Coronavirus in Israel: 500 New Cases Confirmed as Total Surges Past 5,000

Five fatalities in one day raise coronavirus death toll in Israel to 20 ■ Nearly 100 patients on life support ■ Israeli military chief, two generals quarantined ■ Health Minister recommends closure on ultra-Orthodox hot spot

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Israel Police enforcing coronavirus regulations in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, March 31, 2020.
Israel Police enforcing coronavirus regulations in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, March 31, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
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Haaretz

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As the highly contagious coronavirus spreads around the world, Israel and the Palestinians struggle to contain a local outbreak that has virtually halted daily life and led to tens of thousands of people entering quarantine.

■ 5,358 Israelis have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, with the vast majority of cases mild and 224 recoveries. Twenty patients have died, 94 are in serious condition and 76 are on ventilators. One Israeli tourist died in Italy. 

■ In the West Bank, 107 cases have been diagnosed so far. One woman in her 60s died. The Palestinian prime minister ordered a lockdown as of last Sunday. In Gaza, 12 cases were diagnosed, the first two after returning from Pakistan.

■ Israel's government intensified restrictions on movement, banning public gatherings, including for prayer, and limiting outings to two people from the same household and only up to 100 meters away from home. Israel's new guidelines explained

■ Health Minister Yaakov Litzman recommended imposing a closure on the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which has become a hot spot for the spread of the virus.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

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■ Health Ministry Director General says 'still no trend reversal' in coronavirus spread in Israel.

■ For information on the Health Ministry's app that tracks contact with confirmed coronavirus patients, click here. For more information on the Health Ministry's official website on the corovavirus outbreak, click here.

UPDATES

7:25 A.M. Gaza's health ministry confirms another two test positive for coronavirus, total cases up to 12

The two new cases were found among people already in isolation, according to the ministry. 

7:23 A.M. IDF chief of staff coronavirus test returns negative

Aviv Kochavi, who entered self-isolation after he and two other high-ranking officers came in contact with a diagnosed COVID-19 patient, will remain in isolation until the end of the week, the Israeli military said in a statement on Wednesday morning. 

TUESDAY

23:26 P.M. Oman reports first death from coronavirus

Oman's health ministry reported its first death from coronavirus, a 72 year-old Omani man, state TV said on Twitter. Oman reported as of March 31, 192 coronavirus cases in the sultanate. (Reuters)

10:18 P.M. Tunisia extends lockdown by two weeks 

Tunisia will extend a lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus by two weeks to April 19, the presidency said in a statement on Tuesday.

Tunisia has confirmed 362 cases of the coronavirus and nine deaths and has imposed a general lockdown for over a week, preventing people from leaving their homes except to buy necessities or work in certain jobs. (Reuters)

9:33 P.M. Israeli cases pass 5,300

The Health Ministry reported 5,358 confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday night, up from 4,831 this morning. Of those, 94 are in serious condition. 224 have recovered, a significant rise from the 161 reported recoveries this morning. 

9:06 P.M. Pompeo: U.S. might ease Iran sanctions in light of epidemic

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held out the possibility on Tuesday that the United States may consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the coronavirus epidemic but gave no concrete sign it plans to do so. The comments reflected a shift in tone by the U.S. State Department, which has come under withering criticism for its hard line toward sanctions relief even in the face of a call by the UN secretary-general to ease U.S. economic penalties.

Speaking to reporters, Pompeo stressed that humanitarian and medical supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran, however, broader U.S. sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran, one of the nations hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

Asked if there might come a point at which the United States might reevaluate its stance on easing sanctions, Pompeo told a news conference: "we evaluate all of our policies constantly, so the answer is – would we ever rethink? – Of course." (Reuters)

>> Read the full report here

8:45 P.M. 8,000 Israelis tested, half of them in drive-in stations

Some 8,000 people were tested for coronavirus on Tuesday, Magen David Adom, Israel's rescue service said. About half of those were tested in drive-in testing stations.

