US clarifies that aid for Palestinian hospitals in accordance with Taylor Force Act
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Health chief can’t say if worst is over, fears fresh virus wave in winter

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov acknowledges ‘encouraging indications’ that enable rolling back restrictions, as TV report sets out likely measures to be approved tomorrow night

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

China’s Wuhan raises COVID-19 death toll by 1,290, up 50%

China’s coronavirus ground-zero city of Wuhan abruptly raises its death toll by 50 percent to a total of 3,869, admitting that many cases were “mistakenly reported” or missed entirely.

The adjustment, detailed in a social media posting by the city government, adds 1,290 deaths to the tally in Wuhan, where the global pandemic emerged and which has suffered the vast majority of China’s fatalities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.


Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen being released from prison

US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and longtime fixer Michael Cohen will be released from federal prison to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic, a person familiar with the matter tells The Associated Press.

Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, returns to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Cohen is currently locked up at FCI Otisville in New York after pleading guilty to numerous charges, including campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress. He will remain under quarantine for 14 days before he is released. Federal statistics show 14 inmates and seven staff members at the prison have tested positive for coronavirus.

After he is released, Cohen will serve the remainder of his sentence at home, according to the person, who cannot discuss the matter publicly and speaks to the AP on condition of anonymity.

— AP

3 million face masks land in Israel, will be handed to medics, government workers

Three million face masks arrive in Israel from China in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and Israeli diplomatic delegations in China and the United States.

A special El Al flight from Shanghai landed during the night, the Foreign Ministry says in a statement, adding that the project has been funded by a foundation belonging to Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner.

The masks will be handed to the Magen David Adom ambulance service which will distribute them to hospitals, government ministries and other national bodies that are fully operating right now amid the pandemic.

Riots in Mea Shearim over virus regulations; girl hit by police grenade

Riots erupted overnight in the hardline ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, Hebrew-language media reports.

Approximately a hundred people were protesting the ban on communal prayers amid the coronavirus pandemic, hurling rocks, metal rods, eggs and other objects at police forces who came to disperse the crowd.

Footage shows cops throwing a stun grenade that hit a 10-year-old girl who hadn’t been taking part in the riot, and exploded right next to a stroller with a baby in it.

Police say cops arrested ten people.

Jewish astronaut, colleagues, land in Kazakhstan after more than 200 days in space

An International Space Station crew has landed safely in Kazakhstan after more than 200 days in space.

The Soyuz capsule carrying NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir — who is Jewish and has an Israeli father — as well as Russian space agency Roscosmos’ Oleg Skripochka, touched down near the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

In this image from video made available by NASA, US astronaut Jessica Meir speaks, accompanied by Andrew Morgan and Chris Cassidy, during a news conference held by the American members of the International Space Station on Friday, April 10, 2020.(NASA via AP)

The crew returns to Earth exactly 50 years after the Apollo 13 astronauts splashed down in the Pacific after an oxygen tank explosion aborted the moon-landing mission.

Morgan wraps up a 272-day mission on his first flight into space. He conducted seven space walks, four of which were to improve and extend the life of the station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which looks for evidence of dark matter in the universe.

Meir and Skripochka spent 205 days in space, with Meir carrying out the first three all-women spacewalks with her crew-mate Christina Koch, who returned from space in February.

— with AP

Shas MK condemns ‘unacceptable’ scenes of police grenade hitting girl

A lawmaker for the ultra-Orthodox Shas party condemns police over a video showing a police stun grenade hitting a 10-year-old girl in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

“A heavy hand should be employed when dealing with rioters who use violence in general and toward security forces in particular,” says MK Michael Malchieli.

“But to see hideous videos like this where a stun grenade is thrust in the face of a small girl is unacceptable in any constellation,” he adds. “Extra caution is needed in densely populated areas.”

Coronavirus cases up to 12,855, death toll at 148 as 5 patients succumb

The Health Ministry updates the tally of coronavirus cases in Israel to 12,855, up 97 from last night.

The death toll rises by five and is now 148.

The figures say 182 people are now in serious condition — an increase of eight — including 129 on ventilators, eight less than the previous count. 157 more patients are in moderate condition.

The number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 increases to 2,967.

