a vaccination two days earlier had been infected with the virus.

“The chancellor’s third test also turned out negative. The chancellor will continue to carry out her official business from her at-home quarantine in the coming days,” spokesman Steffen Seibert says in a statement.

It is not immediately clear if Merkel will undergo further testing.

While in isolation, Merkel has kept working and held government meetings via video link.

— AFP

Defense Ministry unit trying to teach dogs to sniff out coronavirus — report

The Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure is experimenting whether dogs can be taught to identify if a person is carrying the coronavirus, Channel 13 reports.

The experiment is trying to teach dogs from the IDF’s elite Oketz Canine Unit to detect the virus by using saliva samples from coronavirus patients, according to the report.

A military dog, part of the IDF’s Oketz Unit, participates in a large-scale exercise simulating warfare against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Members of Hasidic community in Canada put under virus quarantine

MONTREAL — Some 4,000 members of a Hasidic Jewish community in the Montreal region have been put under quarantine, after around 20 of them tested positive for the new coronavirus following a trip to New York, Canadian health officials say.

“They started to have symptoms last week. We got first test (results) yesterday,” says Eric Goyer, the head of public health in the area of Quebec that includes Boisbriand, where the Jewish community is located.

Of the first 40 people tested, about half came back positive, alarming health authorities.

At the start of the month, several members of the community traveled to New York state, which is now the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, to attend a religious festival.

The highly religious Yiddish-speaking community shuns listening to the radio or watching television, and rejects contraception, with many families typically having around 10 children.

Most members have a rudimentary understanding of French or English, although Goyer says the community had translated a number of publications about coronavirus into Yiddish.

He says the community had voluntarily placed itself in isolation for 14 days and that its members were providing an “extraordinary” amount of collaboration with health authorities.

— AFP

New York coronavirus death toll rises above 1,200

The number of reported coronavirus deaths in New York shoots up by 253 in a single day to just over 1,200, a number Governor Andrew Cuomo calls “staggering.”

“That’s a lot of loss, that’s a lot of pain, that’s a lot of tears, that’s a lot of grief that people all across this state are feeling,” the governor says at a briefing in Manhattan.

Cuomo sounds the mournful note even as a Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds arrives in New York City.

State officials expect the number of deaths to continue to rise as the outbreak reaches its projected peak in the coming weeks.

“Whatever the numbers is, it’s going to be staggering,” Cuomo says. “We’ve lost over 1,000 New Yorkers.”

“To me, we’re beyond staggering already,” he says.

The state has already confirmed more than 66,000 cases, mostly in New York City.

There are 9,500 people in New York currently hospitalized for COVID-19.

— AP

Italy to extend lockdown until at least April 12

ROME — Italy will extend its lockdown at least until April 12 to help curb novel coronavirus infections that have already claimed 11,591 lives, the health minister says.

A meeting of the government’s scientific committee recommended extending all containment measures until at least Easter Sunday, April 12, Roberto Speranza says in a statement.

— AFP

Tel Aviv city hall lit up with Magen David Adom logo

Tel Aviv city hall is lit up with the logo of the Magen David Adom ambulance service in a nod to medical workers dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

Tel Aviv city hall is lit up with the Magen David Adom logo to show support to medical workers battling the coronavirus, March 30, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Cabinet gives approval for IDF troops to help enforce virus restrictions

The cabinet approves the deployment of some 700 mostly unarmed IDF soldiers to Israel Police districts across the country to help officers enforce the government’s partial lockdown.

According to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s office, the troops will conduct patrols with police officers. The soldiers will not carry weapons, except for commanding officers and those serving in West Bank settlements.

Erdan’s office says additional IDF soldiers may be deployed if the lockdown becomes more strict.

— Judah Ari Gross

Human testing for Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to begin this fall

WASHINGTON — Johnson & Johnson says Monday it has selected a lead candidate vaccine for the new coronavirus that would move to human trials by September and could be ready for emergency use by early next year.

The pharmaceutical company has signed an agreement with the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to invest $1 billion in the effort, it says in a statement.

J&J began working on the investigational vaccine, Ad26 SARS-CoV-2 in January using the same technology it used to develop a candidate vaccine for Ebola.

It uses a deactivated version of the virus to try to trigger a human immune response.

The company says it was expanding its global manufacturing capacity both in the US and in other countries, to help it supply more than a billion doses of its vaccine around the world.

J&J is also working on antiviral treatments against the coronavirus.

