Israel Approves Cellphone Tracking for Coronavirus Patients as Cases Rise to 213

Israel on lockdown: Public gatherings of over 10 people banned, cafés and restaurants shut ■ Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock closed ■ Attorney general approves tracking phones of coronavirus patients

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Coronavirus: A woman wearing a mask in Tel Aviv, March 15, 2020.
Coronavirus: A woman wearing a mask in Tel Aviv, March 15, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

>> Click here for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak

As the highly contagious novel coronavirus spreads around the world, Israel and the Palestinian Authority struggle to contain a local outbreak that has virtually halted air traffic in and out of Israel, led to school closures and tens of thousands of people entering quarantine.

The government approved the tracking of cellphones by the Shin Bet security service in order to inform people who were unwittingly close to someone diagnosed with the virus during the two weeks prior to the diagnosis. 

213 Israelis have so far tested positive for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, with 165 of cases being mild; thousands have been placed in isolation; four have recovered. In the West Bank, 38 cases have been diagnosed so far

■ Israeli government shutters cultural and recreational establishments as well as schools and universities, bans indoor gatherings of over 10 people

■ Netanyahu, who was tested for the virus, was set to appear before court hearing on Tuesday. But the courts announced on Sunday that the trial will be pushed back by two months.

Netanyahu calls on Gantz to form "emergency unity government" while Arab party back Gantz for PM. Netanyahu's trial is postponed until May, after his Justice Minister freezes courts activity.

■ All foreigners are not to be allowed into Israel, unless they can prove they are able to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival. Read the full guide for tourists and Israelis

LIVE UPDATES:

12:30 A.M. Rabbis agree to Netanyahu's offer to study Torah in groups of up to 10 students

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism party, and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the head of the Ponevezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak, agreed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's suggestion that Torah study will be conducted in groups of up to 10 students as part of the efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Aaron Rabinowitz) 

SUNDAY

A man walks by emptied shelves at a supermarket in Haifa, March 14, 2020Credit: Rami Shllush

10:24 P.M. Israeli military says four coronavirus patients are soldiers, over 2,700 servicemen in isolation

The military says four of the country's coronavirus cases are soldiers. According to military figures, 2,706 servicemen and 75 military employees are in isolation. Most of these are people who were on vacation abroad, and some had been in contact with people diagnosed with the virus. (Yaniv Kubovich)

10:20 P.M. Director of hospital ward tests positive

The director of a ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv has tested positive for the virus. The hospital said the doctor was put into quarantine after she got a high fever and was tested. Patients in the ward were tested, while those who had already been released were located. Staff who were in contact with the doctor have gone into quarantine. (Ido Efrati)

9:08 P.M. Over 175,000 foreign nationals left Israel in past two weeks

176,464 foreign nationals left Israel over the past two weeks, according to the Population and Immigration Authority. Over 700 foreign residents have been denied entry since Friday, the authority said. The same period saw 185,964 Israelis enter the country. (Lee Yaron)

8:55 P.M. Annual Holocaust remembrace ceremony to take place without audience

Israel's annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony at Yad Vashem will be held without an audience. It will be pre-recorded and given to the media for broadcast. (Ofer Aderet)

7:50 P.M. Israel approves emergency measures allowing Shin Bet to track phones

The government has approved emergency measures allowing the Shin Bet to track the cellphones of those infected with the virus and those who were around them in the 14 days preceding their diagnoses, in order to inform them via text message that they must enter home quarantine. The approval will be valid only during the coronavirus crisis and for 30 days, at the end of which the information will be entirely deleted. The Shin Bet will not be allowed to use the data for any other purposes, and it will be given to the Health Ministry immediately. Violating these instructions will be considered a criminal offense. A senior official in the Justice Ministry tells Haaretz that this means the Shin Bet can track phones without a court order. (Noa Landau)

7:38 P.M. Netanyahu tests negative for virus

Netanyahu and those around him have received test results and none were found positive. (Noa Landau)

6:10 P.M. Quarter of Israeli town's residents in home quarantine

About a quarter of the residents of the town of Kiryat Ye'arim near Abu Gosh – some 1,600 people – are in home quarantine, after a seven-person family was diagnosed. According to the mayor, the family's children had been attending school and Purim fairs, while the father had visited several synagogues. Only about 30 tests have been conducted in the town, for those who have developed symptoms. (Aaron Rabinovitz)

5:59 P.M. Confirmed cases in Israel rise to 213

The number of confirmed cases in Israel has risen to 213. Two are in serious condition, 12 are in moderate condition, and four have been released after recovery. The rest are mildly affected. (Ido Efrati)

