Over 1,000 Israelis receive fines for lockdown violations
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Netanyahu: We’re on our way to a unity government; Israel will beat the virus

PM meets with Gantz and Ashkenazi; Israeli tourist, 82, dies of COVID-19 in Italy; 3,619 infected in Israel, including 54 in serious condition

Israeli children watch as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a live press conference on the new government restrictions for the public regarding the coronavirus COVID-19 on March 19, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
Israeli children watch as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a live press conference on the new government restrictions for the public regarding the coronavirus COVID-19 on March 19, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they happened.

Over 1,000 Israelis receive fines for lockdown violations

Over 1,000 people and businesses receive fines from police for violating government restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.

Channel 13 reports that 900 of those fines were handed down to those who were found more than 100 meters from their home, a movement restriction issued earlier this week.

Since Wednesday at 5 p.m., Israelis have been ordered to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of specially designated approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine or a short walk of no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from one’s home.

Those found violating those regulations are subject to large fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) and even imprisonment.

The Israeli military has announced that some 500 soldiers will be deployed across the country beginning Sunday to assist police in enforcing the government’s latest restrictions on movement.

Dozens demonstrate near Benny Gantz’s home

Dozens of demonstrators are protesting near the home of Benny Gantz, head of the Israel Resilience party and formerly of Blue and White, over his decision in principle earlier this week to join a unity government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which led to the immediate collapse of the Blue and White alliance.

Police set up roadblocks around the home to keep the protesters from the so-called black flag movement away from Gantz’s residence in Rosh Haayin.

The demonstrators shout that Gantz “does not have the mandate” to join a government headed by a “corrupt leader.” Some were seen lying down in the road near the home.

The same demonstrators also protested outside the homes earlier Saturday of several MKs from the party.

They are demanding that, coalition or not, party members continue to support action against corruption and against threats to democracy.

The movement’s name comes from demonstrators pinning black flags to their vehicles to symbolize what they believe is a danger to Israeli democracy. They are largely keeping to their cars to maintain social distancing directives aimed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Europe death toll from coronavirus surges past 20,000

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 20,000 people in Europe, according to a tally of official figures gathered by AFP on Saturday afternoon.

Europe is now the most affected continent with 20,059 deaths from a total of 337,632 cases. The COVID-19 disease has killed 9,134 in Italy and 5,690 in Spain — the two hardest-hit countries in the world, accounting for three-quarters of all deaths in Europe.

— AFP

More people abandoning pets in recent weeks, says SPCA

More people are abandoning their pets and leaving them at shelters, says the spokesperson of the Israeli SPCA organization.

Gadi Vitner tells Channel 12 that the organization is seeing a 35 percent increase in pet abandonment since the new government restrictions to stem the coronavirus pandemic were put in place.

People are also halting donations to the group, citing job loss or movement restrictions, according to the report.

Vitner says the organization has never experienced anything like this. “We’ve survived wars, and economic crises, but over the past two weeks, people are gripped by panic, they don’t know what will happen, they leave their dogs, they leave their cats. And they don’t come to adopt,” given the social distancing directives, he says.

Israel’s ambassador to Germany recovers from coronavirus

Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, has recovered from coronavirus, Walla reports.

When he was diagnosed two weeks ago and entered quarantine, he was said by the Foreign Ministry to be feeling generally well. He was tested again today and found to be negative.

Issacharoff will end his quarantine this evening, the report says.

Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff on March 20, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

Lapid on Gantz: Coronavirus crisis no reason to abandon values

Yair Lapid says Benny Gantz’s actions are akin to “running a marathon, being in the lead on the final lap, and a meter before the finish line, sitting on the ground and crying.”

Speaking on Channel 12, Lapid criticizes Gantz’s decision, saying that if he agreed to sit in Netanyahu’s government because of the coronavirus crisis, “why did he not ask to be health minister?”

The pandemic “is no reason to abandon your values.”

Lapid says he doesn’t understand why Gantz is not heading a unity government himself, given that his bloc had 61 seats following the most recent round of elections on March 2.