Magen David Adom asks that anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms who can drive themselves to a drive-in testing station should do so, as to allow its medical teams to quickly arrive to the homes of those who cannot to test them there.

8:45 P.M. Knesset approves continued Shin Bet coronavirus tracking

The temporary Knesset subcommittee for the Shin Bet approved the government's decision to give the Shin Bet authority for the rest of the month to collect data on civilians that need to quarantine themselves, a Knesset announcement said. Head of the foreign and defense committees, Kahol Lavan MK Gabi Ashkenazi, said "We will guard the right balance between the need to protect public health and safeguarding the right to privacy of Israel's citizens, as much as possible. We've reduced the amount of data to be transferred to the bare minimum."

The committee implemented a number of alterations that Knesset ordered: It clarified that it is completely forbidden to listen to the content of conversations, and that the information will not be transferred to the Health Ministry, Defense Ministry, or any other authority. The information will also not be able to be used in investigations or legal proceedings. It also decided that the Shin Bet must erase the data that it transfers to the Health Ministry within a week, and completely erase it at the end of its participation in tackling the coronavirus crisis. The Health Ministry will need to erase the data 60 days after the end of that period. (Jonathan Lis)

8:42 P.M. UN Security Council congratulates Israel, Palestinians for coordination against virus

After holding a video conference yesterday about the Middle East, The UN Security Council released an official statement saying that it "congratulates the coordination between Israel and the Palestinians in dealing with this shared challenge."

Council members also called on both sides to increase their joint efforts to restrain the coronavirus. The council also praised the UN's work in coordinating between Israel and the Palestinians. (Noa Landau)

20:39 P.M. Israel retools missile production line to mass produce ventilators

Israel has converted a missile production facility to mass produce ventilators and offset a shortage of the life-saving machines as the coronavirus continues to spread, the Israeli Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has warned that Israel only has 2,000 ventilators and needs many more of the breathing devices to help victims recover from the respiratory illness.

The Israeli initiative is a collaboration between the Defense Ministry, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and medical device maker Inovytec.

Some 30 ventilators have been delivered to Israel's health ministry, the statement said. It did not indicate how many machines it planned to produce daily or whether they were being made available for export as well as local use.The rapid retooling of the missile production line was completed in days, the statement said. (Reuters)

8:35 P.M. Israeli death toll reaches 20

A man in his 90s became the 20th Israeli to die of the coronavirus on Tuesday night. He was in severe condition and had been sedated and ventilated at Wolfson Medical Center in central Israel. (Bar Peleg)

8:25 P.M. Quarantine facilities planned for Arabs, ultra-Orthodox who cannot self-isolate at home

The Israeli Interior Ministry and local social welfare authorities are planning to provide accommodations for ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis who are required to go into home quarantine due to exposure to the coronavirus but cannot do so at home.

The Health Ministry is to provide the Interior Ministry with information about the individuals, who have been diagnosed with the virus or have been exposed to a carrier, so that social workers from local governments can make home visits and decide whether the homes meet quarantine requirements.

If it is decided that the requirements cannot be met at home, for example where there are large number of children and a single bathroom, the individual will be asked to move to motel-type lodgings provided by the Interior Ministry.  (Lee Yaron)

>> Read the full report here

8:10 P.M. Bnei Brak mayor: 'We can't turn Bnei Brak into a ghetto'

Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein commented on the possibility of enacting a full closure on the city: "It's impossible to build a new prison," he said. "Bnei Brak Prison. Reality won't allow this. The residen'ts won't stand for this and this suggestion will just have the opposite effect."

Rubinstein, who is in home quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus, added, "We cannot turn Bnei Brak into a ghetto; a closure won't cure the illness."