5:34 P.M. Knesset swearing-in to take place in 40 rounds of three lawmakers each

The process of swearing in the 120 members of Knesset elected this month will take place in 40 rounds of three lawmakers each, to ensure that no more than 10 people are present at a time. (Jonathan Lis)

5:47 P.M. Police say 52 cases opened over quarantine violations this month

Police have opened 52 cases against people who allegedly violated their home quarantine since the beginning of March, according to a police statement. Police also began seven investigations on Sunday over suspected dissemination of false information. (Haaretz)

4:42 P.M. Israeli government discussing using Shin Bet to track infected

The government is discussing using the Shin Bet security service to track citizens infected with the virus. Ministers Gilad Erdan, Amir Ohana, Bezalel Smotrich, and Ze'ev Elkin, in addition to Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri, are currently establishing which restrictions to apply to the Shin Bet as part of the monitoring plan, with some ministers expressing doubts.

Officials are expected to hold a videoconference at 5:30 P.M. to approve the restrictions that are decided upon. Initially, officials planned to use cellphone tracking to monitor the movements of those diagnosed and others who were near them during the time of infection in order to find out the possible "routes" by which the virus is spreading.

However, officials are now leaning toward using the tracking information only for sending text messages with self-quarantine instructions to those suspected of infection. The information is not supposed to be saved or used for any other purpose. (Noa Landau)

4:21 P.M. Military opens joint call center with emergency services

The military's Home Front Command has teamed up with Magen David Adom for an information center meant for those in home quarantine who develop a high fever, a cough or difficult breathing. The center is staffed 24 hours a day, according ot the military. (Yaniv Kubovich)

3:50 P.M. Netanyahu tested for virus

Prime Minister Netanyahu and others close to him have been tested for the virus on the instructions of the deputy director-general for security and emergencies at the Prime Minister's Office. None of those tested displayed symptoms. (Noa Landau)

12:45 P.M. Coronavirus patients in good condition will be hospitalized in hotels

The health system is expanding its course of dealing with coronavirus patients, preparing to hospitalize some coronavirus patients in hotels.

The protocol, which is expected to begin on Monday at four hotels in northern and southern Israel, is designed to prevent those infected prematurely returning to the community and minimize further outbreaks near the patients. The Israeli military's Home Front Command will assist with the plans. (Ido Efrati)

12:44 P.M. Iran's death toll from coronavirus reaches 724, health official says

Iran's death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 724, with 113 new deaths in the past 24 hours, an Iranian health official tweeted on Sunday, adding that some 13,938 people have been infected across the country.

"In the past 24 hours, 1,209 new cases have been confirmed ... with 113 deaths in the past 24 hours, the death toll has reached 724," Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran's health minister, tweeted. (Reuters)

11:08 A.M. Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of Rock closed

Muslim prayers will be held in open areas around the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of Rock compound as the holy site was shut amid increasing coronavirus precautions, the Islamic Waqf announced Sunday. (Haaretz/Reuters)

10:40 A.M. Jordan announces six new cases of coronavirus

Jordan confirmed six new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, including one from an American tourist coming from Egypt, the minister of health said.

The kingdom had previously reported only one case of the virus. It took measures to fight the outbreak on Saturday, including a tighter lockdown that closes all borders and bans all incoming and outgoing flights as of Tuesday. (Reuters)

9:00 A.M. Netanyahu trial to be delayed by two months

In the very early hours of Sunday, Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana confirmed that emergency measures will be put in place to counter the spread of coronavirus, affecting the workings of Israel's courts. The courts later confirmed the trial will not start as planned on March 17, and will be pushed back to May 24.

On Thursday, Ohana, a close ally of Netanyahu, expanded his powers to freeze court activity in case of escalation in coronavirus cases in Israel. (Netael Bandel)

Read Netael Bandel's full story

8:30 A.M. Taiwanese official to Haaretz: We do not monitor movements of civilians

"Taiwan's security authorities are not actually monitoring civilians to track the virus, we have privacy laws against it," a Taiwanese embassy official told Haaretz.