New virus deaths include 3 elderly women in Holon, Hadera and Jerusalem

Among the five new coronavirus deaths is a 76-year-old woman who succumbed at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, the hospital says, adding that she had preexisting illnesses.

A 96-year-old woman also died overnight at the Hillel Yaffe hospital in Hadera, and an 84-year-old woman died last night at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, according to the medical centers.

Both patients also suffered from preexisting medical conditions, according to the hospitals.

Australian minister says China should be more transparent about virus

An Australian government minister has called on China to be transparent about the origins of the coronavirus and predicted the world will rethink relations with Australia’s most important trading partner because of the pandemic.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who recently recovered from COVID-19 which he apparently contracted during a trip to Washington DC, tells Nine Network: “I do think there will be a reset about the way in which the world interacts with China. We do want more transparency.”

Chinese interference in other countries and involvement in cyber spying “need to, I think, be looked at again,” Dutton says.

“When you’ve got a communist party that doesn’t have the transparency that other comparable economies have, then that is a problem,” Dutton says.

Dutton’s call for transparency comes after US officials revealed intelligence agencies are assessing whether the respiratory virus escaped from a biological laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began.

“Hopefully you can have China answering these questions that are reasonably put and people can have more confidence,” Dutton says.

— AP

China denies cover-up on virus death toll

China denies widespread accusations that it has covered up coronavirus information such as the death toll, which abruptly jumped today by 50% to 3,869.

The communist government’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, is quoted by the Reuters news agency as telling reporters there has never been a cover-up on the outbreak and that the government “never” allows cover-ups.

Zhao claims that the toll’s surge is the result of “statistical verification to ensure accuracy” and that the revision is common international practice, according to the report.

Virus outbreak in Germany under control: health minister

The coronavirus pandemic in Germany is “again under control” thanks to a month of lockdown imposed after an early surge in cases, Health Minister Jens Spahn says.

The restrictions to keep people home were “successful,” Spahn tells reporters in Berlin. “The infection numbers have sunk significantly, especially the relative day-by-day number. The outbreak is today again under control.”


UN report: In best-case scenario, Africa could see 300,000 virus deaths this year

Africa could see 300,000 deaths from the coronavirus even under the best-case scenario, according to a new report that cites modeling by the Imperial College London.

Under the worst-case scenario with no interventions against the virus, Africa could see 3.3 million deaths and 1.2 billion infections, the report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa says.

Even with “intense social distancing” under this best-case scenario, the continent could see more than 122 million infections, the report says.

Any of the scenarios would overwhelm Africa’s largely fragile and underfunded health systems, experts have warned.

As of Friday, the continent had more than 18,000 confirmed virus cases, but experts have said Africa is weeks behind Europe in the pandemic and the rate of increase has looked alarmingly similar.

— AP

Belgium virus death toll passes 5,000

The novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people in Belgium, officials say, confirming its high per-capita mortality ratio compared to most other European countries.

A further 313 deaths recorded in the past 24 hours have pushed the overall toll to 5,163, health authorities say in a daily news conference.

Half of the fatalities are reported from old-age care homes, and the other half from hospitals in the country of 11.5 million inhabitants.


14 nursing home residents in COVID-19 wards never had the virus

The positive coronavirus test results for 14 nursing home residents who have been in isolated hospital wards were mistaken, Hebrew-language media reports, with second test results returning negative.

The elderly residents of an old-age home in Ashdod had been tested at the Weizmann Institute, and the Health Ministry is trying to find out where the error occurred.

The incident has cast a doubt on test results for residents of other nursing homes, which are now reexamining the results and demanding a second test.

It wasn’t immediately clear what will be done with the patients confirmed not to have COVID-19, nine of whom have been hospitalized at Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod and the rest at Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon and Kaplan hospital in Rehovot.

They have been in special quarantined wards for coronavirus patients alongside confirmed carriers.

Technion researchers developing cheap, fast coronavirus test kit

A team of researchers at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa says it is developing a home kit that would enable people to be quickly and inexpensively tested for the coronavirus, without the need for elaborate lab equipment.

The kit would only need two test tubes and a container with hot water, Haaretz reports, adding that the team is claiming a 99% accuracy rate.

