Coronavirus Live: Israel Agrees With Moderna on Doubling Vaccine Supply

Israel's information center calls to consider reimposing some restrictions ■ Gaza active cases top 10,000 ■ At least 700,000 Israelis had COVID, Health Ministry director-general says

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The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial receives a shot at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., May 4, 2020.
The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial receives a shot at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., May 4, 2020.Credit: ,AP
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Haaretz

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Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are dealing with a renewed coronavirus outbreak, leading to proposals and measures intended to curb its spread and mitigate the economic ramifications of the crisis by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

Israel currently has 13,189 active cases; 2,909 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 13,336 active cases and 751 deaths, and in Gaza 10,321 active cases and 122 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

4:31 P.M. Israel Police arrests five on suspicion of organizing mass event in Negev desert

Israel Police was working to break up an event that attracted around 600 people deep in the Negev desert, near the Dead Sea, a statement said on Friday afternoon. 

Officers seized equipment and arrested five people on suspicion of organizing an event without a permit, and in breach of coronavirus regulations. (Almog Ben Zikri)

2:40 P.M. Israel agrees with Moderna on doubling vaccine supply

The Israeli Health Ministry signed an agreement with Moderna to triple the amount of vaccines the company will provide to Israel in 2021, from 2 million doses to 6 million – enough for 3 million citizens.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, "I am pleased to announce that today we signed a contract with Moderna for the supply of 6 million doses for you, Israeli citizens... It gives us hope. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. But we still have to keep the [COVID] rules. Our mission is to bring vaccines, it's your job to keep the rules." (Haaretz)

10:30 A.M. COVID information center recommends no further easing of lockdown

Israel's coronavirus information center recommended in its daily report against further easing of the lockdown, and even suggested that some of the measures that had been relaxed should be reimposed "to curb the rise [in cases] and prevent the epidemic from getting out of control." 

The report also said that a day of full lockdown will be needed to undo two days of rise in cases at the current rate. (Haaretz)

9:07 A.M. More than 1,400 new cases confirmed in a day

Israel has confirmed 1,423 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases to 11,761. According to the Health Ministry, 2.3 percent of the tests conducted returned positive, marking a slight uptick from Wednesday's 2.2 percent and Tuesday's 1.9.

537 patients are currently hospitalized. 287 of them are is serious condition and 101 on life support.

2,891 COVID patients have died since the start on the outbreak. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

8:45 P.M. First Pfizer's vaccines set to arrive in Israel by end of December

The immunization campaign should start immediately upon receipt of the doses, which should be enough to vaccinate two million Israelis. 

This is a very large amount of vaccines: For comparison, in an average winter season, less than 1.5 million Israelis are vaccinated against the common flu.

The Pfizer vaccine received approval from the British authorities on December 2, and should be rolled out in the United Kingdom in the next few days. It is also expected to receive U.S. Food and Drugs Administration approval on December 10.

The pharmaceutical division at Israel's Health Ministry's  is also expected to grant the Pfizer vaccine some kind of emergency approval. It provides a temporary authorization based on readings of the initial findings, with final approval pending a lengthy examination of the results. (Ronny Linder)

7:51 P.M. At least 700,000 Israelis had COVID, Health Ministry director-general says

The number of Israeli residents who contracted COVID-19 could be between 700,000 and 1 million, Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy said, basing his estimates on serological surveys.

This is more than twice the current confirmed number of people who have tested positive for the virus. 

"Infection rates are rising, and further restrictions need to be discussed to bring them down," Levy said. The government is considering several measures. They could include slowing down the resumption of economic activity, imposing a night curfew, and a potential lockdown during the Hannukah holiday later in December. (Ido Efrati)   

7:42 P.M. Netanyahu holding consultation about rising infection rates with senior officials

The prime minister is holding discussions with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, and his director general, Chezy Levy, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat and coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, among others. 

The coronavirus cabinet, which was supposed to meet today, will convene next week instead. (Noa Landau)

3:37 P.M. Education Ministry cancels another high school matriculation exam

Israeli students will only have to take five exams as part of their bagorot, the high school matriculation, after Education Minister Yoav Gallant announced he was cancelling another test on top of the two already withdrawn.

This is part of a package of changes to both external examination and in-school grading, meant to compensate for "learning gaps" created by successive lockdowns and adapted methods of learning. "We will find all the tools at our disposal to give Israeli students a worthy and real opportunity to succeed," Gallant said. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)  

1:12 P.M. Thousands attend Jerusalem funeral of ultra-orthodox rabbi who died from COVID

Thousands of people are attending the funeral of ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Aharon David Hadash, one of the prominent leaders of Jerusalem's Mir Yeshiva, the world's largest yeshiva. Participants are all wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing, as requested by the organizers.    