His remarks contradict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement on Saturday night that the use of technology to track coronavirus patients is similar to what is successfully carried out in Taiwan. (Noa Landau)

8:20 A.M. Number of coronavirus cases in Israel reaches 200

Israel's Health Ministry announced the number of corona infections had risen to 200, two of them in serious condition and 11 in moderate condition. At least 178 are in mild condition, of which 34 patients are in their homes. (Ido Efrati)

7:34 A.M. Following the release of new emergency measures, Health Ministry releases complete list of instructions

• All educational institutions will close, regardless of the number of students. This includes special education, boarding schools, daycare centers, pre-school, after school activities and summer camps

• Gatherings of over ten people are prohibited

• More than two people driving in a vehicle should be avoided

• Non-essential public transport should be avoided. As of Tuesday, cash payment on public transport will be stopped in order to reduce passenger-driver contact

• Malls to close. Supermarkets, food stores and pharmacies will remain open

• Clubs, bars, pubs, restaurants to close (except takeaways)

• Leisure venues will close, a list that includes everything from theaters and water parks, to event venues

• Mikvahs for men and bathhouses will be closed as will businesses providing non-medical treatment

• Prayer and religious ceremonies will be conducted in groups of up to ten people, maintaining a two-meter distance between people and no more than two groups at a time

• Visits to old age and welfare homes are prohibited

• Workers should be encouraged to work from home. At this time, people will be able to continue working as long as they keep a distance of at least two meters

1.50 A.M. Justice minister announces emergency over virus, Netanyahu trial could be postponed

Justice Minister Amir Ohana has announced that emergency measures will be taken affecting the workings of Israel's courts, in order to counter the spread of coronavirus. The restrictions could lead to a postponement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trial, currently slated to begin Tuesday. (Netael Bandel)

1:30 A.M. Trump tests negative for coronavirus

President Donald Trump has tested negative for coronavirus, the president's physician, Sean Conley, said in a statement on Saturday. Trump was tested because he met with a Brazilian delegation last week, at least one member of which has since tested positive. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration has extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland to try to slow the spread of a pandemic. (Reuters)

1:20 A.M. Israel Health Ministry’s refusal to ok tests leads to dumping of samples

Coronavirus samples from at-risk patients with symptoms are being thrown away without being tested because of the Health Ministry’s refusal to approve testing in many cases, doctors tell Haaretz. (Ido Efrati)

SATURDAY

10:15 P.M. IDF issue emergency mobilization order for reservists

An emergency order was issued to call up reservists, mainly officers from Home Front command and the medical corps, in order to combat the coronavirus outbreak. (Yaniv Kubovich)

9:47 P.M. Attorney General okays use of cellphone tracking to keep tabs on patients

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit approved the use of cyber measures to track the phones of coronavirus patients in Israel. This will be done by the Israel Police under the supervision of the Justice Ministry.

The Privacy Protection Authority opposed the move, claiming it was too extreme. However, the department of the Justice Ministry that deals with legislation said the decision is legal under a state of emergency.

A senior law enforcement official said the police has already used cellular geolocation technology to trace and verify patients’ whereabouts before they tested positive for coronavirus.

According to the official, the technology was used in the case of an early patient in Israel who had returned from Italy and refused to collaborate with authorities during the epidemiological investigation.(Netael Bandel and Josh Breiner)

9:19 P.M. Israel to shut down cultural establishments

Israel will shut down cultural establishments, including cafes, restaurants, and all leisure venues, as part of its efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Saturday.

"We are fighting a war against an invisible enemy. We can defeat the virus, but it requires a new life routine," Netanyahu said.

The premier said he asked the Justice Ministry to approve the use to cyber measures to track people who came in contact with known carriers of the virus, referring to it as "technological means" that Israel has used in the past to combat terror.

Netanyahu stressed that essential services, including supermarkets and banks, will remain open and fully stocked.

He also called on the public to avoid unnecessary travel and recommended that those who can to work from home, but stopped short of telling people to stay out of work, instead leaving the decision to individual executives.

Shai Babad, director general of the Finance Ministry, announced the closures of all pre-schools and special education programs, joining schools and universities.

Gatherings of more than 10 people will not be allowed from Sunday morning.

The executive is still stressing people should stay more than two meters away from each other, and exercise strict personal hygiene. (Noa Landau)

9:01 P.M. Lieberman calls for unity government between Kahol Lavan and Likud

The Yisrael Beiteinu leader called for a unity government composed of only the two largest parties, with outside support from his faction "in order to facilitate decision making" as the country deals with the coronavirus outbreak. (Jonathan Lis)

8:42 P.M. Another 15 people test positive to COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in Israel to 193

There has been an increase of 50 in the last day. (Ido Efrati

8:28 P.M. Netanyahu pushes statement on coronavirus prevention steps to 9 P.M.