The report says the kit has successfully identified the virus in saliva samples, tests that unlike those that use swabs do not require expertise.

The research is being led by Dr. Naama Geva-Zatorsky, who says the test yields results in less than an hour.

Ultra-Orthodox MK pushing plan to reopen yeshivas, synagogues next week

After being closed for almost a month, religious seminaries and synagogues could be reopened in the coming days, Channel 12 reports.

The plan is being pushed by United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni at the order of Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, and the plan will be presented to government professionals next week, the report says.

Gafni tells the network there is “no reason in the world” that thousands are able to gather for a protest, as happened yesterday in Tel Aviv, but ultra-Orthodox institutions cannot hold prayers and Torah studies, “of course in line with instructions and protecting public health.”

Report: Convinced its influenced by demons, Iran’s Khameini rejecting foreign aid

Channel 12 reports that the tragic situation in Iran where nearly 5,000 have died from the coronavirus is due in no small part to the irresponsible conduct of its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

According to the network, Khamenei believes that virus was created by jinn, which are supernatural demon-like creatures in Islamic mythology. His fear of the jinn has led him to reject humanitarian aid from the international community, and accuse the US and Israel of cooperating with the demons.

“The drugs you offer may be a means of spreading the disease even more,” he has been quoted as saying, according to Channel 12, which does not cite any sources.


LISTEN: Kelly Clarkson releases single with Israeli singer Maya Buskila

US pop star Kelly Clarkson has released a duet with Israeli singer Maya Buskila titled “I Dare You,” in which both artists sing in Hebrew.

The song is part of an international project by Clarkson in which she also sings in Arabic, French, German and Spanish, according to Ynet.

Israel inks deal with Chinese firm to buy equipment allowing 12K tests per day

Israel has signed a deal with BGI that will see the Chinese firm send lab equipment to Israel by the end of next week, allowing the Jewish state to initially conduct roughly 12,000 tests per day, the Foreign Ministry announces.

Once established, the BGI equipment will expand its scope to perform as many as 20,000 tests per day.

The tests will be performed in Israel by Israeli companies selected by the Health Ministry.

Earlier this month, the Health Ministry said Israel signed a NIS 90 million ($25 million) deal with BGI to purchase the special equipment but proceedings evidently stalled.

The new tests are PCR tests — polymerase chain reaction tests — which directly detect viral nucleic acids. Some tests detect the body’s antibodies to the virus.

BGI’s tests have been used widely in China, and are being distributed to over 50 other countries and regions, the firm said. Results from the tests are available three hours after they are administered.

But according to a Channel 12 report earlier this month, Israel’s largest HMO has refused to work with the firm over concerns BGI and the Chinese government could gain access to sensitive information on its 4.9 million customers, including on their DNA.

90-year-old woman becomes country’s 150 coronavirus fatality

A 90-year-old women suffering from several pre-existing conditions has become Israel’s 150 coronavirus fatality, the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer announces.

Worried about crowds, police to ban fireworks on Independence Day

Police announce that fireworks will be banned on Independence Day later this month over concerns that they could cause crowding.

The cabinet is already weighing imposing a nationwide curfew from the eve of Memorial Day which begins on April 27 until the end of Independence Day on the evening on April 29.

Police to allow opening of Eritrean community churches for Easter

Israel Police has reached a deal with local leaders of the Eritrean community to allow for the opening of several churches in Tel Aviv for the Easter holiday that is marked by the migrant community on Sunday.

Up to five people will be permitted to enter the handful of churches, with the remaining members of the community allowed to watch the service via livestream.

Police warn protesters not to pray during demonstration

Haaretz publishes the authorization that police gave to a group of residents of the Beit El settlement, who requested to hold a demonstration against the government coronavirus guideline barring mass-prayer.

As part of the conditions for allowing the demonstration, police write that the protesters are barred from praying.

“You can protest, but you cannot pray,” the authorization reads.

Israel to mass-produce reusable masks for $2 a pop — report

In the backdrop of the new government requirement requiring Israelis to wear a face covering when they leave their homes, the Health and Defense ministries have launched a project to manufacture reusable masks made of high-density cotton, Reuters reports.