One third of coronavirus tests in Bnei Brak have come back positive. As of Monday, the infection rate in the town was 2.5 per 1,000 residents, significantly higher than the national average. (Bar Peleg and Aaron Rabinowitz)

8:12 P.M. Saudi minister tells Muslims to wait on making haj plans

Saudi Arabia is urging Muslims to wait before making plans to attend the annual haj pilgrimage until there is more clarity about the deadly coronavirus pandemic, the kingdom's minister for haj and umrah said on Tuesday.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims usually flock to the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina each year for the week-long ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim and a major source of income for the kingdom. (Reuters)

7:47 P.M. Turkey's death toll rises

Turkey's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak increased by 46 to 214 on Tuesday, while the number of confirmed cases of the disease rose by 2,704 to 13,531, health ministry data showed.

Some 243 patients have recovered from the virus so far.

The ministry also said 15,422 tests had been conducted on Tuesday – the highest since the start of the outbreak – bringing the total number of tests carried out in Turkey to 92,403 since the outbreak began. (Reuters)

7:30 P.M. Nineteenth Israeli dies of coronavirus

Another Israeli has died of the coronavirus, bringing the death toll of the disease in the country up to 19. A 72-year-old man, who suffered from underlying illnesses, passed away at Assuta Ashdod Medical Center in southern Israel. (Ido Efrati)

6:57 P.M. Government transparency activists request minutes from coronavirus meetings

After Haaretz reported that the protocols of the many government meetings about COVID-19 are confidential, many organizations for government transparency have contacted the Prime Minister's Office and the attorney general to request to clear them for release.

Those requesting the information, including former Meretz head Tamar Zandberg, say that government conversations on public health, unlike security-related discussions, do not need to be classified. Making them available to the public, they say, is necessary for government oversight and strengthening the public's faith in the decision-making process, which includes emergency regulations. (Noa Landau)

6:30 P.M. Unemployment climbs to 23.8 percent

Another 22,829 Israelis filed for unemployment on Tuesday, an Employment Office statement said, bringing the country's unemployment rate up to 23.8 percent, up .7 percentage points from yesterday.

There are now 988,957 people out of work, 89.7 percent of them on unpaid leave from their jobs. (Lee Yaron)

6:00 P.M. Netanyahu: Israeli institute progressing in developing coronavirus vaccine

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he spoke to Professor Shmuel Shapira, the head of the Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona, who told him that research and development for a coronavirus vaccine is progressing significantly, and that the institute believes that they will soon have a "model for starting animal testing."

Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that the institute expects to declare that they have developed a vaccine for the virus soon. According to medical sources, the scientists have recently had a significant breakthrough in understanding the biological mechanism and qualities of the virus, including better diagnostic capability, production of antibodies for those who already have the virus and development of a vaccine.

 Even so, the development process requires a series of tests and experiments that can take a year before the vaccination is deemed effective or safe to use. (Noa Landau)

5:20 P.M. Over 3,000 Israelis ticketed for violating movement restrictions

Police handed out about 3,134 tickets to people who left their homes for unnecessary reasons on Tuesday. Of those, they gave out 1,022 tickets for going out into a public space, 553 for being in a forbidden area, 110 for violating quarantine and 240 for refusing an order to break up a gathering. (Josh Breiner) 

5:07 P.M. Over one million Israelis will be unemployed in coming months

Data from the National Insurance Institute's research department projects that 1.1 million Israelis will be out of work by April-May of this year.

According to both the optimistic and pessimistic scenarios, the department said, the institute will find itself in a 8.1 billion shekel deficit in May-June. (Lee Yaron)

4:55 P.M. Russian Russian doctor who met Putin last week diagnosed with coronavirus 

A doctor who gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a tour of Moscow's main coronavirus hospital last week said on Tuesday he had himself been diagnosed with the virus.

Putin visited the Kommunarka hospital last Tuesday where he chatted to the doctor, Denis Protsenko. Neither man was wearing protective equipment during their conversation, TV footage from the visit showed.

Protsenko, writing on Facebook said: "Yes, I have tested positive for coronavirus, but I feel pretty good. I've isolated myself in my office. I think the immunity I've developed this month is doing its job."

The Kremlin said that Putin was being regularly tested for coronavirus and that "everything is okay," the RIA news agency reported.

It has previously said that Putin is being protected from viruses and other illnesses "around the clock".