“I’ve not seen anything like this,” he says.

Lapid says he does not regret forging the Blue and White alliance with Gantz, “I only regret the end result.”

When Gantz announced his decision on Thursday, Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon quickly announced they were breaking up their alliance with Gantz’s party, sundering Blue and White (though they apparently plan to keep the name for the ongoing union of their two parties).

Government weighing additional restrictions amid pandemic

The government is set to convene on Sunday to discuss additional restrictions amid efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel.

According to an earlier report on Channel 12, two new directives to be decided upon include one that would restrict people to within 2-3 kilometers from home when buying groceries and supplies, and another instructing supermarkets to allocate two hours a day for elderly shoppers only.

Channel 12 says the leadership is watching the figures on infection rates, which are continuing to rise but are not soaring. With 12 Israelis having died so far, there have been no new fatalities reported today. Fifty people are in serious condition, 39 of them on ventilators.

Another option being weighed is to reduce, from 30 percent to 20 percent, the proportion of a company’s staff allowed to continue to go to work. An urgent aid package for small businesses is also set to be discussed.

Police are set to begin aggressively enforcing the current measures starting on Sunday. Earlier, Channel 12 reported that officers have handed out some 1,000 fines to people found violating the directives.

Israelis were ordered starting on Wednesday to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of specially designated approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine or a short walk of no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from one’s home.

Those found violating those regulations are subject to large fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) and even imprisonment.

The Israeli military announced that some 500 soldiers will be deployed across the country to assist police in enforcing the restrictions on movement.

TV: Netanyahu and Gantz set to meet tonight as unity talks advance

Likud and Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience negotiating teams are meeting, Channel 12 reports. Netanyahu and Gantz are set to meet later this evening.

There are several major disagreements, including over who will serve as minister of justice, but the TV report says broadly speaking the talks are making progress.

As things stand, it notes, there are likely to be no women in the key decision-making security cabinet.

Nissenkorn: Unity deal would allow MK under indictment to serve as acting PM

Avi Nissenkorn of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party says the unity deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to include a provision for legislation that an MK under indictment can serve as acting prime minister.

This would ensure that the rotation agreement would go ahead and that Netanyahu can serve as acting PM after handing over to Gantz in 18 months, as per their reported deal.

It will not enable an MK “with ministerial responsibility” to stay on as a minister when indicted, he says.

Nissenkorn says Gantz’s party “did not break up” the Blue and White alliance with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party. He indicates that they were aware of the unity talks and that “most of our voters want a unity government.”

Kahlon proposes NIS 5 billion aid package to businesses

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is reportedly pushing to okay a NIS 5 billion ($1.4 billion) economic aid package for small businesses to help alleviate the suffering from the restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kahlon “wants to issue checks” to these businesses as grants and forego moves such as easing taxes or delaying payments, Channel 12 reports.

The government is set to meet on Sunday to discuss tightening restrictions in Israel amid efforts to curb the spread. These directives have hit small- and medium-sized businesses which have either been forced to close or operated on reduced levels.

States impose new restrictions on travelers from New York

States are pulling back the welcome mat for travelers from the New York area, which is the epicenter of the US’ coronavirus outbreak, but some say at least one state’s measures are unconstitutional.

Governors in Texas, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina this week ordered people arriving from the New York area —including New Jersey and Connecticut — and other virus hot spots to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival.

Connecticut officials have also pleaded with New Yorkers and others from out of state to avoid visiting unless absolutely necessary.

But, in the most dramatic steps taken to date, Rhode Island State Police on Friday began pulling over drivers with New York plates so that National Guard officials can collect contact information and inform them of a mandatory, 14-day quarantine.

New York has more than 40,000 cases and more than 500 deaths from the virus, by far the most in the country.

— AP

UN donates 250,000 protective masks to New York City

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announces the donation of 250,000 protective face masks, which had just been located in United Nations storage facilities, to the United States for use in hard-hit New York City.