The masks can be disinfected by washing in a 140°F (60°C) laundry cycle and reused for weeks at a time, according to the report.

Nearly a dozen workshops, including one in jails, are producing the masks.

“While the state covered that initial cost, the plan is to produce further masks for sale in shops at around $2 each,” Reuters reports.

“Each mask can be used tens of times. By buying five masks for less than $10, you are set for a few months,” project manager Amit Ben-Kish tells Reuters.

UK virus death toll rises by 847 to 14,576

The number of people in Britain who have died in hospital from coronavirus has risen by 847 to 14,576, according to daily UK health ministry figures.

The increase over a period of 24 hours is slightly lower than the 861 new deaths recorded the previous day.

The latest data also showed a further 5,599 people had tested positive for COVID-19 over 24 hours, taking the total number of infections in the country to nearly 109,000.


Liaison to Palestinians says PA crossing ‘red line’ with accusations Israel spreading virus

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Kamil Abu Rukun issues a statement blasting Palestinian Authority officials for their rhetoric against Israel in recent weeks that have included repeated claims that the Jewish state is intentionally spreading the coronavirus in Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

“To our great disappointment, in recent weeks we have witnessed, and experienced, a variety of baseless complaints from senior figures in the Palestinian Authority, extending even to misleading and slanderous remarks against the IDF, the security establishment, the State of Israel, and the Israeli public,” Abu Rukun says.

“Statements such as ‘soldiers are trying to spread viruses on car windshields, and it’s a result of being educated to racism and hatred; these are people who wish for the death of others,’ and other wild and racist accusations against Israel and the Jewish people, claim falsely that we are responsible for the spread of the epidemic and are even interfering with Palestinian efforts to halt it.”

Such shameful remarks, baseless and indefensible, completely contradict the plain fact that Israel has prepared and engaged itself to give all possible assistance in the regional effort to halt the spread of the epidemic both in Israel and in the Palestinian territories.

“We see those remarks and accusations as crossing a red line and disparaging the enormous efforts that Israel is making in the face of the shared challenge and crisis besetting the entire region. I call upon the Palestinian leadership to retract its baseless declarations — and I warn that there could be repercussions in various spheres,” he concludes.

PA officials have stood by their assertions in recent days, pointing to the fact that roughly two-thirds of the confirmed cases in the West Bank are of Palestinian workers employed in Israel and those who have come in contact with them. Ramallah has called on Israel to test workers before allowing them to return to the West Bank.

US clarifies that aid for Palestinian hospitals in accordance with Taylor Force Act

Responding to a query from The Times of Israel, a US State Department official clarifies that the $5 million in aid to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank will not violate the Taylor Force Act, which slashes funding to the Palestinians as long as Palestinian authorities continue payments to the families of Palestinians jailed or killed for attacks on Israelis.

“USAID is providing $5 million from International Disaster Assistance funds to an implementer for COVID-19 response in the West Bank,” the official says. “The Taylor Force Act does not apply to the use of International Disaster Assistance funds to provide immediate, life-saving assistance to Palestinian hospitals and households battling the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In marked improvement, Health Ministry says it conducted 11,908 tests on Thursday

The Health Ministry announces that it conducted 11,908 tests yesterday in a marked improvement from over the past several days, which saw the figure fall between 6,000-7,000.


Russian virus cases top 32,000, Putin warns of ‘very high’ risks

Russia says it has recorded 32,008 coronavirus cases, including a record 4,070 in the last 24 hours, as President Vladimir Putin warns of “very high” risks, particularly in the ill-equipped provinces.

Official figures showed more than half of the new cases were registered in Moscow and the surrounding region. So far 273 deaths have been recorded in Russia, including 41 in the last 24 hours.

Speaking during a televised video-conference with regional governors, Putin says that “the risks surrounding the epidemic’s spread are still very high, not just in Moscow but in many other Russian regions.”

Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin reports the completion of a 500-bed hospital built within weeks, which will start admitting patients Monday.

But Putin says every region must be equally prepared, even as several governors complained of a lack of medical equipment and specialist staff.

Vladimir region governor Vladimir Sipyagin says his region of 1.36 million only has 71 ventilators and half the needed resuscitation experts.