Putin donned a hazmat suit and a respirator during his visit to the hospital last week when dropping in on patients. But he did not have his protective gear on during a meeting with Protsenko, with whom he was photographed shaking hands. (Reuters)

4:37 P.M. Israeli charged for spreading fake news

A 33-year-old resident of Rishon Letzion was charged pending a hearing with spreading disinformation via computer and online harassment, the cyber division of the State Prosecutor's office said. Adi Teffer allegedly sent out fictitious updates resembling those of the Health Ministry, saying that the recipients' telephones were being tracked by government authorities.

The cyber division of the State Prosecutor's Office has carried out 10 inquiries in the past month into social media profiles posing as official Health Ministry pages and sending out false information relating to the coronavirus outbreak. The division also took action against a man who called on others not to obey government guidelines and not to report their symptoms to the authorities.

The division is working with Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and other social networks to ensure that those looking for coronavirus updates on the internet quickly and easily find factual information. The State Prosecutor's Office emphasized that a number of cases have been passed on to the cyber division on suspicion of spreading fake news. (Bar Peleg)

4:16 P.M. IDF chief goes into quarantine

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Chief of the IDF General Staff, along with Home Front Command head Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai and Operations Directorate commander Gen. Aharon Haliva, has gone into isolation. All three attended a meeting ten days ago in which a commander in the reserves, who later tested positive for the coronavirus, participated.   

The commander in question is the head of the Home Front Command's liaison unit to local authorities in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb where 508 residents had tested positive for the virus as of Monday – more than double what the figure was four days earlier.

An IDF Spokesperson's Unit statement said that Kochavi feels well, is not displaying symptoms, and will soon be tested for the virus. (Yaniv Kubovich and Amos Harel)

3:50 P.M. Most Israeli virus cases transmitted between different generations

There is a high incidence in Israel of inter-generational coronavirus infection in Israel, a new study shows. One third of infections between known virus patients in the country were transmitted between people with an age gap of 20 to 40 years.

An analysis by the National Center for Information and Knowledge in the Fight Against the Coronavirus studied 1,000 cases of known viral transmission between 3,800 confirmed coronavirus patients. Most of these transmissions, they found, took place between family members.

The researchers recommend emphasizing the importance of avoiding family gatherings, such as meals and events, specifically with the Passover holiday approaching. They also stress proper hygienic practices in the home, particularly in larger households. (Rony Linder)   

3:20 P.M. Bennett: We must reopen the market or more will die 

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett warned against further shutting down the economy: "It's better not to close more businesses because that's not where the problem is," he said.

"The private sector is the heart of the mission. If we don't handle this properly, we'll get to a point where, God forbid, there will be more dead from suicide than from the coronavirus, so we need to proceed the right way, understand the crisis that's threatening millions of Israelis who don't know how they'll pay their rent tomorrow."

Bennet said that Israel must take steps now to reopen the economy after the end of the Passover holiday, which begins next week. 

3:00 P.M. Cave of the Patriarchs exempted from lockdown rules

At the behest of former MK Orit Strook, The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Shas Chairman Arye Dery requested that the Cave of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Jews and to Muslims in Hebron, be exempted from the new, stringent guidelines that ban public prayer gatherings.

The request will be formally approved by the head of the IDF's Central Command later today. The site will hold a reduced prayer quorum of 10 people three times a day on a nearby road. (Aaron Rabinowitz) 

2:33 Israel's coronavirus death toll climbs to 18

The Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot said that a woman in her 90s died Tuesday morning from COVID-19. The woman suffered from pre-existing conditions. (Bar Peleg)

2:23 P.M. Defense Minister to hold a Q&A session on coronavirus

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett will hold a Q&A, which will be livestreamed on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Bennett will take questions from the public and media concerning the coronavirus crisis. (Haaretz)

12:35 P.M. Swab testing may miss coronavirus carriers, posing a dilemma for doctors

The Israeli medical system has been relying on swab-sample testing to check patients suspected to have the coronavirus, and making decisions regarding isolation and treatment based on these their results. However, doctors face a dilemma when patients test negative but have clear symptoms of infection.