The UN chief says: “These masks, in surplus to United Nations requirements, will be given to the medical professionals in New York City who have been working courageously, selflessly, and tirelessly in response to the spread of COVID-19 across the boroughs in the hope that they play some small role in saving lives.”

Guterres says the United Nations and the US Mission to the UN are working with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to ensure swift delivery of the masks to medical facilities around the city.

“On behalf of the UN community and the diplomatic corps, we sincerely hope this modest donation makes a difference,” Guterres says.

AP

‘Red stain’ Health Ministry video shows how easily virus contagion can spread

A new Health Ministry video graphically shows the easy spread of the virus — via a single sneeze, to a door handle and thence nationwide.

Broadcast before the main nightly news, it highlights that the contagion can be transmitted from droplets of mucus on solid surfaces, showing the infection spreading in a rapidly expanding red stain.

Israel considering barring Palestinian workers, bringing construction to halt

Israel is weighing sending Palestinian construction workers back to the West Bank and preventing their reentry amid the pandemic, a move that would effectively freeze most construction in the country, Channel 12 says.

The step is being considered by ministers, according to the television report, and would affect some 70,000 building projects.

 

Rates of infection in hard-hit Haredi communities

Channel 12 publicizes the rates of infection in hard-hit ultra-Orthodox cities and towns.

Per 10,000 people, the town of Kiryat Yearim has 53 cases, Kfar Chabad has 38, and Bnei Brak has 13, it says.

 

Doctor: What’s happening in Bnei Brak is like Italy

Channel 12 quotes an unnamed doctor sounding the alarm about infection rates in the Haredi city of Bnei Brak.

“What’s happening in Bnei Brak is like Italy. Almost every ultra-Orthodox person who comes in for a check is found to be infected with coronavirus. There are families with 100% infection. The Health Ministry should be going door-to-door and taking people who are sick out of their homes. If not, in a few weeks from now, they’ll be flooding in [to the hospitals] in huge numbers,” the doctor is quoted as saying.

Netanyahu speaks to Italian PM, sends condolences over virus ‘catastrophe’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on the phone with his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte, his office says.

Netanyahu “expressed sorrow and condolences on behalf of the Israeli government over the great catastrophe that is befalling Italy,” his office says.

TV: Hendel, Hauser aim to join coalition, which would give PM 61 right-wingers, marginalize Gantz

Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel are planning to join Benny Gantz in a unity government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Channel 12 reports.

According to the report, should the rightist lawmakers break off from the Telem faction within Blue and White and join a coalition, the government would have 61 lawmakers with right-wing views. (The 58 in the Likud, Yemina, Shas, United Torah Judaism bloc, plus Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis and the two Telem MKs.) This means, it notes, that if Netanyahu seeks to advance annexation or other steps after the pandemic ends, Gantz would not be able to prevent it or break up the coalition.

As part of the negotiations, Netanyahu is seeking legislation saying that an acting prime minister under indictment can continue to serve, in order to ensure he can fill that role when his prime ministerial rotation with Gantz is slated to go into effect in the fall of 2021. Currently, ministers must resign if they face criminal charges, but the law does not explicitly refer to a prime minister.

Italy’s coronavirus death toll tops 10,000

Italy’s death toll from the novel coronavirus shoots past 10,000 with 889 new deaths, the country’s civil protection service says.

The toll in Italy, which has suffered more deaths than any other country, now stands at 10,023. An additional 5,974 infections brought to 92,472 the number of people who have officially tested positive for COVID-19 in Italy since the crisis began last month.

AFP

Turkey coronavirus deaths pass 100, health minister says

More than 100 people have died from the novel coronavirus in Turkey, according to the health minister on Saturday, as 1,704 new cases were recorded.

Fahrettin Koca shares the latest figures in an image on Twitter, showing 16 more people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the total death toll to 108. With the new cases of COVID-19, Turkey has officially recorded 7,402 people with the virus.

AFP

3,619 have virus in Israel, 54 in serious condition

The number of COVID-19 infections climbs to 3,619, the Health Ministry says.