To this Putin responded that governors “are sitting there in order to overcome challenges.”

Moscow, Europe’s largest city with some 12 million inhabitants, has been under lockdown since the end of March, but officials have complained that many residents are flouting confinement rules.


Gantz: If God forbid we have another election, everyone should know it wasn’t because of me

In his weekly Facebook post, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz asserts that he is doing everything he can to prevent a fourth consecutive election in less than a year and a half and that if such a scenario does unfold, he wants the public to know that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be to blame.

“If God forbid we are sentenced to head toward another election, we will do so with our heads held high because everyone in the country will know that my friends and I did everything for the State of Israel during this crisis,” he writes.


40-year-old woman shot dead in Lod; assailant at large

A 40-year-old woman is shot dead in the central town of Lod, police reports.

A preliminary investigation has revealed that a masked assailant entered the woman’s home where she was staying at the time with her husband, shot her and fled the scene, police say.

The woman is not known to the police and, as far as they know, was not under threat.

A family member said she moved into the home-turned-crime-scene with her husband just a few weeks ago.

Report: Senior Haredi rabbis fume over police okaying of mass left-wing protest while barring prayer

Channel 13 reports that senior ultra-Orthodox officials are fuming over the police’s decision to allow a mass left-wing protest of some 2,000 people against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday all while law enforcement continues to aggressively enforce against any and all group prayer as stipulated by the government’s coronavirus guidelines.

Since yesterday’s protest, senior Haredi rabbis have begun pressing government officials to allow prayer to be held in limited fashion.

They’re also planning on holding protests twice a day in Bnei Brak during which they intend to pray, Channel 13 reports.

Gantz calls Litzman and Deri to update them on unity tallks, laments PM’s disinterest in reaching deal

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz has telephoned Shas chairman Ayreh Deri and United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman to update them on the status of his unity government talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Ynet.

Gantz told both the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers that Netanyahu does not appear interested in reaching a deal and that it would be a shame if the country is dragged toward another election, Ynet reports.

Police refute reports saying it has barred Independence Day fireworks

Police issue a statement refuting a report in Ynet claiming that it has barred the use of fireworks on Independence Day.

IDF arrests four Palestinians in East Jerusalem

The IDF arrested four Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the official PA news site Wafa reports.

No details were given as to the circumstances that led to their arrests.

Abbas wishes Easter tidings to Eastern Orthodox Christians marking holiday on Sunday

Palestinian Authority wishes a Happy Easter to those celebrating according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar, which marks the holiday on Sunday, Wafa reports.

Number of COVID-cases in Palestinian territories climbs to 307

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has climbed to 307, a Palestinian Authority government spokesman announces.

The number of cases in the Gaza Strip continues to hold at 13 while the number in the West Bank now stands at 294.

Channel 12: Outdoor prayer quorums likely to be permitted starting next week

Outdoor prayer quorums are likely to be permitted starting next week in a move likely aimed at curbing growing frustration over the police’s allowing of a mass left-wing protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be held yesterday, Channel 12 reports.

Acrid smoke hangs over Kiev after Chernobyl fire

Thick smoke is hanging over Ukraine’s capital Kiev as forest fires smoldered on in the Chernobyl nuclear zone, but city officials say no radiation spike had been detected.

The acrid haze hindered visibility all over the city of three million people and the smell of smoke permeated homes as Kiev jumped to the top of high air pollution rankings.

A forest fire broke out almost two weeks ago close to the Chernobyl reactor that exploded in 1986 in the world’s worst nuclear accident.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian authorities said the blaze had been largely extinguished thanks to heavy rain.

But today, a thousand firefighters aided by two planes and three helicopters were still battling a number of small blazes in the wooded area some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Kiev, the emergency service says.

The sky became clearer in the evening as Kiev dropped from the top of the list to seventh place in the ranking compiled by IQAir Group.

The smog has been blown in by strong winds from dozens of forest fires in surrounding regions, including from the nuclear exclusion zone around the Chernobyl power plant.

Ukraine’s interior minister Arsen Avakov and head of emergency service Mykola Chechotkin has reassured President Volodymyr Zelensky that the smog does not pose a chemical or radiation threat.