Results of a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — based on 1,070 tests on 205 patients — found that swab-sample testing through the nostrils spotted only 63 percent of those infected with COVID-19, and that those whose samples were taken from their throats only identified 32 percent of those infected. Experts suggest that performing both tests increases the accuracy to 70 percent, assuming that the samples are properly obtained. (Ido Efrati)

>>Read the full report here

12:09 P.M. Israel's unemployment rate surpasses 23 percent

Israel's Employment Service reported that since the beginning of March, 811,824 people filed for unemployment benefits, with 90 percent of them put on unpaid leave, and 6.4 percent fired.

The total number of those seeking unemployment benefits now stands at 969,693. Israel's unemployment rate, which in early March stood at 4 percent, now stands at 23.3 percent. (Sivan Klingbail)

11:52 A.M. Israel's Health Ministry director general says 'still no trend reversal'

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov expressed concern that the number of coronavirus confirmed cases would spike during Passover, saying "We still don’t see a trend reversal."

Siman Tov added that on Monday Israel saw a significant rise in coronavirus patients.  

Referring to the issue of protective masks, Siman Tov said that the World Health Organization officially determined that COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets, and is not airborne.   

"This led several countries, including Israel, to recommend those who leave the house to wear masks. We are currently examining, together with other experts if the public can make do with improvised masks, because the medical staff need the masks we have in stock," Siman Tov added.

Moreover, Siman Tov said that the Health Ministry is preparing, at the request of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, to impose lockdown on entire communities.

"This kind of lockdown demands extremely high involvement of the Home Front command and the police," Siman Tov said.   

In addition, Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, said that "According to the information we have today, a person who was infected with the virus once, cannot catch the virus again. If the virus mutate, we'll of course face a different situation." (Ido Efrati)

10:45 A.M. Health Ministry recommends expanding coronavirus tests in nursing homes, prisons

A special Health Ministry task-force has recommended expanding the number of the current coronavirus tests carried out per day, focusing on those who work with the most at risk populations.

In its recommendations, the special team also said that people with respiratory symptoms, cough, or difficulties in breathing – as well as individuals who are not showing any signs of the virus but work with someone who was diagnosed with the illness – should be tested.

The team put an emphasis on staffers working in nursing homes, hospitals and prisons. (Ido Efrati)

10:30 P.M. Health Minister recommends to Netanyahu to impose closure on ultra-Orthodox city  

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman recommended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to impose a closure on the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth that was published Tuesday, Litzman said that the situation in the city is "terrible and frightening, and each day raises fears of [violating] 'pikuach nefesh,'" referring to the concept in Judaism that saving human lives is above all else.

Litzman added that he had discussed it with the heads of the Prime Minister's Office, the Health Ministry and the Interior Ministry will look into the possibility of imposing such a measure.

Referring to the spike of cases among the ultra-Orthodox public, Litzman added, "It's true that carrying out Jewish laws are not damaging, but we're seeing the effects of Purim now," referring to the Jewish festival that took place on March 10. "With God's help, I hope it will pass in a few days." He denied asking to exempt synagogues and ritual baths from the coronavirus restrictions. (Haaretz)

10:10 A.M. Coronavirus patient jumps out of hospital window

The Poriya Hospital in Tiberias said that a 34-year-old man diagnosed with the coronavirus had jumped out of his hospital window.

The man was admitted to the hospital a week ago in light condition, after entering home quarantine. He is currently in serious condition and will probably need to undergo surgery.

The police are investigating the circumstances leading to the incident. (Noa Spiegel) 

9:45 A.M. Twenty-seven ventilators, eight million masks arrive in Israel

The Health Ministry said that a shipment of 27 ventilators has arrived in Israel, as well as eight million masks.

