Coronavirus: Israel Seeks to Put All Quarantined Arrivals Under Surveillance

Israel starts vaccinating Palestinian workers ■ Israeli pandemic czar says fourth lockdown 'possible' before election ■ Israel, Austria and Denmark to set up joint coronavirus vaccine R&D fund

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The arrivals hall at Ben Gurion Airport this week.
The arrivals hall at Ben Gurion Airport this week.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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Israel is in the midst of an extensive vaccination campaign, and is beginning to see a drop in COVID infections and severe cases. Israel exited its third nationwide lockdown, but inbound and outbound flights remain suspended except for special cases. So far, 5,821 Israelis have died of the virus.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have received 30,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by Israel. It may take a while still for a mass vaccination campaign to get under way, and many months for it to reach enough members of the population. 1,741 people have died so far in the West Bank, while 555 have died in Gaza.

>> How many have already been vaccinated

>> Israel fears South African strain spreading beyond control

>> Israel to reopen more schools, cafes on Sunday


7:15 P.M. Israel vaccinates 700 Palestinian workers as inoculation campaign commences

Israel's pilot program to inoculate Palestinian workers in Israel was launched successfully on Thursday, with 700 laborers from the West Bank receiving a shot against the virus. 

The Palestinians, all of whom have Israeli work permits, were vaccinated at the checkpoint at Sha'ar Efraim.

Israel announced on Sunday that it will allocate 120,000 Moderna vaccines for Palestinian workers.  The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said the inoculations will take place at compounds placed at eight checkpoints in the West Bank and in four settlements. (Hagar Shezaf)

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5:17 P.M. Netanyahu says Israel, Austria and Denmark will set up joint R&D vaccine fund

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel, Austria and Denmark will establish a joint fund for research and development of COVID-19 vaccines.

"We are going to do a joint research and development fund and discuss ... the possibility of joint investment in production facilities for vaccines," he told reporters, with Austria's chancellor and Denmark's prime minister at his side. (Reuters)

'We shattered the paradigm, and the Israeli right-wing is going to win.' LISTEN to Election Overdose

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4:00 P.M.  After Pressure, Pfizer CEO postpones Israel visit until after election

The CEO of Pfizer, the manufacturer of the main coronavirus vaccine used in Israel, has delayed his planned visit to Israel following warnings that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may exploit the visit for his campaign ahead of Israel's March 23 election.

Last week, Senior Israeli scientists, doctors and academics wrote letters urging the CEO Albert Bourla of Pfizer to postpone his visit due to the possible political ramifications.

Albert Bourla was scheduled to arrive in Israel on March 8 at the invitation of Netanyahu. The trip had been coordinated by the National Security Council. Pfizer has committed to providing Israel with at least 10 million doses of the vaccine. So far, about 7.5 million Pfizer doses have been given to Israelis. (Jonathan Lis and Judy Maltz)

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2:35 P.M. Israel seeks to place every returning citizen under surveillance

The Israeli government has proposed legislation that will allow authorities to use electronic surveillance bracelets and other technologies to track those returning to Israel during their respective quarantine periods. 

The measure is intended to replace the current practice of sending arrivals to quarantine hotels. However, the bill would also allow the authorities to send to a coronavirus hotel anyone who would prefer to opt out of the surveillance mechanisms or who cannot meet the conditions for quarantining at home.

Under the terms of the proposed legislation, any information collected will be destroyed in real-time, unless the subject of surveillance violates quarantine. In cases of breach, information will be collected and stored in a database for two weeks to a month, as well as transferred to the authorities. 

The bill will be put to a vote in an expedited procedure on Monday.  Discussions in the Knesset's consitutional committee revealed that the objective of the quarantine hotels have been undermined by people who have been authorized to quarantine at home and have violated the terms of their isolation. (Jonathan Lis)

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1 P.M. Israel's Supreme Court to hear petition against controversial law allowing details of unvaccinated people to be transferred to local authorities, Education and Welfare Ministries

Israel's Supreme Court decided on Thursday that it will hear a petition against the recently enacted and controversial law allowing details of unvaccinated people to be transferred to local authorities and the Welfare and Education Ministries.

The petitioners, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights, will argue that the purpose of the law is proper – to encourage immunization – but that the means chosen are "extreme and disproportionate" and claim that the legislation was "hastily adopted, in a rickety and flawed proceeding." They claim that "there are many effective alternatives for encouraging immunization that do not involve a violation of constitutional rights and the transfer of lists of names ... The damage of such a move in terms of invasion of privacy even clearly outweighs the marginal benefit that may be found with difficulty."

The hearing is scheduled to take place on Tuesday and a three-judge panel will preside over the matter, under the helm of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut. (Netael Bandel and Jonathan Lis)

11:25 A.M. Number of seriously ill and hospitalized continues to decline 

The latest figures published by Israel’s Health Ministry indicates a continual decline this week of the number of hospitalized and seriously ill COVID patients. There are currently 1,149 hospitalized COVID patients, of whom 699 are in serious condition and 224 are on ventilators. 