Hadash, who has been for the past 50 years the Mir Yeshiva's spiritual leader, died overnight at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital, where was hospitalized for the past few weeks after contracting the coronavirus. He suffered from underlying conditions.

The organizers of the funeral agreed with the Jerusalem Police that eulogies would be delivered in the open air. Large police forces will accompany the rabbi's funeral procession. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

8:57 A.M. Children, pregnant women will be the last to be vaccinated for COVID in Israel

Children, pregnant women and recovering coronavirus patients will be the last to be vaccinated against the virus once Israel obtains the vaccine, sources on the committee making the decision said.

Primarily, that's because these groups were not included in the clinical trials conducted so far on the coronavirus vaccine, although they are said to be part of future studies. 

Israel is expected to get its first 200,000 doses of vaccine in January, assuming a vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Vaccinations will then begin immediately. (Ido Efrati)

>> Click here for the full report

8:45 A.M. Nearly 1,500 Israelis test positive in a day; Gaza active cases at 10,000

Israel has confirmed 1,492 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to data by the Health Ministry, bringing the total number of active cases in the country to 11,751.

539 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized – the highest figure since November 21 – with 267 of them in serious condition and 99 on life support.

With six new deaths, the total number of coronavirus patients in Israel who passed since the start of the outbreak is at 2,883.

Meanwhile, according to data from the Palestinian Health Ministry, the West Bank has 13,336 active cases and 736 deaths. The Gaza Strip has 10,000 active cases and 118 deaths. (Haaretz)

WEDNESDAY

10:45 P.M. Fifteen localities to face new restrictions as Health Ministry tweaks ‘traffic light’ classification

Israel’s Health Ministry has changed its categorization for cities’ coronavirus risk – the so-called ‘traffic light plan’ – lowering the threshold for the the higher risk categories.

As a result, 10 more cities and five townships will be classified as ‘red’ or ‘orange’, barring high schoolers from returning to the classroom.

The cabinet also approved the return of tenth to twelfth grades in ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ localities. 

The vast majority of localities in the ‘red’ and ‘orange’ areas are in the Arab sector, where the infection rate is currently at 1.16, but the red list also includes Aderet and the settlement of Kedumim. (Ido Efrati)

9:05 A.M. U.K. approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use

Britain will start vaccinating people against COVID-19 with the Pfizer vaccine next week after the country's regulator approved the jab on Wednesday, health minister Matt Hancock said on Wednesday.

"From early next week we will start a programme of vaccinating people against COVID-19 here in this country," he told Sky News, calling it "fantastic news".

A number of countries have signed deals with Pfizer, including Israel, which ordered eight million doses of the vaccine, enough for four million people. (Reuters

TUESDAY

6:40 P.M. Top health official says Israel is ‘at the start of a third wave’

The head of public health services at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, warned of the rising coronavirus infection rates in Israel, adding that "we already know to recognize that this is the start of a third wave."

"Today for the first time in over a month we have passed the threshold of 1200 verified [COVID cases] per day," said Alroy-Preis, adding that "90 localities in Israel are on a worsening trend." (Haaretz)

1:08 P.M. Gaza Hamas leader tests positive for coronavirus

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a statement from the organization. 

Hamas says that Sinwar feels well and is working as usual while following the Gaza Strip's coronavirus directives. (Jack Khoury)  

>> Click here to read the full report

10:00 A.M. Coronavirus czar: virus has reached state of emergency

Coronavirus Czar Nachman Ash said Tuesday at the end of a daily Health Ministry meeting that Israel's COVID situation constitutes a state of emergency.

"There is a rise in infection, accompanied by a public sentiment that the coronavirus has gone away," Ash said. He added that they must meet to discuss immediate measures that can be presented to the coronavirus cabinet. "In the meantime, we'll continue with intensive steps regarding research, testing and quarantine."

The pace of reopening the Israeli economy has disturbed the Health Ministry, as have the photographs of people crowding in malls during the pilot program reopening this past weekend.

"Mistakes were made in this [pilot program], some of which were our fault," Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish told Kan Bet public radio earlier this week. "We created crowding in these malls."  

The number of confirmed cases is also growing, and in the past week surpassed 1,000 new diagnoses a day, with a weekly average of 938. The number of positive coronavirus tests has also been increasing, and now stands at about 2.5 percent.