The Health Ministry, the Prime Minister's Office, the Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces worked in cooperation to bring the ventilators and medical gear to Israel as soon as possible, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry said. (Ido Efrati)

9:38 A.M. Diagnosed coronavirus patient tests negative after passing away, death toll drops to 17

A 56-year-old, who was at first diagnosed with the coronavirus, tested negative after passing away at the hospital, therefore changing the coronavirus death toll reported before from 18 to 17. (Bar Peleg)

9:27 A.M. Israeli hospital to temporarily close maternity ward amid coronavirus crisis

The Assuta hospital in the southern city of Ashdod announced it would temporarily close its maternity ward to diminish the exposure of newborns to the virus. (Almog Ben Zikri)

8:14 Coronavirus death toll in Israel climbs to 18, with two fatalities in one day

A 49-year-old woman passed away after a battle with COVID-19, raising the death toll to 18. She is the second fatality in one day. The woman, Israel's youngest coronavirus fatality, was admitted to the Assaf Harofeh Hospital on Thursday. She suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.

She leaves behind four-year-old twins. The twins' father passed away from cardiac arrest shortly after they were born. (Bar Peleg)

8:10 A.M. Coronavirus toll in Israel climbs to 4,831, with 83 cases in serious condition

The Health Ministry said Tuesday that 136 more people tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing toll to 4,831. Eighty-three patients are in serious condition, 69 of which are on ventilators. (Ido Efrati)

8:04 A.M. Coronavirus death toll in Israel rises to 17

A woman with underlying health issues in her 50s died from complications of COVID-19 Tuesday morning, raising the death toll in Israel to 17.

The woman was hospitalized in the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer for 10 days before she succumbed to the disease. She left behind three children. (Bar Peleg) 

7:04 A.M One more Palestinian tests positive, bringing total coronavirus toll in the West Bank to 107

A spokesperson for the Palestinian government in the West Bank said that one more confirmed coronavirus case was registered in the territories, raising the toll there to 107. He added that all those diagnosed with the disease in the West Bank are in a light condition.

The spokesperson said that the Palestinian Authority doesn't have exact data about the number of confirmed cases in East Jerusalem. (Jack Khoury) 

5:10 A.M. U.S. coronavirus death toll surges past 3,000, with 540 fatalities in one day

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic climbed past 3,000 on Monday, the deadliest day yet in the country's mounting crisis, while New York cheered the arrival of a gleaming 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship as a sign of hope in the city's desperate fight.

In a grim new milestones marking the spread of the virus, total deaths across the United States hit 3,017, including at least 540 on Monday, and the reported cases climbed to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally. (Reuters)

1:06 A.M. Israeli government approves new regulations, restricts assembly to two people living in the same dwelling

The government approved a set of stricter regulations overnight Monday.

The workforce will be reduced to 15 percent, down from 30 percent until now. In workplaces not considered "essential," no more than 10 workers will be allowed inside at a time.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett was the only cabinet minister voting against reducing the workforce in the private sector to 15 percent.  

Public gatherings are now banned altogether, including prayer, with very specific exceptions for some ceremonies. Weddings can be held without guests. Funerals can be held in open spaces with up to 20 participants. Circumcision ceremonies are permitted with up to ten participants.

Prayer at the Western Wall will be allowed with up to 10 participants at each prayer service, standing at least two meters apart from one another.

A small but significant difference in the final regulations is that only two people living in the same house will be able to go out together. According to the guidelines, going outside is only allowed for a short time and up to 100 meters from home. The regulations will go into effect on Wednesday. (Noa Landau)

MONDAY

11:14 P.M. Magen David Adom to open drive-through test center in ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak

Starting Monday at 9 A.M., a new drive-through test station will open in Bnei Brak, a hotspot for coronavirus in Israel.

People unable to drive to the center will be able to access it in special ambulances, the Magen David Adom rescue services, which runs the operation, said in a press release on Sunday.

It also said another station had opened in Wadi Ara, a district in Northern Israel where a majority of the population is from the Arab community. (Ido Efrati

11:10 P.M. Despite restrictions on praying in public, government makes exception for Western Wall

As per the demand of Interior Minister Arye Dery, the Israeli government permitted, against restrictions announced earlier by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to hold three prayers a day at the Western Wall in groups of ten. This in order to allow continued prayer at the site.

