UK records 708 more COVID-19 deaths, fourth successive daily high
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Labor chairman ends merger with Meretz as he prepares to join government

More leftist faction brands Amir Peretz ‘an opportunist and a con man’ for apparently breaking promise not to sit under Netanyahu

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Labor-Gesher head Amir Peretz, left, and Meretz party leader Nitzan Horowitz during a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 13, 2020. (Flash90)
Labor-Gesher head Amir Peretz, left, and Meretz party leader Nitzan Horowitz during a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 13, 2020. (Flash90)

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

Israir flight en route to China to airlift 20 tons of medical supplies

An Israir flight is currently en route to China to airlift 20 tons of medical supplies back to Israel in order to help the state cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

The shipment will include two million masks, landing in Israel on Monday morning, days after the government began recommending citizens cover their faces when they leave their homes.

The flight is the airline’s first to the Far East after special permission was granted by state authorities in a process that was expedited due to the public health crisis.

The Airbus A320 aircraft will stop in Almaty, Kazakhstan to refuel before continuing to Shenzhen, China where it will pick up the medical supplies.

Senior health official calls for declaring additional Haredi cities ‘restricted zones’

A senior Health Ministry official tells Hebrew media that the ultra-Orthodox cities of Elad, Modi’in Illit, Migdal Ha’emek and several neighborhoods in Jerusalem should be declared “restricted zones,” with a decision on the matter expected this evening.

Last Thursday, the cabinet approved declaring the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak a restricted zone, effectively locking down the area.

The move has limited entrance to residents, police, rescue services, those bringing essential supplies and journalists and will initially last for seven days, with the option to be extended by ministers by five days at a time.

UK records 708 more COVID-19 deaths, fourth successive daily high

The United Kingdom sees 708 more COVID-19 deaths — the fourth successive daily high.

Britain has also announced that it is temporarily releasing about 4,000 inmates to ease crowding and try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus in prisons.

The Ministry of Justice says “low-risk” offenders will be freed with electronic tags. People guilty of violent or sexual offenses or terrorism will not be eligible for release.

Pregnant prisoners or those with infants have also been approved for release.

Britain has one of the largest prison populations in western Europe with more than 80,000 people behind bars. Many prisons hold far more inmates than they were built for.

According to official figures, 88 inmates and 15 prison staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Three prisoners are reported to have died.

— AFP and AP

Coronavirus infects medics at Egypt cancer center

Egypt’s main cancer institute has confirmed 15 cases of the novel coronavirus among its medical staff, the facility’s chief says, sparking fears of exposure among vulnerable patients.

“Three doctors and 12 nurses were infected by the virus,” Hatem Abulkassem, the director of Cairo’s National Cancer Institute, tells a private Egyptian TV channel, adding that the 15 had been isolated.

The facility will be sterilized over three days and patients who were in contact with the medics will be tested, along with all staff members, Abulkassem says.

“It is tough to trace where the first infection emerged as the majority of the [institute’s] medical personnel work in several other places,” Abulkassem adds.

He says patient visits had been suspended in recent weeks.

Last month, several Egyptian hospitals were closed for sterilization after cases were detected there.

Egypt has officially declared 985 COVID-19 cases and 66 deaths.


China pauses in memory of virus victims and ‘martyrs’

China has come to a standstill to mourn patients and medical staff killed by the coronavirus, as the world’s most populous country observed a nationwide three-minute silence.

At 10 a.m. (0200 GMT), citizens paused, cars, trains and ships sounded their horns, and air-raid sirens rang out in memory of the more than 3,000 lives claimed by the virus in China.

In Wuhan — the city where the virus first emerged late last year — sirens and horns sounded as people fell silent in the streets.

Tongji Hospital staff stood outside with heads bowed toward the main building, some in the protective hazmat suits that have become a symbol of the crisis worldwide.

“I feel a lot of sorrow about our colleagues and patients who died,” Xu, a nurse at Tongji who worked on the frontlines treating coronavirus patients, told AFP, holding back tears.

“I hope they can rest well in heaven.”

Workers in protective wear paused silently beside barriers at one residential community — a reminder there are still tight restrictions on everyday life across Wuhan.

State media showed Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials standing outside a Beijing government compound, wearing white flowers.

National flags were lowered to half-mast across the country, including in the capital’s Tiananmen Square.

Pedestrians in a busy shopping district stopped and kept their heads low in silent tribute, while police stood with their riot shields down and bowed heads.

“During this process, a lot of people including the medical workers… have made extraordinary contributions. They are all heroes,” shopper Wang Yongna tells AFP.

Park-goers paused their activities too, some with hands together in prayer.

Trains on Beijing’s subway network halted, and AFP saw passengers stand silently in a mark of respect.


UAE officially asks to postpone Expo 2020 Dubai, in which Israel is slated to participate

The United Arab Emirates has officially requested to postpone the start of the Expo 2020 Dubai until October next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the body that oversees the world fair says.

Dubai, the glitzy city-state which is part of the UAE, had hoped to attract some 25 million visits to the multi-billion-dollar, six-month event, which was scheduled to launch October 20 this year.