The national infection rate is continuing to rise, with each coronavirus carrier infecting 1.17 other people on average. The general population has overtaken the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, which have seen high infection rates during the current wave, with each infected person infecting 1.2 others on average. Carriers among the Arab community infect an average of 1.17 others, and in the ultra-Orthodox community, the average is 1.01. (Ido Efrati)

MONDAY

9:36 P.M. Israel ditches it contact-tracing app, official says

A Health Ministry official told lawmakers that "following the failure of the Magen 2 app to do contact tracing," the ministry decided to stop investing in its development.

However, Israel will be investing in a new app which will provide users with information and at later stages will be used by businesses to identify shoppers via QR codes for contact-tracing.

Developing the new app is expected to take weeks but for it to be effective, officials said, its needs to be mandatory and this requires government backing and legislation. (Jonathan Lis) 

9:30 P.M. Israel amends restrictions on shopping malls

Following a pilot for reopening malls, the government approved new regulations which permit more people inside idividual stores but fewer people inside the mall as a whole. (Ido Efrati)

9:17 P.M. Israel to produce 15 million doses of its vaccine, research institute says

The coronavirus vaccine being developed by the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona will require only one dose, not two like those being developed by Moderna and Pfizer, the center’s director general told lawmakers Monday.

Addressing the Knesset Science and Technology Committee, Prof. Shmuel Shapira said the third and final phase of testing in humans is expected to begin in April, and distribution of the vaccine could start as early as next summer.

He added that three million doses of the vaccine have already been produced and that Israel could produce a total of 15 million. (Ido Efrati)

>> Click here to read the full report

2:30 P.M. Moderna asking FDA for emergency use authorization

Moderna Inc. will ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, it said Monday. The company has said the vaccine is 94 percent effective, and Israel has struck a deal to purchase 2 million doses. (Haaretz)

9:45 A.M. Israel diagnoses 985 new coronavirus cases

The Health Ministry reported on Sunday morning that 985 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed since yesterday. 

There are currently 9,897 active cases nationwide. 263 patients are in serious condition, including 114 of whom are on ventilators. 2,864 people have died. (Haaretz)

SUNDAY

5:30 P.M. Gaza gets ventilators from Kuwait

The World Health Organization delivered 15 ventilators to Gaza hospitals on Sunday amid a spike in COVID-19 infections that has tested the Palestinian territory's under-developed health system.

The donation of the intensive care devices, funded by Kuwait, came a week after local and international public health advisers said hospitals in the enclave could soon become overwhelmed.

"These devices will help medical teams provide better service to patients, but it is not enough," said Abdullatif Alhaj of Gaza's health ministry.

Alhaj said hospitals had suffered acute shortages in oxygen essential in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Gaza has logged nearly 20,000 coronavirus cases and 97 deaths, mostly since August, amid concern of a wider outbreak in the densely populated enclave of 2 million people, many of whom live in poverty.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 342 COVID-19 patients, of whom 108 are in critical condition, are being treated in the territory's hospitals, which have been able to expand their intensive care units to 150 beds over the past week. It said more than half of the territory's 150 ventilators are in use. (Reuters)

3:30 P.M. Health officials warn of serious cases in Arab community 

A high percentage of young Arab COVID patients are hospitalized in serious condition, health officials warn, citing numerous cases of patients in their 40s and 50s. 

"Seriously ill patients of a young age indicate a spreading infection in Arab society," said newly appointed coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash, urging the public to abide by regulations.

In the last week, 2,540 new cases were registered in Arab communities, according to data that does not include cases from mixed Arab-Jewish cities. Nearly half (45 percent) of active patients in Israel are Arab. The death toll in Arab communities stands at 385, out of 2,854 in the general population. (Jack Khoury)  

2:00 P.M. Netanyahu says spike in new cases might halt exit strategy   

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel has seen a "clear increase in infection rates" in recent days, warning that if necessary, the lockdown exit trajectory will be halted and even reversed.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that "our situation is good in comparison to the [other] OECD countries," adding "that we are in danger of losing ground if we do not act immediately." (Noa Landau) 

1:30 P.M. Active cases go up to 9,956, total death toll at 2,854

The last update released by Israel's Health Ministry shows that, out of the 335,022 Israeli residents that tested positive to the coronavirus, 322,212 have recovered. 

Active cases number 9,956, of which 273 are in serious condition and 100 are currently on ventilators. 

The total death toll has reached 2,854. (Haaretz)

8:45 A.M. Israel reopens high schools in communities with low COVID infection rates 

Some 400,000 10th through 12th graders in communities where the coronavirus infection rate is low returned to regular classes on Sunday, according to a decision by the coronavirus cabinet Thursday.