Kiev authorities made similar assurances to residents in the capital.

“In Kiev, smoke and air pollution are being observed as a result of fires… but there is no radiation,” Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko says in a video address.

Officials nevertheless urge locals not to go out without urgent need and to keep their windows shut.

The Kiev air pollution hit a city already under lockdown due to the coronavirus epidemic, with 4,662 confirmed cases in Ukraine and 125 deaths.

In Kiev, people are allowed to walk outside but only wearing masks and not in groups of more than two.


Erdan stands by police amid criticism over hurling of stun grenade at 9-year-old girl

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan issues a statement standing by police, which comes under his office’s jurisdiction, amid mounting public criticism over its conduct after footage showed officers hurling a stun grenade that hit a nine-year-old Mea Shearim girl in the head.

“We must remember that the state is sending Israeli policemen on life-saving missions, and I, as the minister in charge of the police, do not intend to abandon them when the criticism becomes a divisive incitement campaign,” he writes in a Facebook post.

Health Ministry announces purchase of 2.4 million antibody tests

The Health Ministry announces that it has purchased 2.4 million serological tests at a cost of NIS 110 million from the Abbot and Diasorin companies that will allow for the identification of individuals who carry antibodies to the coronavirus.

The decision to move forward with the purchase was made by Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who decided to pre-empt the FDA approval for the tests so that they will be available to Israelis as soon as they are okayed.

The tests will be carried out by Israeli healthcare providers as well as hospitals.

New York state report reveals deep COVID-19 crisis at nursing homes

A New York state report reveals the depth of the COVID-19 crisis at nursing homes; 19 nursing homes in the state have had at least 20 deaths.

— AP

Trump says China coronavirus toll ‘far higher’ than admitted

US President Donald Trump says China’s real death toll from coronavirus was “far higher,” even after officials issued a new count doubling the number of dead in Wuhan, where the pandemic began.

“China has just announced a doubling in the number of their deaths from the Invisible Enemy. It is far higher than that and far higher than the US, not even close!” Trump tweets.

Earlier, the city of Wuhan admitted missteps in tallying its death toll as it abruptly raised the count by 50 percent following growing world doubts about Chinese transparency.

Officials said they had added 1,290 deaths to the tally in the city, which has suffered the vast majority of China’s officially recognized fatalities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.


Hamashbir Lazarchan chain says it won’t return workers without government grant

The Hamashbir Lazarchan department store chain announces that it will not return its employees to work until it receives a grant from the government, Channel 13 reports.

Senior health official: Goal to return students to classes by end of May

Health Ministry deputy-director Itamar Grotto says on Channel 13 his office hopes to return Israeli students to the classrooms at the end of May.

Finance Ministry pushing for Israelis to be allowed to pick up food at restaurants

The Finance Ministry is pushing for the cabinet to ease restrictions on restaurants to allow people to pick up their food after ordering, Channel 13 reports.

For the past several weeks, only delivery has been allowed.

With 224 new COVID-19 cases in last 24 hours, total number climbs to 12,982

According to an updated Health Ministry tally, there are 12,982 coronavirus cases in Israel, a 224 jump from last night.

The ministry says 168 are in serious condition, with 122 on ventilators.

Another 162 are in moderate condition.

It says the death toll stands at 151, nine more than last night’s total.

The vast majority of those infected with the virus, 9,375, are displaying mild symptoms.

Israel’s health chief can’t say if worst is over; fears fresh wave in winter

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov is asked on Channel 12 news whether Israel is now over the worst of the coronavirus, given that the number of those on ventilators is not rising, among other encouraging statistics.

“We’ll only know in retrospect,” he says.

He acknowledges “encouraging indications” that are enabling Israel to take certain “risks” in beginning a phased exit strategy.

But, he warns, it is feared “there will be another wave toward winter.” This, along with other usual winter illnesses will place further strain on the health service. And thus, he says, it was decided at yesterday’s cabinet meeting to use the next few months to “enlarge the healthcare system’s capacity” to deal simultaneously with COVID-19 and other challenges.

He also says Israel will “have to continue to protect the older generation” for a long time to come. “We don’t believe in the herd immunity notion; it doesn’t work,” he says.