— AFP

Cardinal close to Pope France tests positive for coronavirus

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ vicar for Rome has tested positive for the coronavirus in the first case of a cardinal close to the pope known to be infected.

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis had been in touch with Francis in recent weeks — apparently not in person, however — over the cardinal’s initial decision to close all Rome churches, in line with an Italian government shutdown decree.

De Donatis reversed himself after Francis intervened, and allowed diocesan churches to remain open for individuals to pray.

The pope is technically bishop of Rome, but he delegates the day-to-day running of the diocese to his vicar, De Donatis, 66. The Rome church says De Donatis was in good condition at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, and is receiving antiviral treatment.

The Holy See has said six people have tested positive for the virus in the Vatican, none of them the pope or his closest advisers.

— AP

Pope Francis delivers his blessing from the window of his studio overlooking an empty St. Peter’s Square, due to restrictions to contain the COVID-19 virus, at the Vatican, March 29, 2020. (Vatican News via AP)

Democratic congresswoman says she has presumed virus infection

WASHINGTON — New York Representative Nydia Velázquez, a Democrat who attended Friday’s House session to pass a $2 trillion rescue package, says in a statement today that she has a presumed coronavirus infection.

Velázquez, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, stood within feet of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic and Republican leaders at a signing ceremony after the bill was passed.

Velázquez, 67, says in the statement that she began to feel ill yesterday morning and spoke to the Capitol’s attending physician by phone. She says she was diagnosed with a presumed infection, but has mild symptoms and is isolating at home, as the doctor recommended.

— AP

Cabinet said to approve exemption for group prayer at Western Wall

Despite barring groups of 10 people from praying together, the government has made an exemption for special prayer services at the Western Wall, according to Hebrew media reports.

A minyan of 10 worshipers will be held three times a day at the holy site, the reports say, so prayers there will continue during the coronavirus crisis.

Haredim from virus hotspots said banned from ER at Israel’s largest hospital

Ultra-Orthodox residents of cities with large numbers of coronavirus cases will be banned from the emergency room at Sheba Medical Center and treated in an isolated area, according to a report by the Walla news site, which cites an internal directive at Israel’s largest hospital.

The rule applies to residents of Bnei Brak, Modiin Illit and Elad, and other places, it says, even if there is no known exposure to the virus or symptoms.

According to the report, Haredi patients seeking emergency medical care will be asked where they are coming from, while other patients will not be screened by location or community affiliation before entering the ER.

“When I see a Haredi person, I immediately think he has coronavirus,” a senior health official tells the site. “This is the right thing to do, it is our obligation to do it this way.”

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Netanyahu addresses nation from quarantine, says he’s setting a ‘personal example’ to Israelis

Prime Minister Netanyahu gives a press conference from his official residence in Jerusalem, where he is self-isolating after one of his aides tested positive for the coronavirus.

Netanyahu says he voluntarily entered quarantine as a “personal example” to Israelis. He says the various tests to determine whether he is actually required to be isolation are ongoing.

The camera is the required distance away, “and I did my own make-up and hair, which is why it looks like this,” he says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a televised statement at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 30, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

He says the government will approve further restrictions on Israelis’ movement when it meets later this evening, along with measures to support the economy.

“It’s true that in Israel we’re in a better situation than almost every other country,” he says, but adds that more needs to be done to curb the spread of infection. “We want to reach the level of some countries in Asia that have slowed the pace of infection still further.”

Netanyahu says there are “particular groups” in the country not adhering to emergency directives — “deliberately breaching and even showing contempt” for the rules– and that he therefore ordered security forces to step up enforcement in areas with a high number of violations.

He stresses that most Israelis, including those in the ultra-Orthodox community, are acting responsibly. The “extremist groups” who are flouting the rules, he says, endanger themselves and everybody else, and are trampling on the principle of “love thy neighbor.”

“There won’t be gatherings of over two people who are not from the same nuclear family,” he announces.

Additionally, he says no kind of prayer will be allowed even in open areas — “pray only on your own” — and that religious events should be restricted as much as possible.

Even weddings must be restricted only to immediately family, he says. Funerals remain limited to 20 people, and circumcisions to 10 — all while maintaining two-meter social distancing.

He says companies will need to reduce their workforces to 15 percent.

Netanyahu also calls on Israelis not to visit family during the Passover holiday.

This year’s Passover Seder will be “the lockdown seder” — with only the nuclear family attending. “Don’t visit relatives on the eve of the festival either,” he stresses.

“These same restrictions apply as relevant to all faiths,” he notes.