“The government of the United Arab Emirates has formally requested the postponement of World Expo 2020 Dubai,” the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions says in a statement.

“Following consultations with the BIE, participating countries and key stakeholders, the UAE has proposed 1 October 2021 – 31 March 2022 as the new opening dates of Expo 2020 Dubai.”

The UAE government also requested approval to continue using Expo 2020 Dubai as the event’s official name.

The BIE said it would hold a virtual meeting on April 21 to discuss “options for a change of dates.”

Israel had been slated to participate in the Expo for the first time.

Turkey tightens controls in public places over virus threat

Turkey has stepped up controls this morning on crowded public spaces including markets and ferries in Istanbul a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan imposed the use of face masks to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Turkey has so far recorded 425 coronavirus-related deaths and nearly 21,000 cases, most of them in the country’s economic capital Istanbul, according to official figures.

From Saturday, all those going out to shops or markets must wear a face mask, Erdogan said, calling on the population to maintain a distance of “three paces” from each other when outside.

At an Istanbul bazaar in the Besiktas neighborhood open every Saturday, police and local municipal employees handled the use of masks and hand disinfectants, while checking the temperature of incoming customers at the entrance.

Veli Yildirim, 50, who sells vegetables including tomatoes, says the measures came “too late.”

“We are the latest compared to the rest of the world. Even this is not enough, there should be a complete lockdown” in Istanbul, he tells AFP.

The bazaar looks quite calm — in stark contrast to its usual noisy and crowded state.

Vendors complain their business have been hit badly.

“This has a had a big impact, there is no one at the market, at this time of the day, we have nothing to do here,” says Abbas Kose, who sells vine leaves.

At the ferries in Istanbul, passengers are seen wearing face masks.

The city’s mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has been calling for total confinement but authorities have so far stopped short of that.

As part of the measures taken nationwide, authorities suspended international flights, issued a confinement order for everyone aged under 20 and over 65 and shut schools.

Erdogan on Friday also said vehicles would no longer be able to leave or enter 31 towns and cities, including Istanbul, for 15 days.


Singer Pink says she had COVID-19, gives $1M to relief funds

The Jewish singer Pink has tested positive for COVID-19, she says, also announcing that she is donating $500,000 each to two emergency funds.

In a pair of tweets, she says she and her three-year-old son were displaying symptoms two weeks ago, and she tested positive after accessing tests through a primary care physician. Her family had already been sheltering at home and continued to do so, she said. They were tested again “just a few days ago,” and were negative.

The Grammy Award-winning artist behind eight studio albums and hits like “Get the Party Started,” “What About Us,” “Raise Your Glass” and “Just Give Me a Reason” called for for free and widespread testing.

“It is an absolute travesty and failure of our government to not make testing more widely accessible,” she writes. “This illness is serious and real. People need to know that the illness affects the young and old, healthy and unhealthy, rich and poor, and we must make testing free and more widely accessible to protect our children, our families, our friends and our communities.”

She announces she’s donating $1 million across two coronavirus-related relief funds, with $500,000 each going to the Temple University Hospital Fund in Philadelphia and the COVID-19 response fund run by the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles.

The Temple University donation honors the singer born Alecia Moore’s mother, Judy Moore, who worked at the hospital’s cardiomyopathy and heart transplant center for nearly two decades, she said.

She called health care workers “heroes” and ended her post with an appeal to the public.

“These next two weeks are crucial: please stay home,” she wrote. “Please. Stay. Home.”

— AP

Officer in Italian PM’s security detail dies of virus

An Italian policeman who worked in Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s security detail has died after contracting the novel coronavirus, the country’s police force says.

The Italian government says that, when officer Giorgio Guastamacchia tested positive on March 21, he had not been in contact with Conte for at least two weeks.

The Corriere della Sera reported at the time that Conte, 55, was tested as a precaution, turning up a negative result for the virus.

The head of the Italian police force expressed his condolences for Guastamacchia, who was 52.

Italy has recorded the world’s largest number of official COVID-19 fatalities and is on course to surpass 15,000 deaths this weekend.


Dozens seen strolling Tel Aviv boardwalk in violation of guidelines; 11 fines given in Jerusalem

Dozens of Israelis are seen out for strolls along the Tel Aviv beach, primarily in the southern parts of the city and Jaffa in an apparent violation of the coronavirus guidelines that bar people from going beyond 100 meters from their homes.

In Jerusalem, police say they handed out NIS 5,000 fines to 11 Israelis who violated the guidelines last night. Among them was a 35-year-old landlord who was arrested on suspicions that he’s been operating a gambling ring in his apartment.

PA announces 17 more coronavirus cases in West Bank, bringing total to 210

The Palestinian Authority announces that it has confirmed 17 new cases of coronavirus since last evening, bringing the total number of carriers in the West Bank to 210.

Islamic Jihad chief phones Abbas, praising PA leader’s handling of pandemic

Islamic Jihad chief Ziad al-Nakhaleh phoned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and lauded his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the official PA news site Wafa reports.