In addition, the education and the finance ministries decided over the weekend that kindergartens, first and second grades will remain in session over the Hanukkah vacation.

High school classes will be limited to 20 students at most. Most of the high schools are to limit themselves to two days of learning a week at the school, and distance learning from home the rest of the time.

Next week, Israel’s 423,000 junior high school students are expected to go back to in-school learning. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

>> Read the full report

SATURDAY

7 P.M. Some 10 Isrotel Dead Sea Hotel employees diagnosed with coronavirus, says Health Ministry 

The Health Ministry announced on Saturday evening that 10 employees at the Isrotel Dead Sea Hotel in Ein Bokek have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

The coronavirus tests and diagnoses were made as part of the "Green Island" program, which surveys hotel workers in the Dead Sea region. In the wake of the diagnoses, the Health Ministry has decided to open an epidemiological investigation, and the hotel's operations have been suspended until the investigation draws to a close. The ministry urges guests of the hotel who were there from Sunday on to get tested. (Haaretz).   

5:10 P.M. Gaza Health Ministry reports increase in active cases, with intensive care unites 75 percent full 

Gaza’s Health Ministry reported on Saturday afternoon that the number of coronavirus patients in serious condition has reached 109, and that intensive care units are 75 percent full, with both numbers expected to rise. The ministry also reported that over the past 24 hours, 827 new cases were diagnosed, bringing the total number of active cases to 8,626. Some 334 people are hospitalzed, with 109 people on ventilators. The death toll currently stands at 90. 

On Saturday afternoon, Red Cross vehicles drove around the Gaza Strip, calling on the public to obey security instructions. (Jack Khoury)

FRIDAY

7:00 P.M. Government considering requiring teachers be tested before they return to work

The Health Ministry is examining the possibility of requiring teachers to be tested for the coronavirus before they can go back to work, at the request of the coronavirus cabinet. The ministry is also considering authorizing school principals and Education Ministry inspectors to prevent staff from returning to preschools and schools if they have not been tested, ministry sources said. Teachers unions are expected to oppose such a step.

The vast majority of teachers and preschool teacher aides who recently returned to work have not been tested, raising concerns in the Health Ministry. On Wednesday, Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy said the use of testing “has not been optimal so far. Less than 10,000 [teachers] were tested – an eighth of the potential.” Levy added that 2.1 percent of educational staff who have been tested were found to be positive. (Ido Efrati)

>> Read the full report

4:30 P.M. More towns in north declared restricted areas or have restricted status extended

Authorities declared several Arab localities as restricted zones and extended the restricted status of others on Friday. The city of Umm al-Fahm and the town of Yafa near Nazareth have been made restricted zones for five days, from November 28 until December 3. The restricted status in the town of Majf al-Kurum was extended for another two days, as was that in Kafr Manda, both located in the Galilee area. The city of Arraba, also in the Galilee, has its status extended by one day. The ministerial committee that makes decisions on the declaration of restricted zones also changed the policy for the maximum distance people within restricted areas can travel from home, setting it at 500 meters instead of the previous kilometer. (Noa Landau)

1:23 P.M. 'As if there was no coronavirus' | Israelis throng malls, authorities struggle to enforce rules

There were queues in front of every store as Israelis flocked to the fifteen malls granted a temporary license to reopen on Friday. Stewards employed by the shopping centers, as well as local authorities staff were struggling to enforce strict social distancing rules, as shoppers stood in line for hours in order to drip-feed into chain stores.

Israel also marks Black Friday, and between 9 A.M. and 12 A.M., 400 million shekels ($120 million) were recorded nationally in credit card sales. This is only ten percent down on last year, and a little above sales from 2018. Still, owners deplored the government's policy, arguing that only reopening fifteen indoor malls was bound to create overcrowding.

"For a long time, the Health Ministry, which does not understand a thing about trade, has insisted on making fateful decisions," said Shahar Turgeman, chairman of the Association of Retail, Fashion and Restaurant Chains. "We call on the Israeli government to open all trade immediately according to purple badge rules, and remove the limit of ten people per store," he added. (Liat Levy and Israel Fisher)

12:34 P.M. Pre-schools, first and second grade to remain open over Hanukah holiday, Israeli government announces

The Education Ministry and the Treasury agreed to implement the plan, which will see schools operate on reduced hours during the week of the holiday, from December 13 to December 18. Staff will be sourced from local authorities, after the teachers' union refused to caution bringing people to work during holidays. 