“We’ll need to find a way to enable safe family visits; that will take time.”

Health chief: We won’t allow crowds into the streets for Independence Day

In further comments to Channel 12, Bar Siman-Tov says ways will have to be found to mark a series of major anniversaries and festivals without masses in the streets.

He cites Independence Day, Ramadan, Memorial Day and Shavuot among the imminent dates where “we’ll have to find different ways to celebrate.”

People won’t be able to “go out into the streets” for the usual Independence Day celebrations, which this year start on the night of April 28, for instance, he says.

TV: Encouraging results with antibody treatment for first 23 COVID-19 patients

Experimental treatment of Israeli patients suffering from COVID-19 is proving encouraging, Channel 12 reports.

All 3,000-plus Israelis who have recovered from the virus are being asked by the Health Ministry and Magen David Adom to give blood, which contains antibodies against COVID-19.

Eighty percent are agreeing to do so — which essentially means almost everybody who is able to.

The antibody treatment is appropriate for patients defined as being in moderate condition, or in the first three days of being in serious condition, with the virus.

Of 23 patients who have had the treatment so far, about half of them are showing improvement. The other half have not deteriorated, the TV report says.

TV report sets out expected eased regulations for first phase of virus exit strategy

The cabinet will convene on Saturday night to approve the rolling back of some coronavirus restrictions in order to restart the economy.

According to Channel 12, the measures set to be approved include:

1. Some stores are to be allowed to reopen, including home furnishings; electrical; books; office supplies; computers; opticians; laundries, and maybe hairdressers under certain conditions. Clothing and toy stores will stay closed. Shops will be required to register clients via a Health Ministry application, limit the number of people allowed in at a time, and keep staff at a distance from shoppers.

2. Most workers in the manufacture and service industries will be allowed back to work, though they will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing along with other limitations.

3. Restrictions will be rolled back to allow baby-sitters to look after three kids at a time from more than one family.

4. Outdoor prayers for up to 10 are to be allowed, provided social distancing is followed.

5. Special Education programs will be allowed to return to functioning with groups of three children.

6. Sport activity will be allowed in pairs as far as 500 meters from one’s home. Basketball and soccer will not be allowed at this stage.

The ministers are also slated to approve a measure allowing police to hand out fines to those who don’t wear masks outside. For the past week, there has been a requirement to wear masks in pubic but police have not been certified to fine those who refuse to do so.

These are the likely measures, the TV report stresses, but are still subject to change.

IDF forces respond to possible infiltration attempt on Lebanon border; no order to remain in homes

IDF forces have fired flares at the Lebanon border near the northern town of Metulla due to fears of an infiltration attempt.

Border residents report hearing loud explosions over the past several minutes on the Lebanon side of the border.

At the moment, the IDF has not given an order to residents to remain in their homes, Channel 13 reports.

IDF says it fired flares after border sensors were tripped, but no infiltration was made

The IDF says it launched a number of flares along the Lebanon border after sensors along the fence were set off.

There was no infiltration into Israeli territory, the army says.

Lapid: Gantz must be willing to advance ‘all the way’ with anti-PM legislation

Sources close to Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid tell Channel 12 that the opposition lawmaker welcomes Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz’s threats to advance “anti-corruption” legislation aimed at instituting term limits [for a prime minister] and barring a lawmaker under indictment from forming the government, but warns that Gantz must be willing to go “all the way” with the anti-Netanyahu laws.

“We are not here to help him in his political games, but to fight for the State of Israel,” the sources are quoted as having told Channel 12.

France reports 761 more coronavirus deaths

France reports 761 more deaths from COVID-19 in hospitals and nursing homes over the last 24 hours, bringing the total toll in the country from the epidemic to 18,681.

But top health official Jerome Salomon tells reporters that in more positive news the total numbers in hospital fell for the third day in a row — with 115 fewer patients — and the numbers in intensive care fell for the ninth consecutive day with 221 fewer patients.

The country’s month-long lockdown “is starting to bear fruit,” said Salomon, while urging: “We have to continue our efforts in confinement.”


Italy cheers as virus cases level off

Italian health officials are cheering after the number of people currently being treated for COVID-19 rose by only a few hundred for the first time since the outbreak began.