“President Abbas also expressed readiness to provide assistance in the treatment of the former head of the Islamic Jihad Ramadan Shalah,” Wafa adds.

“They also exchanged views on the general issues of interest to the Palestinian people.”

Spanish PM to ask parliament for 2-week extension on lockdown

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says he will ask Spain’s Parliament to extend the country’s state of emergency another two weeks to battle the new coronavirus outbreak.

Spain has been under lockdown since March 14. The state of emergency is due to expire on April 11.

The extension of two more weeks will extend it until April 26 and take the lockdown to six full weeks.

The leader of the main opposition party has already said it will support the government when it asks the Parliament session for the extension this week. This will be the second extension Sánchez has requested.

Spain has 11,744 fatalities and 124,736 infections and from the pandemic. It is on pace with Italy as the countries with the most infections after the United States.

But the expansion of the outbreak is slowing and Spain’s hospitals have helped over 34,000 recover from the COVID-19 virus.

Sanchez notes Spain is slowing the curve but needs more time to continue its progress.

The national lockdown has closed down all non-essential industries and only allows people to leave their homes for food and medicine purchases.

— AP

France discussing use of protective masks in public

France’s health minister says the government is in discussion with experts over whether all residents should be wearing a protective mask to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

Olivier Veran indicated it has not been recommended by French authorities for everyone to wear a mask. But he says the idea is under discussion with the scientific council, virology experts and health agencies.

Veran also says the French government is committed to obtaining a plentiful supply of masks. He added ” we have to be able to produce masks, for people who are not caregivers, who are what are called people who are on the second line, people who will be in contact with the public.”

— AP

More than 60,000 deaths worldwide from coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has killed over 60,000 people worldwide, nearly three quarters of them in Europe, since it emerged in China in December, according to a tally compiled from official sources.

A total of 61,195 deaths have been recorded, including over 44,000 in Europe, the continent worst hit by the virus.

The official tallies probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of cases.

With 14,681 deaths, Italy is the country with the highest death toll, followed by Spain (11,744), the United States (7,159), France (6,507) and Britain (4,313).

Since COVID-19 first emerged, 1,130,204 cases have been declared officially in the world, with more than half of them in Europe (610,846).

There have been 290,219 in the United States and Canada (7,325 deaths between them) and 115,777 cases in Asia (4,124 deaths).

— with AFP

Iran says virus contagion slows for fourth day

Iran’s new cases of coronavirus have dropped for the fourth consecutive day, official figures released today show, as a two-week holiday in the Islamic republic came to an end.

Iran registered 2,560 new infections of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour tells a televised news conference.

It is the fourth consecutive drop in new cases since Tehran declared 3,111 on March 31.

Jahanpour said there were an additional 158 fatalities from the virus, bringing the country’s official death toll to 3,452.

Iran is one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with 55,743 officially declared cases, though there has been speculation abroad that the real number could be higher.

Jahanpour said that while 4,103 patients were in critical condition, recoveries had increased over recent days and a total of 19,736 people had left hospital.

After resisting lockdown or quarantine measures, Iran imposed an intercity travel ban late last month until April 8.

Officials have indicated that the ban, along with other measures to combat the spread of the virus such as the closure of schools and religious sites, could be extended.

Saturday should have marked a return to regular activity in Iran after a two-week holiday for the Persian New Year.


Ramat Gan residents livid over lodging of soldiers in predominantly elderly neighborhood

Dozens of Ramat Gan residents have issued a call to the town’s mayor, Carmel Shama, demanding that he change the location of a lodging center for soldiers enforcing the lockdown in the nearby ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, Channel 12 reports.

Shama announced Friday that the dorm would be located in a neighborhood that is home largely to elderly residents of Ramat Gan. Locals have responded to the post, saying Shama is endangering those most susceptible to falling ill from coronavirus.

Report: 4 at assisted living facility weren’t quarantined after contracting virus

Two residents and two staff members at an assisted living facility in Holon were not ordered to self-quarantine in their rooms after contracting the coronavirus, Ynet reports.

The Mishan facility is home to 500 residents.

Thus far, none of the residents, save for the two who contracted the virus, have been tested, Ynet reports.

Spain starting to see slowdown in new cases

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says that his nation ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic is “starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Sánchez said that if the current slowdown of the outbreak continues then Spain is on course to reduce its cases of the COVID-19. Current numbers show Spain has 124,000 cases of coronavirus and over 11,000 deaths.

Sánchez gave a televised address to the nation Saturday and said Spain is close to reducing the spread of the virus. He implored citizens “to make more sacrifices” during the crisis.

Sánchez used the address to announce that the government plans to extend the lockdown the country has been under for three weeks until April 26.

Strict limitations that keep people at home except for shopping for food and medicine, as well as non-essential businesses, helped Spain reduce its rate of contagion that was over 20% last week to 6% on Saturday.

Sánchez warned that when restrictions are loosened they will be rolled back gradually. He says it is unclear when all normal activities will be resumed.

— AP

Five-year-old child among new UK COVID-19 victims

A five-year-old child was among the new COVID-19 victims in the United Kingdom, health officials there say.