There were 4,143 new COVID cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Israel to 42,276. The death toll currently stands at 5,815. (Haaretz)

7:30 A.M. The economy is set to reopen on Sunday: Is Israel ready for the risk?

The next stage of reopening Israel's economy on Sunday will be the most extensive since the third lockdown began in late December. It will also be the most daring of them – since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously urged Israelis last spring to “have fun,” the government hasn’t attempted such a broad loosening of pandemic restrictions.

A partial list includes the return of in-person instruction for all grades at most schools, outdoor dining at cafes and restaurants (and, for patrons with a “green badge,” indoors too) as well as the reopening of hotels, event halls and convention centers. Gatherings of up to 20 people indoors and 50 outdoors will be permitted, including live performances for green-badge attendees. Election rallies will also be allowed, with up to 300 indoors and 500 outdoors, for the vaccinated and recovered COVID-19 patients.

The timing, less than three weeks before Election Day, has led many to think the reopening is a campaign ploy that could lead Israel straight into lockdown No. 4. Israel’s R-number is hovering around 1, and about 730 severely ill COVID-19 patients are still hospitalized. (Ronny Linder)

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6:40 A.M. Doctors did their best, but politicians led Israel straight into a lose-lose COVID crisis

The news last week that the United States had suffered 500,000 coronavirus deaths was accompanied by commentary noting that the toll was higher than the combined American death toll from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. That was a dramatic comparison but an unfounded one: Every year more people die of natural causes than in war. It would be fairer to compare the COVID toll to deaths from natural causes.

There’s no comparison between the 5,700 Israelis who have died from the coronavirus thus far and the 2,700 soldiers killed in the Yom Kippur War. The Yom Kippur dead were mostly young people, making their mortality rate many times higher than for their age group than in normal times.

By comparison, the 5,700 who have died as a result of COVID-19 should be measured against Israel’s ordinary annual mortality rate. That figure for 2020 was 48,688, as compared to 45,980 for 2019. That amounts to a 5.9-percent increase. (Meirav Arlosoroff)

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6:15 A.M. What’s the (New) Deal With Flights to and From Israel? Latest COVID Rules Explained

Israel is lifting some of the restrictions it has put on travel to and from the country, in an attempt to stem the spread of variants of the coronavirus.

Foreign visitors remain barred, but many more Israelis wishing to come home will be able to do so, although there will be some rules to follow.

Until now, all those entering the country had to go into government-run quarantine facilities, dubbed coronavirus hotels. A new plan allowing people to wear electronic bracelets and go into home quarantine was rushed through for approval by authorities, but neither system has enough resources to deal with incoming travelers. This means that for an as yet undertermined amount of time, people will be returning into home quarantine with little supervision. (Ido Efrati, Jonathan Lis and Rina Rozenberg Kandel)

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6 A.M. Israel fears South African COVID strain spreading beyond control

Israeli efforts to stop the spread of the South African variant of the coronavirus, which included the shut down of Ben-Gurion International Airport last month, have brought little results, data shows.

Over 450 cases of the infection have been diagnosed so far in Israel, and health professionals estimate that dozens more are being infected each day.

The Health Ministry’s committees on vaccinations and the pandemic said two weeks ago that the variant was spreading beyond control.

The focus on variants was supposed to prevent a scenario in which Israel would be forced to deal with a more infectious and virulent strain of the coronavirus that would turn out to be less sensitive to the Pfizer vaccine. But ministry experts had cautioned that shutting the airport woult not prevent the strain from reaching the country. (Ido Efrati)

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7:11 P.M. Israel hopes to vaccinate teenagers by May, pandemic czar says

"We are eagerly awaiting the completion of Pfizer's research and FDA approval, but I hope we can vaccinate children aged 12 to 16," by April or May, coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash said in an interview on Channel 12 News.

Ash also said authorities were considering the introduction of speed tests "in the coming weeks." (Ido Efrati)

7:10 P.M. Fourth lockdown 'possible,' says coronavirus czar 

“We will need to see in another week or two what is happening with the data," Prof. Nachman Ash told 103 FM radio on, saying a rise in infections could come as a result of reopening the economy.

The fourth lockdown could even come before the election, on March 23, Ash said. (Ido Efrati)

7:04 P.M. Israeli ultra-Orthodox party threatens to stop cooperation with police

The legislators of United Torah Judaism said Wednesday they would not cooperate with the police and would reexamine its cooperation with the government and the coronavirus cabinet, in protest at the suspension of public transportation to and from Jerusalem on Sunday for the Purim holiday.

“The United Torah Judaism Knesset caucus will not cooperate with the Israel Police and asks the heads of the Haredi authorities to take this step as well,” the party said in a statement. “The caucus will consult with the great rabbis on cooperation with the resolutions of the cabinet and of the coronavirus cabinet, which are repeatedly biased against the Haredi public, including fear of the imposition of a lockdown during Passover.”