In addition, the government allowed the ultra-Orthodox radio station "Kol Barama" to keep holding a prayer quorum, a minyan, of ten people so they may broadcast them live. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

10:20 P.M. Government approves deploying troops for patrol

Seven hundred Israeli soldiers will join the police Tuesday in enforcing lockdown regulations. The soldiers will be unarmed, except for commanders and forces patrolling in the West Bank.

>> Fearing friction with civilians, Israel delayed deploying troops 

9:52 P.M. One coronavirus patient diagnosed in Gaza

One Gazan tested positive for COVID-19 in the Strip, raising the total number of cases to 10. (Jack Khoury)

9:42 P.M. Government to isolate Arab, Haredi patients in quarantine centers

Israel will take confirmed and suspected Arab and Haredi coronavirus patients out of their homes in the coming days and quarantine them in special centers. The ministry estimates that there are between 50 and 100 thousand people in Israel that should be in quarantine but have fallen under the government radar.

"There are entire populations that don't report to the government that they are in quarantine as they are not used to filling online forms or don't even know that they need to," said the Director of the Interior Ministry. 

In response to a Haaretz query, the government clarified that people will not be taken out of their houses by force. (Lee Yaron)

9:32 P.M. Tel Aviv hospital separating ultra-Orthodox women in maternity ward

The maternity ward in Ichilov Hospital is checking women from Haredi cities into separate rooms, testing them for the virus and separating them from their newborns after birth. "The protocol applies to women who come from areas with high rates of coronavirus contagion," a statement by the hospital said.  

8:24 P.M. Total number of COVID-19 cases in Israel stands at 4,695

The Health Ministry announced 4,695 cases of coronavirus in Israel to date, a 10.5 percent increase in 24 hours. (Haaretz)

8:22 P.M. Netanyahu, family and close staff test negative for coronavirus 

Benjamin Netanyahu, his family and close aides tested negative for coronavirus, according to the prime minister's spokesperson. He is still in quarantine, per health ministry directives. (Noa Landau)

7:44 P.M. Netanyahu announces tighter restrictions on public

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday further restrictions on the public, which include barring public gatherings of more than two people.

The restrictions have yet to go into effect, and need to be approved by the government overnight.

Netanyahu commended the majority of Israeli citizens for following the restrictions, but said a rebellious minority endangers the rest of the public. He added that security forces were instructed to enforce movement restrictions in areas where people have statistically been flouting government directives, without elaborating on where these areas are.

According to Netanyahu, praying would only be permitted to individuals and not groups, and is disallowed in public. Weddings will be held in the presence of the nuclear family. Funerals are limited for up to 20 people and circumcisions for up to ten.

In addition, the private sector's scope of work would be minimized from 30 percent to 15 percent.

Netanyahu also announced an 80 billion shekels ($22 billion) economic rescue package, "that's 6% of the GDP and it's a lot," said Netanyahu.

The package will allocate 10 billion shekels ($2.8 billion) to the health system, 30 billion shekels ($8.4 billion) to welfare and unemployment and 32 billion shekels ($9 billion) to aid small and large businesses and 8 billion shekels ($2.2) to economic stimulus. (Haaretz)

7:31 P.M. Israeli embassy employee tests positive for virus 

WASHINGTON - A worker at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., has tested positive for the coronavirus. The worker, who is an Israeli citizen working at the embassy in a non-diplomatic role, began having symptoms approximately two weeks ago and was sent home immediately, according to an embassy spokesperson. 