They add that the girl had pre-existing conditions.

Police to shutter major road leading to northern Bnei Brak entrance

Police announce that officers will be shuttering a large section of Jabotinsky Road just north of Bnei Brak from the Geha Junction to the Ben Gurion Junction in order to further enforce the lockdown over the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus.

PA announces 6 new coronavirus cases in West Bank, bringing total to 216

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry announces that it has confirmed six new cases of coronavirus since last evening, bringing the total number of carriers in the West Bank to 216.

A spokesman for the ministry says the uptick is due to the uncoordinated return of workers from Israeli settlements who he says have been infecting other Palestinians. While the PA has barred its citizens from continuing to work in the settlements, no such directive has been given by Jerusalem and some employees have continued to show up to work.

Israeli rescued after breaking leg during hike that violated virus guidelines

Emergency forces rescued a pair of hikes at the Nahal Kziv nature reserve after one of them broke his leg during the trek, which violated the government’s coronavirus guidelines that bar Israelis from being beyond 100 meters from their homes.

Police say the two hikers were fined NIS 5,000 for the violation and blasted them in a statement for wasting state resources and putting rescue forces in danger.

Gaza health ministry: Five of 12 coronavirus carriers have recovered

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry announces that five of the 12 Palestinians who contracted the coronavirus have recovered and have tested negative for COVID-19.

New York state virus toll spikes by record 630 deaths in single day

New York state’s death toll rose to 3,565, Governor Andrew Cuomo says, up from 2,935 the previous day, in the largest 24-hour jump recorded there.

The state has now recorded 113,704 positive cases — 63,306 in New York City — just 6,000 short of hard-hit Italy’s total.


Health Ministry to ask ministers to include mask-wearing among guidelines

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recommended that all Israelis wear masks or face-coverings when they leave their homes in a speech late last week, the Health Ministry is slated to ask the cabinet to include the directive among the government’s obligatory guidelines, Channel 12 reports.

With no reported cases, Tajikistan’s soccer season starts despite coronavirus fears

Tajikistan’s domestic soccer season has kicked off, as leagues around the world remained suspended to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Super Cup game heralding the beginning of the football season took place behind closed doors, and saw perennial domestic champions FC Istiklol come from behind to beat FC Khujand 2-1 in the capital Dushanbe.

Tajikistan, a poor Central Asian state of 9 million people, has yet to declare a single infection from COVID-19, which has reached over a million cases worldwide and caused more than 60,000 deaths.


Another cruise ship with virus victims docking in Florida

Another cruise ship with coronavirus victims on board, including two fatalities, is docking in Florida.

Princess Cruises spokeswoman Negin Kamali said in an email Saturday the Coral Princess ship is docking in Miami. The ship with 1,020 passengers and 878 crew members has been in limbo for days awaiting permission to dock.

As of Thursday, Kamali said seven passengers and five crew members had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Anyone in need of hospitalization will disembark first, the cruise line said, although it wasn’t immediately clear when that would happen. Those who are fit to fly will begin leaving on Sunday, while others who have symptoms of respiratory illness will remain on board until cleared by ship doctors.

A day earlier, the cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam were permitted to dock at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, with 14 critically ill people taken immediately to hospitals. The remaining passengers were slowly being allowed to board flights for home.

The Coral Princess had been on a South American cruise that was due to end March 19 in Buenos Aires. Since then, the ship has encountered obstacles to docking because of various port closures and cancellation of airline flights, the cruise line said.

Passengers have self-isolated in their staterooms and meals have been delivered by room service. Crew members also have remained in their quarters when they are not working.

The Coast Guard says in a news release it has been involved with processing about 120 vessels carrying some 250,000 passengers over the past three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Coast Guard statement says as of today there are 114 cruise ships, carrying 93,000 crew members, either in or near U.S. ports and waters. That includes 73 cruise ships, with 52,000 crew members, moored or anchored in U.S. ports and anchorages. Another 41 cruise ships, with 41,000 crew members, are underway and close to the U.S.

The cruise line industry announced a voluntarily suspension of most ship operations from U.S. ports on March 13. The next day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a “no sail” order to all cruise ships that had not suspended operations.

Princess Cruises is a brand of Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company.

— AP

China, Oregon sending over 1,100 ventilators to NY

New York is poised to get over 1,100 ventilators from China and Oregon as it scrambles to line up more breathing machines for the sickest coronavirus patients, Governor Andrew Cuomo says.

The Chinese government and billionaires Jack Ma and Joseph Tsai, the co-founders of the online marketplace Alibaba, facilitated a gift of 1,000 ventilators that were due to arrive Saturday, Cuomo said. He said the state of Oregon had volunteered to send 140 more breathing machines.

“It’s going to make a significant difference for us,” says the Democratic governor. Cuomo had said on Thursday that the state’s stockpile of ventilators would be exhausted in six days if the number of critically ill coronavirus patients kept growing at the current rate.

New York is the pandemic’s US epicenter, with over 113,700 confirmed cases as of this morning. More than 3,500 people statewide have died, and about 15,000 coronavirus patients are hospitalized. Thousands have needed ventilators.