The scheme should cost around 150 million shekels (around $45 million), which will be allocated from a broader aid package to the school system. Parents will also contribute, on a sliding scale depending on their catchment area and income. The aim is to alleviate the financial burden of childcare for working parents, "leading to savings of hundreds of shekels per child," a joint statement by the two ministries said. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

10:00 A.M. Fifteen malls reopen as part of government pilot

Nine malls were chosen by lottery to reopen Friday as part of a government pilot that will attempt to test the ability of shopping centers safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The nine malls chosen are, in the Jerusalem area: Big Fashion in Beit Shemesh, Center 1 in Jerusalem and the Arad mall, in the city of the same name; in the central part of the country: Herzliya's Seven Stars, Ramat Gan's M Haderech and Hod Hasharon's Sharonim malls; and in the north: Cinemall in Haifa, Arena in Nahariyya and Mall One in Nof HaGalil, just outside of Nazareth.  

Another six malls – those belonging to the Azrieli group in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and those belonging to the Melisron group in Be'er Sheva, Petah Tikva and Kiryat Bialik – also reopened.

In order to reopen, the malls were required to appoint attendants to remind guests to abide by regulations, including mask wearing and social distancing. The malls are required to have an electronic registration system that keeps track of the number of people in the facility, though people are not required to provide identifying information. One person is allowed in for every seven square meters of space. Malls are required to avoid gatherings, in particular, lines at the front of stores. Employees and shop owners must be briefed on the regulations.

Following the pilot period, and an assessment of the results, the cabinet will decide when and in what manner all the malls will be allowed to open. (TheMarker)

THURSDAY

10:00 P.M. COVID czar says third lockdown is 'on the agenda'

Israel's new coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said on that a third lockdown is "Definitely on the agenda." He added that "the data is worrying. The basic reproduction number of infection is higher than 1, the daily number of patients is also higher than desired and today we have reached a thousand."

However, he added: "We are preparing vigorously to lead a nationwide vaccination campaign, and at the end I hope we can declare that the people of Israel have won the fight against the coronavirus, but it will take some more time."

In a statement to the media, Ash clarified that "we have more difficult days ahead" and assumed that "the coronavirus will be here in the coming year" and that "an effective vaccination of the population will be at best around mid-2021, and at worst towards the end of next year."

According to Ash, "In the coming days, we will provide more than a million serological tests. Based on the antibody tests, we will know who is not at risk of infection, and they will receive a green passport ... The passport will also be given to those who have recovered from the disease. It can be said that the traffic light plan will not only be for areas but also for people." (Ido Efrati)

9:45 P.M. Israel diagnoses over 1,000 cases in a day

The number of total coronavirus cases has risen by 1,022 since Wednesday, the first time the number of cases in a day rises above 1,000 in Israel since November 16.

There are currently 9,427 active cases nationwide, of whom 276 patients are in serious condition, including 114 who are on ventilators.

Three patients died, raising the death toll to 2,829. (Haaretz)

12:08 Netanyahu visits vaccine logistics center, says storage won't be a problem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Teva Pharmaceuticals' logistics center on Thursday in the town of Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines would be stored and distributed when Israel acquires them, saying that the facility can store vaccines in low temperatures.

Pfizer's vaccine, which the company has said is highly effective, must be stored at the ultra-cold temperature of  minus 70 degrees Celsius, while Moderna's must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius, about the temperature of a normal freezer.

"From what I see here today, we have no logistical limitation to store, freeze and distribute these vaccines," Netanyahu said. "This is very important news." (Noa Landau)  

8:35 A.M. Active cases continue to rise, reach three-week record

The number of total coronavirus cases has risen by 402 since Wednesday, with the number of active cases standing at 9,422. This is the biggest number of active cases in Israel since November 4.

There are 282 patients in serious condition – a record low since late July – including 122 who are on ventilators.

The death toll remains at 2,826. (Haaretz)

12:34 A.M. Cabinet approves pilot to open markets, 15 shopping malls starting Friday

The coronavirus cabinet approved a one-week pilot scheme to open 15 shopping malls starting Friday. The cabinet will discuss opening more malls throughout the country after reviewing COVID statistics gathered during this week.

As part of the pilot, seven museums, as well as outdoor markets, will open, while adhering to coronavirus restrictions. (Noa Landau)

12:28 A.M. More Arab communities declared as restricted areas to curb COVID infection rates  

The Ministerial Committee for Restricted Areas declared two neighborhoods in Kuseife, one neighborhood in Hura and Reineh as restricted areas starting Thursday in a bid to curb coronavirus infection rates there.

In addition, the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth will remain a restricted zone until December 1, as well as the Druze village of Isfiya until November 28. (Noa Landau)

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