In reply to a Haaretz query on the subject, the embassy wrote that it is going through a disinfection process, "in accordance with the regulations of the Foreign and Health Ministries" in Israel. It remains open and "continues to serve the public," although many staff members are working from home. (Amir Tibon)

6:50 P.M. Israeli employers to insure Palestinian workers

The Israeli Interior Ministry intends to force Israeli employers of Palestinian workers to provide them with health insurance during the coronavirus crisis, according to a legal memo published Sunday. Until now, Palestinian workers were insured in Israel for work accidents only. Their health insurance, deducted from their salary, was transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

There are currently an estimated 40,000 Palestinians working and staying overnight in Israel that due to lockdown will not be able to return to the West Bank should they need medical treatment. (Hagar Shezaf)

6:45 P.M. Unemployment rate at 23.1 percent

More than 800,000 Israelis have registered for unemployment benefits in March, raising the unemployment rate to 23.1 percent. (Lee Yaron)

6:38 P.M. Police enforces lockdown with fines

The Israel Police gave more than 2,100 fines Monday for violation of regulations intended to curb the spread of coronavirus. (Josh Breiner)

6:37 P.M. Nursing homes to be quarantined for 21 days

The welfare ministry intends to prohibit visits to homes for the elderly, disabled and minors in foster care, according to a legal memo published Sunday. Public housing institutions will be quarantined for three weeks and residents will be prohibited from meeting family members. (Or Kashti)

5:54 P.M. Plasma from recovered patients to be used for treatment

Israel’s Magen David Adom medical rescue service is preparing to collect blood plasma donations from coronavirus patients who have recovered, in an effort to produce an antibody treatment for COVID-19 patients who are in serious condition.

The evidence on the subject in the medical literature is limited and preliminary at this point. A Chinese military doctor, Shangen Zheng, reported that his team has so far treated 10 patients in Hubei province with plasma, and data from additional patients are being assessed.

Last week in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration approved the experimental use of plasma from recovered coronavirus patients as an emergency treatment for people in critical condition. It is already being used in New York, the largest coronavirus hotspot in the country. (Ido EfratI)

>> Read the full report here

5:27 P.M. Arab city warns of shortages as more test positive

Nazareth hospitals have just 30 intensive care beds, half of them for ventilated patients, despite having to serve a population of a quarter million residents. At least five more patients tested positive for COVID-19 in the city's English Hospital Monday.

MK Aida Touma-Sliman from the Joint List, along with Adalah civil rights organization, asked the government to transfer more ventilators to the Arab hospitals, warning that "the health ministry's neglect to test and prepare the Arab population may lead to disaster." (Jack Khoury) 

>> Israel's coronavirus blind spot: The Arab community

5:11 P.M. Symbolic Patient 16 makes full recovery

Israel's first coronavirus patient to be hospitalized in serious condition, Patient 16, has recovered after three and half weeks. Johnny, a 38-year-old tourist bus driver from East Jerusalem was released from Poriya Hospital. He was treated with Remdesivir drug, only approved for compassionate use. (Noa Shpigel)

4:49 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox city tests highest for COVID-19

Data obtained by Haaretz shows a significantly higher number of people testing positive for coronavirus in ultra-Orthodox cities compared to secular Jewish or mixed cities.

In Bnei Brak, 35 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive. The city now has 2.5 confirmed patients per 1000 residents. In Elad and Beitar Illit the numbers were lower but still significantly higher than the national average.

In Jerusalem, ten percent of tests came back positive. It has 0.5 coronavirus patients per 1000 residents, a rate similar to Tel Aviv's. (Aaron Rabonowitz)

4:29 P.M. Prime minister's staff self-quarantines

Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesperson Shir Cohen, Director of Prime Minister's Office Asher Hayoun and political spokesperson Naor Yahia enter voluntary self-quarantine after Knesset Affairs Advisor Rivka Paluch tests positive for COVID-19. 

Paluch was in the Knesset Thursday during the vote for Knesset speaker. It is still unclear which legislators she had come into contact with. (Noa Landau)

2:22 P.M. Prime Minister Netanyahu to enter quarantine

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he will enter quarantine along with his close advisers. Netanyahu's aide on Knesset affairs tested positive for coronavirus on Monday. The PMO said the step was a precaution and is being taken even before the epidemiological investigation has been concluded. (Noa Landau)

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