— AP

Health officials said concerned over lack of tests being conducted

Health officials tell Channel 12 that they are concerned over the insufficient number of COVID-19 tests being carried out on a daily basis.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that the Health Ministry would reach 10,000 tests per day before expanding toward 20,000, the latest daily figures have lagged behind at just six and seven thousand.

This is due to a lack of materials necessary to carry out the tests, officials say, adding that the drive-through testing sites have decreased activity significantly as a result.

Cops filmed brutally apprehending man in Tel Aviv park

Police officers are filmed brutally apprehending a Tel Aviv man for violating the coronavirus guidelines.

The suspect is heard insisting that he is within 100 meters from his home as two officers kneel on his handcuffed body and prevent him from moving.

The arrest took place in Hayarkon Park, which has been closed due to the virus.

Liberman: Gantz should be embarrassed to look at himself in the mirror over unity talks

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman tells Channel 12 that Blue and White chairman “should be embarrassed to look at himself in the mirror” over his failure to draw red lines in his unity government negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Once you give up the Knesset speaker and Finance Committee chair positions, you have no control over Knesset,” Liberman says.

“Nothing is left of Blue and White besides a white flag [of surrender],” he says, criticizing [Benny] Gantz’s refusal to block controversial Health Minister Yaakov Litzman from remaining in his post.

Boris Johnson’s pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds announces she has COVID-19 symptoms

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds announces that she has been experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, though has not been tested.

The premier himself has the virus and extended his time in quarantine as he is still experiencing symptoms.

FM welcomes election of new Labour leader, hopes he’ll eradicate anti-Semitism

Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomes the election of new UK Labour Party chairman Keir Starmer.

“I hope he will live up to his promise to eradicate anti-Semitism that has emerged in the party in recent years and, like former Labour leaders, he will strengthen the friendship between Britain and Israel,” Katz says in a statement.

Police preparing for illegal protest of extremist Haredi faction in Bnei Brak

Police are preparing for an illegal protest of members of the extremist Jerusalem Faction, a Haredi group known for holding large protests against mandatory military service, late this evening in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, Channel 12 reports.

Italy’s intensive care virus cases drop for first time

Italy today has seen its first drop in patients receiving intensive care for the coronavirus that has killed 15,362 people in the country and put the health care system under massive strain.

“This is very important news,” civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli tells reporters of the drop from 4,068 to 3,994 intensive care patients over the past 24 hours. “It allows our hospitals to breathe.”


Police readying for mass operation on Passover eve to enforce lockdown

Israel Police is preparing for a wide-scale operation to enforce the government’s coronavirus guidelines on the eve of Passover, which begins on Wednesday, Channel 13 says.

The Health Ministry has barred Israelis from traveling to relatives for the Seder, forcing many to celebrate the holiday on their own.

Kobe Bryant heads 2020 Hall of Fame honorees

Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant will head a star-studded list of honorees named to basketball’s 2020 Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The Los Angeles Lakers icon, who died in a helicopter crash in January, was named alongside nine honorees who will be enshrined at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on August 29.

Joining Bryant in the sport’s pantheon are three-time NBA Finals MVP Tim Duncan, 15-time NBA All-Star Kevin Garnett, two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich and four-time Olympic medalist Tamika Catchings.

Other inductees include three-time NCAA National Championship coach Kim Mulkey, college basketball coach Barbara Stevens and longtime FIBA executive Patrick Baumann, who died of a heart attack in 2018 at the age of 41.


Health Ministry said to order hospitals to prepare for scenario in which they’ll have to reuse PPE

The Health Ministry has ordered hospitals to prepare for the scenario in which they will have to reuse personal protective equipment due to the country-wide shortages, Channel 13 reports.

This is equipment that has been contaminated, so the Health Ministry is urging hospitals to try and purify as much of it as possible.

Health Ministry very concerned that Israelis will violate guidelines over Passover

Health Ministry officials are very concerned that the Passover holiday will bring a significant uptick in coronavirus cases if Israelis violate the government’s guidelines in order to celebrate the Seder with relatives with whom they do not live, Channel 12 reports.

‘Indications’ virus spreading ‘out of control’ in parts of East Jerusalem

Senior Health Ministry officials are warning of “indications” that the virus is spreading “out of control” in some Arab areas of East Jerusalem, Channel 12 reports.

It says the officials are raising “an almost desperate plea” for an urgent response to this.

The officials are also warning that any and all contagion in the West Bank and Gaza will eventually seep into Israel, and that this needs to be addressed with the Palestinian Authority and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Health Ministry officials: Source of many cases were Purim parties that should’ve been barred

Health Ministry officials tells Channel 12 that they believe the sources of a considerable amount of coronavirus cases were the Purim parties held in many religious communities last month that should have been barred by the government.

They were reportedly allowed to go forward due to pressure from Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

Police fine upscale restaurant in Tel Aviv for hosting guests in violation of guidelines

Police have fined a high-end restaurant in Tel Aviv for hosting guests in violation of the coronavirus guidelines, Channel 13 reports.