The lawmakers called on the police to apologize for suggesting, in a work plan drafted before the Purim holiday, that many celebrants in Jerusalem might drink to excess, potentially causing outbursts of violence in a few of the city’s Haredi neighborhoods. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

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5:54 P.M. First official data shows unvaccinated make up majority of Israel's COVID deaths

The Health Ministry has for the first time released a breakdown of COVID-19 deaths based on the deceased individuals’ level of vaccination, showing that in February, 84 percent of patients who died had not been vaccinated at all or had received just the first of the two required shots. (Ido Efrati)

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3:05 P.M. Israel unlikely to extend use of quarantine facilities for arrivals, leaving potential gap before new measure implemented

The Knesset is unlikely to approve extending the use of quarantine facilities for Israelis arriving internationally beyond Sunday, although the Health Ministry will not have time to bring forward a bill to allow the use of electronic bracelets instead, according to Knesset sources.

The Health Ministry is currently examining alternative measures for tracking arrivals during quarantine, including through a cellphone app.

The electronic bracelet program would exempt Israelis returning home from abroad from being sent to a state-run quarantine facility. So far, incoming passengers have been forced to stay at state-run quarantine facilities for up to two weeks to make sure they are virus-free before they can move around freely. (Jonathan Lis)‎

2:40 P.M. Vaccination of Palestinians who work in Israel or settlements to begin next week

The Health Ministry and military will begin vaccinating Palestinians who have a valid permit to work in Israel and West Bank settlements on Sunday, the ministry said Wednesday. There will be eight vaccination facilities for Palestinians working in Israel, which will be set up at checkpoints, and four for those working in settlements, which will be set up inside settlements, it said, and second doses are scheduled to begin on April 4. The cabinet agreed last month to allow the vaccination of Palestinian workers, after it emerged that during the country’s third lockdown, some 30,000 Palestinians were forced to sleep in Israel on a daily basis without being able to get vaccinated. (Ido Efrati)

12:28 P.M. Insufficient COVID enforcement at ultra-Orthodox institutions, state data shows

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox educational institutions have opened daily during Israel's third lockdown in violation of coronavirus restrictions, Haaretz has found.

Nevertheless, law enforcement authorities have fined only 77 Haredi institutions, according to data the state presented before the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.

The data, disclosed following a petition by The Israel Religious Action Center, indicates insufficient enforcement of COVID emergency regulations.

Figures show that 77 ultra-Orthodox schools were fined during the lockdown, compared to 91 schools that are secular, five that are Arab and two labeled as “uncategorized.” These numbers are likely imprecise, however: the total number of fines for schools in towns that are overwhelmingly or strongly ultra-Orthodox is higher than that. (Josh Breiner, Netael Bandel)

10:42 A.M. Israel registered over 4,000 new cases on Tuesday

Israel’s Health Ministry reported an incremental increase in coronavirus infections, with 4,265 new cases on Tuesday representing a peak in daily cases in the last week. 

The total number of active COVID-19 cases in Israel currently stands at 42,733.

However, the number of seriously ill patients also fell to a 10 week low of 717, with 266 patients in a critical condition and 224 patients on ventilators. 

The number of dead from the virus reached 5,797. (Haaretz)

10:30 A.M. 90% of Israelis 50 and over are vaccinated or recovered, health minister says 

Ninety percent of Israelis aged 50 and older have been vaccinated against the coronavirus or recovered from it, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

About three-quarters of this population are currently eligible for a certificate of vaccination or recovery, according to Edelstein. Israel has given 52 percent of its population – 4,895,320 people – a dose of the vaccine, with 32 percent having also received their second one. 

Earlier Wednesday, data released by the Health Ministry showed the lowest number of seriously ill patients in 10 weeks. The Health Ministry meanwhile said on Tuesday that three members of a family were the country’s first identified cases of the new COVID strain from New York. (Haaretz)

9:06 A.M. Israel says number of seriously ill patients at two-month low

The number of seriously ill patients that has led in the past two months to overwhelmed and overcrowded hospitals has now dropped to a 10 week low.

According to Health Ministry data, on Tuesday there were 704 seriously ill patients, with 265 in critical condition and 226 on ventilators.

The decline comes on the heels of Israel's continuing vaccination campaign, with 4.8 million people (51.7 percent of the population) receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. In total, 3.49 million (37.5 percent) have been fully inoculated against coronavirus. (Haaretz)

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1:34 A.M. Palestinian NGOs call to probe claims officials got special access to COVID caccine

West Bank-based NGOs have called for an investigation of senior Palestinian officials who allegedly received special access to coronavirus vaccines, while most Palestinians still await the promised arrivals of the inoculations. 

The organizations are asking that Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government establish a committee of inquiry to examine the distribution of vaccine in the initial phase.

They also request to establish a committee of experts that will draft a clear and transparent plan for access to vaccinations. (Amira Hass)

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