This includes 54 patients in serious condition, of whom 43 are attached to ventilators.

Another 81 are in moderate condition.

Twelve people have died in Israel from the virus, and 89 have recovered.

Israeli tourist, 82, dies of virus in Italy, Foreign Ministry says

An Israeli tourist died of the coronavirus in Italy on Thursday, according to the Foreign Ministry.

He is identified as an 82-year-old resident of Haifa.

The ministry says the man was on a cruise in northern Italy with his wife. He died of the virus several days after his hospitalization.

Netanyahu: We’re on our way to a unity government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is heading toward a unity government to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re on our way to a unity government, to join forces for you, for our state. I see the broad internalization [of the coronavirus lockdown rules] but it’s not yet enough. Protect yourselves, observe the rules, we will need to tighten [the rules] further, but we can beat this, we will beat it together,” he says in a video message posted on Twitter.

Another British minister develops symptoms of COVID-19

Another member of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet has developed symptoms of COVID-19, as the number of people with the coronovrius to die in the UK passes the 1,000 mark Saturday.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack says he has symptoms of the disease and is self-isolating a day after the prime minister and Britain’s health secretary revealed they tested positive for the virus and were experiencing mild symptoms.

Johnson, 55, is the highest-profile political leader to have contracted the virus. Jack sat beside him in the House of Commons on Wednesday before Parliament shut down until at least April 21 to reduce the risk of infections.

AP

Liberman: We’ll stay in opposition, this is no unity government

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says his right-wing party will remain in the opposition and won’t join a Netanyahu-led government with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience.

“The government that is going to be formed is not a unity government, but a Netanyahu government with a Haredi-messianic bloc that is being joined by Israel Resilience. Therefore, Yisrael Beytenu will serve Israel from the opposition,” says Liberman, who held a kingmaker role after the consecutive national elections this year and previously pushed for a Likud-Blue and White unity coalition.

Israeli who dies of virus in Italy identified

The Israeli tourist who died in Italy of COVID-19 is identified as Shmuel Sifri, 82.

His wife is being quarantined at a military installation in Turin and is contact with Israeli diplomats.

France reports 319 more coronavirus deaths, bringing toll to 2,314

France reports 319 more deaths in hospitals caused by the coronavirus, bringing the total toll of the epidemic in the country to 2,314.

There are now 37,575 cases of coronavirus infection in France, up 4,611 on the day before, according to a daily update published by the government. There are now 17,620 people in a hospital, with 4,273 of them in intensive care, it adds.

Both the death toll and the number of infections are likely higher than the official figures. The number of those who died counts only those who died in a hospital — not retirement homes or at home — while only those deemed at high risk are currently being tested.

AFP

Israeli doctor in Padua says Italy will ‘flatten the curve’ in weeks

An Israeli doctor in Padua tells Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, about treatments that have been effective in Italy.

“In the past few days, people have begun to recover, in part due to new medications and also as a result of the fact that it takes some two weeks to recover from the virus,” says Carmi Sheffer.

He attributes the high death rates in Italy to the spread within geriatric hospitals. “The moment the virus arrives in a place where an elderly population is concentrated, it spreads like wildfire,” he says.

In Padua, the autoimmune medicine Tocilizumab has proven effective, but can only be used once established that no other viruses are present in the patients’ bodies, he says. The hospital where he works has also seen positive results from the antiviral drug Remdesivir, he says.

“We will control the virus and flatten the curve within a few weeks, but the closure will continue until June,” he predicts. “Italy is ahead of Israel by something like a month, so in my opinion, [in Israel] it will end only in July.”

But he also predicts that Israel could see soaring death rates, like Italy.

“I do not think the Israeli health care system is prepared for an outbreak on this scale. Israel’s advantage is the army, which can build field hospitals to treat mild cases, which is should,” he says.

Israeli backpackers in Peru hitch ride home on Czech plane

Six Israeli backpackers are on board a Czech government-run flight from Lima to Prague, the Foreign Ministry says.