Trudeau says Canada won’t retaliate for US mask export ban

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that Canada won’t bring retaliatory or punitive measures against the United States after the Trump administration announced it would prevent the export of N95 protective masks.

Trudeau says he will speak to US President Donald Trump in the coming days. He said his officials are having constructive conversations with American officials. Trump announced late Friday he would prevent the export of N95 protective masks to ensure they are available in the U.S.

The prime minister said he’ll tell Trump both countries are interlinked in ways that would hurt both nations if supply chains were cut.

“We are not looking at retaliatory measures or measures that are punitive,” Trudeau says.

“We know it is in both our countries interests to cooperate.”

— AP

Two dead in what France’s Macron labels ‘odious’ stabbing attack

A man went on a rampage with a knife in a town in southeastern France, killing two people and wounding five in what President Emmanuel Macron has called “an odious act.”

The reasons behind the attack remain unclear although Interior Minister Christophe Castaner spoke of the suspect’s “terrorist journey.”

The assailant, understood to be a refugee from Sudan, was arrested after the attack in the town of Romans-sur-Isere.

Armed with a knife, the suspect went into a tobacco shop where he attacked the owner, town mayor Marie-Helene Thoraval tells AFP.

“His wife got involved and she was wounded as well,” she says.

The assailant then went into a butcher’s shop where he took another knife before heading to the town centre where he entered another store.

“He took a knife, jumped over the counter, and stabbed a customer, then ran away,” the shop owner Ludovic Breyton tells AFP.

“My wife tried to help the victim but in vain.”

According to witnesses cited by the local radio station France Bleu Drome Ardeche, the attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar!” as he attacked his victims.

David Olivier Reverdy, assistant national secretary of the National Police Alliance union, said the assailant had called on police to kill him when they came to arrest him.

“All the ingredients of a terrorist act are there,” he tells BFMTV.

Macron was quick to denounce the attack on Twitter.

“All the light will be shed on this odious act which casts a shadow over our country which has already been hit hard in recent weeks,” he says.

France is in its third week of a lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of the deadly coronavirus.


Bennett: Give Defense Ministry and IDF overall responsibility now to manage pandemic

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett tells Channel 12 that responsibility for managing the coronavirus pandemic must be transferred immediately to his office and the Israel Defense Forces below it.

“The Health Ministry is making every effort,” he allows, and the Defense Ministry, the Mossad and “all of us” are doing everything they can to help. “But I have to say that if we want to cope with this [pandemic], if we want to reopen the Israeli economy, then all responsibility for managing the coronavirus crisis — from A to Z — must be transferred to the IDF and the Defense Ministry as quickly as possible. We’re in a war. We’re in a tough biological war, against nature. But it’s a war with colossal logistics. With a million elderly people.”

The Health Ministry should help determine policies. But it’s not designed as an operational hierarchy, he notes. “We wouldn’t let a geologist run the [nationwide]  operation to save the people from an earthquake.”

Already, he says, the IDF is deployed in Bnei Brak. It’s involved in testing. It’s taking responsibility in facilities for the elderly.

“The greatest lesson to learn from other countries,” he says, “is to appoint one person to run the whole operation… We’re in a war the likes of which we’ve never known.”

Health Ministry director dismisses Bennett’s call to transfer crisis management to Defense Ministry

Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov dismisses the call by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett for responsibility of managing the pandemic to be transferred to his office.

Bar Siman-Tov tells Channel 12 that his office is managing the crisis in cooperation with the Defense Ministry and there’s no need to create a different hierarchy. “We all need to work together,” he says, “and that is the way we are working.”

He says his ministry is not to blame for fewer tests being done than wished because of a shortage of kits. “Yesterday we did 9,000 tests,” he said, claiming is Israel doing better than most other countries. “The whole world is confronting the same… very complex problems.”

“The fact that we are holding discussions about an exit strategy from the crisis is a privilege,” he says.

Even if unity deal reached, government might not be formed until late April

Channel 12 reports that even if a unity deal is reached between Blue and White and Likud, it is unlikely that a government will be sworn in before the Passover holiday or even by Independence Day on April 28.

This is because in addition to reaching a deal with Blue and White, Likud will subsequently have to sign coalition agreements with its right-wing partners who are likely going to have to compromise on the positions that they’ve enjoyed until now.

In addition, the Knesset will have to pass controversial and complex legislation that will allow an MK under indictment — Prime Minister Netanyahu — to serve as deputy prime minister.

Labor chair Peretz lauds election of British counterpart

Labor chairman Amir Peretz welcomes the election of his British counterpart, UK Labour Party chairman Keir Starmer.

“Your victory and commitment to removing the stain of anti-Semitism creates hope for the future of Israeli-British relations, and for building political-social partnerships for peace and social justice. Good luck!” Peretz says.

Developing unity deal said to push off appointment of senior officials

The developing unity deal between Likud and Blue and White will push off the appointment of senior officials such as police chief and supreme court justices to a later period, Channel 12 reports, as the sides seek to ink an agreement as soon as possible.