Figures from the civil protection service show the number of those receiving hospital care or recovering at home under medical supervision rising by 355 to 106,962 today.

But the figure outside the outbreak’s Italian epicenter in Milan’s norther region of Lombardy went up by just 11 cases.

It went up by 344 in Lombardy itself.

The number had been rising by at least 1,000 a day nationally for over a month.

“In absolute terms, we have had the highest number of recoveries since the start of the crisis,” civil protection service chief Angelo Berrelli tells reporters.

Italy’s official death toll still rose by another 575 fatalities Friday to 22,745 — second-most after the United States.

The number of people currently suffering from COVID-19 is counted separately from the number of new officially registered infections.

That number rose by 3,493 today — about the same as it has been all week.

The generally improving picture prompted the civil protection service to announce that it was suspending daily briefings and moving to a twice-a-week format.

New tolls will still be issued daily.


Police nab suspect in killing of woman in Lod

Police say they have arrested a suspect in the killing of a woman in her home earlier this evening in Lod.

The suspect is a relative of the deceased.

Haniyeh: Israel must free prisoners for us to enter talks for exchange

In an interview with the Gaza-based al-Araby TV network, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh gives a long list of  demands that Israel must meet in order for the terror group to enter negotiations to release the two civilians and two soldiers’ bodies it is currently holding captive.

Haniyeh says that Israel must release all sick prisoners, child prisoners, elderly prisoners, female prisoners and prisoners who were released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange who Israel has since arrested on allegations of subsequent crimes.

“We are ready to start indirect negotiations with the occupation in order to complete a prisoner exchange deal,” Haniyeh says.

Haniyeh: The PA is not ‘sufficiently’ cooperating with us on the coronavirus

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh tells the al-Araby TV network that the Palestinian Authority “is not cooperating with us in the manner required to provide the supplies to confront the coronavirus.”

Accepting J Street endorsement, Biden says he’s committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace

Presumptive Democratic party presidential nominee Joe Biden has accepted an endorsement from the J Street progressive, pro-Israel lobby group.

“J Street has been a powerful voice to advance social justice here at home and to advocate for a two-state solution that advances Middle East peace,” Biden says in a statement.

“I share with J Street’s membership an unyielding dedication to the survival and security of Israel, and an equal commitment to creating a future of peace and opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian children alike.”

Italy death toll slows to lowest in a week

Italy reports 482 new deaths over the past 24 hours, down from 575 on yesterday’s figures and the lowest tally since April 12, the country’s Civil Protection Agency says.

There are 3,493 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, bringing the total in Europe’s worst hit country to 175,925.

In all, 23,227 people have now died in Italy since the outbreak began.

Blue and White MK: Netanyahu can finalize coalition deal in 30 minutes if he wants to

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper says a coalition deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud could be wrapped up “in half an hour” if Netanyahu wants to seal it.

He says he and his party leader Benny Gantz have not given up hope that such an emergency alliance will be sealed, even though the sides have been negotiating for weeks. President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday gave the Knesset a final 21 days to agree on a candidate for prime minister, otherwise Israel will head into its fourth round of general elections in 16 months.

Tropper says much of the negotiation has been over matters regarding Netanyahu “personally” — a reference to the prime minister’s reported efforts to protect himself via some kind of legislation, as part of the deal, if the High Court intervenes to prevent him from continuing as prime minister because he is under indictment.

If the talks fail, Tropper says, Blue and White will at least know that it did everything in its power to avert a descent into unnecessary elections.

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US clarifies that aid for Palestinian hospitals in accordance with Taylor Force Act

Responding to a query from The Times of Israel, a US State Department official clarifies that the $5 million in aid to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank will not violate the Taylor Force Act, which slashes funding to the Palestinians as long as Palestinian authorities continue payments to the families of Palestinians jailed or killed for attacks on Israelis.

“USAID is providing $5 million from International Disaster Assistance funds to an implementer for COVID-19 response in the West Bank,” the official says. “The Taylor Force Act does not apply to the use of International Disaster Assistance funds to provide immediate, life-saving assistance to Palestinian hospitals and households battling the COVID-19 pandemic.”