The Israeli tourists join Czech citizens on the flight, which left Peru on Saturday afternoon. They will travel through Sofia and Berlin before arriving in Tel Aviv, the ministry says.

Rhode Island announces 2 deaths from virus; authorities hunt for New Yorkers

Rhode Island announces its first two deaths from the coronavirus on the same day that the state National Guard is expected to go door to door in coastal communities to find visitors from New York.

One person in their 80s died Friday night, the other person in their 70s died Saturday, the state Department of Health says.

There are now only three states with zero reported deaths: Hawaii, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The Guard is said to be asking people if they are visiting from New York and telling them about the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people from the state. The measure is needed to help control the spread of the new coronavirus because the New York City area is the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday.

AP

Netanyahu, Gantz, Ashkenazi meet on unity government

Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Resilience’s Benny Gantz meet to discuss forming a unity government and ending a year of political deadlock.

According to reports, Israel Resilience’s Gabi Ashkenazi joins them.

World death toll from coronavirus tops 30,000

More than 30,000 people have died worldwide in the coronavirus pandemic, two-thirds of them in Europe, according to an AFP tally at 1900 GMT on Saturday.

In total, 30,003 lives have been lost with 21,334 of those in Europe where Italy has the highest number of fatalities with 10,023 deaths, followed by Spain with 5,690, the tally based on official information sources finds.

AFP

New York postpones presidential primary, citing virus concerns

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state will postpone its presidential primary election by nearly two months, citing concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The vote, which had been slated for April 28, will instead take place on June 23, Cuomo says.

That was a longer delay than in several other states that have postponed voting, but New York has been hit much harder by the virus than any other US state.

Two of the other states most affected by COVID-19 have already voted — California on March 3 and Washington on March 10 — while New Jersey voters are to cast ballots on June 2.

“I don’t think it’s wise to be bringing a lot of people to one location to vote,” Cuomo says during a daily briefing on the spread of the virus.

New York so far has reported 52,318 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 728 deaths.

AFP

3 more women from Beersheba assisted living facility sick with virus

Three elderly women, all residents of an assisted living facility in the southern city of Beersheba, are in serious condition after contracting COVID-19, Channel 13 reports.

The development comes after another resident of the Mishan facility in Beersheba died of the illness on Friday.

The Soroka Medical Center on Friday morning said 93-year-old Avraham Aroshas was brought to the hospital from the facility. He had a fever and shortness of breath and had “complicated and difficult underlying illnesses,” the Beersheba-based hospital said. He tested positive for the virus and hours later succumbed to the illness, according to the statement.

HMOs resume publicizing test results after 8 mistakes found

HMOs resume publicizing coronavirus test results after some errors were found in a previous batch, prompting a freeze for experts to reevaluate the data, the Ynet news site reports.

The Health Ministry says Saturday just eight out of 6,000 tests were found to be incorrect as a result of a computer error, and that the mistakes were caught before the results were sent back. But fears that more tests were inaccurate led the HMOs to temporarily refrain from alerting Israelis about their test results.

Hundreds at funeral for rabbi in Bnei Brak, violating rules

Hundreds of people are attending a funeral for Rabbi Tzvi Shinkar in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, in strict violation of coronavirus lockdown rules, the Ynet news site report.

According to the report, the attendees are largely from the hard-line Jerusalem sect who have refused to comply with Health Ministry orders. Police are at the scene but are allowing it to continue, the report says.

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Over 1,000 Israelis receive fines for lockdown violations

Over 1,000 people and businesses receive fines from police for violating government restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.

Channel 13 reports that 900 of those fines were handed down to those who were found more than 100 meters from their home, a movement restriction issued earlier this week.

Since Wednesday at 5 p.m., Israelis have been ordered to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of specially designated approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine or a short walk of no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from one’s home.

Those found violating those regulations are subject to large fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) and even imprisonment.

The Israeli military has announced that some 500 soldiers will be deployed across the country beginning Sunday to assist police in enforcing the government’s latest restrictions on movement.