Health minister said barely noticed by his office throughout crisis

Health Ministry officials tell Channel 12 that minister Yaakov Litzman’s presence has been barely felt in the office.

This is nothing new, the network reports, saying Litzman has largely only taken interest in issues relating to his ultra-Orthodox sector.

Number of coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 7,851, up 423 from yesterday

There have now been 7,851 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, up by 423 from 24 hours ago.

The Health Ministry says 126 people are in serious condition, 108 of whom are on ventilators.

A total of 458 people have recovered from the virus while 43 have died.

Jerusalem municipality vehicle stoned in ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim

A Jerusalem municipality vehicle carrying city inspectors and Magen David Adom medics was stoned by extremists from the Jerusalem Faction in the Mea Shearim neighborhood.

One of the MDA medics was lightly injured from the glass shattered by one of the stones thrown at the vehicle.

Gantz reportedly prepared to accept limited annexation of West Bank

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz is prepared to accept a limited degree of West Bank annexation in order to reach a unity government agreement with Likud, Channel 13 reports.

According to the network, Gantz is not willing to accept any move until after the coronavirus pandemic has ended, and is only willing to agree on annexation of settlement blocs located west of the security barrier.

In addition, he wants to work in full coordination with the Defense Ministry, which he is slated to lead.

Channel 13 adds that he expects the move won’t be done unilaterally but rather as part of a broad peace initiative. Gantz opposes annexing the Jordan Valley over concerns that it would lead to Jordan ending its peace deal with Israel. He has also rejected annexation of isolated settlements located deep in the West Bank.

Labor chairman ends merger with Meretz as he prepares to join government

Labor chairman Amir Peretz has notified Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz that the merger agreement between their two parties has ended, in a move that appears to be a precursor to Peretz joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Peretz had repeatedly vowed throughout the past two election campaigns not to sit in a government under Netanyahu, but is slated to walk back on the promise along with his No. 2 Itzik Shmuli.

The party’s third lawmaker Merav Michaeli has stated that she will not join her colleagues and will remain in the opposition.

Police bust illegal prayer service in ultra-Orthodox settlement, fining 20 worshipers

Police announce that they have busted an illegal prayer service in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modiin Illit, fining 20 worshipers.

Meretz MK: Labor chair will go down in history as an opportunist and a con man

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg says that Labor chairman Amir Peretz “will go down in history as an opportunist and a con man” after the latter announced the termination of his party’s merger with Meretz in an apparent precursor to joining Netanyahu’s government.

“Peretz deceived voters, deceived Meretz, and rode on the backs of the Israeli left toward a miserable post in a despicable government. Meretz will continue to fight corruption, racism and annexation as it always has. I urge Labor MK Merav Michaeli to join us,” Zandberg says in a statement.

France reports 441 new coronavirus deaths, bringing total to 7,560

France has reported 441 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, lower than the record number of 588 the previous day.

This brought the total to 7,560 deaths since the epidemic began, top health official Jerome Salomon told reporters. Of these, 5,532 died in hospital.


Trump speaks with sports commissioners

The White House says US President Donald Trump spoke with commissioners of the country’s sports leagues on Saturday and told them he recognizes “the good work being done by many teams and players” to care for their communities and fan bases dealing with the new coronavirus.

The virus has decimated the sports world with the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League suspending their seasons indefinitely and Major League Baseball and the WNBA postponing the start of their season.

The NCAA basketball tournament was also canceled, as were college spring sports such as baseball and softball, lacrosse and track and field.

The White House says the commissioners thanked Trump for his “national leadership and for his interest in the sports industry.” He called on them to continue efforts to support their fellow Americans during the current challenge.

A wide range of sports league officials participated in the call, including Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, and Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA.

— AP

Turkey passes 500 COVID-19 deaths

Turkey’s health minister reported 76 new COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll in the country to 501.

Fahrettin Koca also raised the total number of COVID-19 infections to 23,934, reporting 3,013 more confirmed cases on Saturday. There are 1,311 patients in intensive care units across the country, with 909 of them intubated.

A total of 786 people have recovered from novel coronavirus infections, according to the figures the health minister posted on Twitter.

— AP

Tunisian parliament grants PM special powers amid pandemic

Tunisia’s parliament on Saturday gave the prime minister special powers for two months to allow for the accelerated adoption of measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh will be able to implement measures without referring to the legislature in an effort to battle the pandemic in the North African country, according to a text adopted by parliament.


Israel Prisons Service offers to put guards at risk of virus on vacation

The Israel Prisons Service has instituted an order to put guards at risk of falling ill with coronavirus on vacation.

However, if the guards wish to continue working, they must sign a statement that the IPS won’t take responsibility if they get sick.

Shaked warns Netanyahu not to let Justice Ministry go to Blue and White

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked warns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against appointing Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn to the post of justice minister, which she once held.

“The meaning of handing over the Justice Ministry to the left — is withdrawing control over the committee for appointing judges,” she writes in a Facebook post.

“In the upcoming term, at least four justices will be appointed to the Supreme Court. This is a historic opportunity to formulate a conservative majority.”

Pompeo touched by Tel Aviv city hall being lit up with US flag

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he’s touched by the gesture made by the Tel Aviv municipality to light up its municipal building with the United States flag.

Brazil lacks coronavirus tests, other equipment, report says

Brazilian health officials grappling with the new coronavirus outbreak have issued a stark warning about a lack of hospital beds, masks, testing devices and trained staff across Latin America’s largest nation.

A Health Ministry report says Brazil can currently carry out 6,700 COVID-19 tests a day, but that it will need to process as many as 30,000–50,000 tests daily during the peak of the outbreak, expected in June.

This latest assessment of the public healthcare system raises serious questions about its capacity to face the outbreak in a country of nearly 210 million. It also calls for the maintenance of quarantine measures in states that are most badly hit, challenging President Jair Bolsonaro’s more laid-back approach to the virus.

Bolsonaro has compared the new coronavirus to a “little flu” and publicly attacked governors that introduced quarantine measures, such as in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, two of the country’s biggest clusters.

As of this afternoon, the health ministry had reported 10,278 confirmed cases and 431 deaths. But the outbreak is still in its early phase, the report said, and the country’s hospitals are not ready to handle a peak.

— AP

Michaeli reiterates refusal to follow Labor leader, deputy into Netanyahu gov’t

Labor MK Merav Michaeli reiterates in a statement her refusal to follow her party’s chairman Amir Peretz and No. 2 Itzik Shmuli in joining a Netanyahu government, which the faction has long promised it would not do.

“I will not be part of any move that will advance the entry of the Labor party into the corrupt Netanyahu government,” she says.


New Orleans preps convention center for patients

State medical officials are preparing for Monday’s opening of the Morial Convention Center, which is being converted into a medical support facility to help local hospitals care for patients infected with the new coronavirus.

The plan is for the most critical patients to remain in hospitals and give those with less severe symptoms but in need of medical care a place to go.

Joe Kanter, assistant state health officer with the Louisiana Department of Health and among those on the tour of the convention center, told media the next three weeks are “incredibly critical.”

Part of the facility’s purpose is to also keep COVID-positive patients away from the general population.

— AP

Puerto Rico discovers protective supply cache amid COVID-19

The suspected mismanagement of essential supplies during Hurricane Maria turned out to be a boon for Puerto Rico as it fights a rise in coronavirus cases.

Health Secretary Lorenzo González says that officials discovered a cache of urgently needed personal protective equipment at a hospital in the nearby island of Vieques that remains closed since the Category 4 storm hit the US territory in September 2017.

He says the equipment includes face masks, gloves, gowns and face shields that were in good condition and would be distributed to health institutions.

He also says officials recently located a warehouse with medicine and medical equipment worth $4 million donated during Hurricane Maria, and that nearly all of it had expired. He did not provide details about what specific items were found.

Puerto Rico has reported 18 deaths related to COVID-19, including that of a nurse, and more than 450 confirmed cases, including several police officers who join health workers in demanding more personal protective equipment.

— AP

IDF soldiers say forced to isolate in locked room, abandoned post without water

Two soldiers from an Israel Defense Forces desert patrol battalion say they were sent for isolation to an abandoned military post without electricity or running water, and in a locked room, after they spent time in proximity to an individual with the coronavirus.

The soldiers tell the Kan public broadcaster they were quarantined in a locked room close to the Egyptian border and went for long periods of time without food.

The soldiers say they haven’t seen a doctor since they were sent into isolation.

“I wanted to charge my cellphone, I told them them I was having mental health problems and I wanted to leave but nobody answered,” one of the soldiers says.

In response, the IDF says the soldiers received the same food as the rest of the soldiers, and were allowed to use the bathroom.

“We understand that a feeling of unpleasantness can be created in isolation, but it is designed to protect the company framework with maximum consideration for the combatants’ conditions and concern for their personal needs,” the IDF says.

Sixth resident of Beersheba assisted living facility dies of coronavirus

An 84-year-old woman dies of the coronavirus, the sixth fatality as a result of the infection at the Mishan assisted living facility in Beersheba.

Relatives of the residents are planning to file a lawsuit against the facility’s managers and the Health Ministry for alleged medical malpractice, a representative tells the Kan public broadcaster.

“The Health Ministry as a regulator has not supervised and kept watch. They saved money instead of caring for the elderly,” he says.

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UK records 708 more COVID-19 deaths, fourth successive daily high

The United Kingdom sees 708 more COVID-19 deaths — the fourth successive daily high.

Britain has also announced that it is temporarily releasing about 4,000 inmates to ease crowding and try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus in prisons.

The Ministry of Justice says “low-risk” offenders will be freed with electronic tags. People guilty of violent or sexual offenses or terrorism will not be eligible for release.

Pregnant prisoners or those with infants have also been approved for release.

Britain has one of the largest prison populations in western Europe with more than 80,000 people behind bars. Many prisons hold far more inmates than they were built for.

According to official figures, 88 inmates and 15 prison staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Three prisoners are reported to have died.

— AFP and AP