The speech was reportedly pushed back because discussions on the next steps in curbing the spread of the virus are still ongoing. (Noa Landau)

8:10 P.M. Knesset inauguration to go ahead as planned, speaker says

The induction of the new Israeli parliament, due to take place on Monday, will go ahead as planned, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein said, although the way in which it will be done has yet to be decided.

"The importance of parliamentary oversight during a crisis is undeniable, and that is the main purpose of the Knesset," Edelstein said.

8:08 P.M. Israeli government urged to publish coronavirus prevention guidelines in Arabic

An emergency committee made up of Knesset representatives from the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, as well as local community leaders and medical experts have asked the governmnent to publish coronavirus prevention materials in Arabic. 

The government should make sure the information will be disseminated on all channels and platforms, they added. (Jack Khoury)

7:51 P.M. Gaza authorities closes border crossings with Israel, Egypt

Palestinian authorities in Gaza announce that crossings will now be closed to people coming into the coastal enclave. 

Travellers coming through the Rafah crossing from Egypt were until now put in isolation. There have not been any confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in Gaza yet, but both Palestinians and Israelis are worried of the potential consequences of an outbreak, which could be disastrous due to Gaza's desolate healthcare system. (Jack Khoury)

>> Read Haaretz's coverage of a potential outbreak in Gaza

6:53 P.M. Health Ministry says number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbs to 178

These include 165 mild cases, 11 moderate and 2 severe. (Haaretz)

6:52 P.M. Netanyahu begins discussions, to give statement at 8:30 P.M.

A decision is expected on which businesses will be ordered to close, and what kind of level of general confinement Israelis will be required to keep as the government boosts its coronavirus response.

Saturday's decision is expected to include minimizing market activity, with an emphasis on recreational venues such as restaurants and bars, as well as limitations on public transporation and possibly shuttering preschools, in an attempt to maintain social distance.

Sources familiar with the discussions stressed that a complete shutdown or a closure are not on the table, and that supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open under any scenario. (Noa Landau)

6:28 P.M. Defense establishment ordered to prepare for state of emergency

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett discussed measures to be put in place in case the government declares a state of emergency, a statement said.

This would include the setup and management of mass joint isolation facilities, in coordination with Home Front Command and the Health Ministry. (Yaniv Kubovich)

6:23 P.M. Palestinians suspend prayers at mosques, churches; Al-Aqsa remains open

The Palestinian Authority suspended prayers in mosques and churches in the occupied West Bank on Saturday to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Religious authorities have so far kept Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque, which is Islam's third holiest site, open for prayers. The Waqf council reassured worshippers in a statement this week that the entire compound, including its golden Dome of the Rock shrine, was being "sterilised continuously." (Reuters)

6:01 P.M. Public Security Ministry says in any case, essential businesses to remain open

"According to all scenarios presented to the police and [other public security] officers, all essential businesses, such as food stores, pharmacies and more, will remain open and available to the general public," Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said. 

The minister is expected to ask the government to approve emergency regulations authorizing police officers as well as municipal inspectors to impose fines on businesses that remain open contrary to the directives. (Josh Breiner)

5:10 P.M. Israel to only declare a limited shutdown, sources say

The new set of measures to be announced in the next few hours to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Israel are likely to be limited in scope, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

They will likely focus on crowded places, such as entertainment venues.

There is also discussion to include pre-schools in the current school closures, although no final decision has been made, the sources said. There were threats of industrial action from pre-school teachers on Friday, after the establishments were not included on a wider decision to close educational institutions. (Noa Landau)

4:46 P.M. Jordan stops all passenger flights from Tuesday

Prime Minister Omar Razzaz also said universities and schools would be closed for two weeks, and all tourist sites and all sports and cinemas would also be shut. Borders are already closed with Egypt, Iraq, Syria, the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Jordan's sole confirmed COVID-19 case was treated and left hospital on Friday but it is worried because of the speed at which the virus has spread in neighbouring countries. (Reuters

4:19 P.M. Israeli authorities say food supply chain to remain operational, 'no justification for storing food'

The director general of Israel's Health Ministry said supermarkets will remain open even in the event of a shutdown. "There is no point in storming them," Moshe Bar Siman Tov said.

"There are large stocks for food chains. The import of food into Israel continues... there is no need or justification for storing food," Shir Cohen, spokesperson for Israel's Prime Minister also said, confirming that food factories and farms in Israel will continue to work as usual, and access to the supply chain will go on undisturbed. (Noa Landau)

3:33 P.M. Coronavirus spreads to more African nations

Several African countries reported their first cases, including Rwanda, Eswatini and Namibia, bringing the total of nations affected to 21. 

International institutions have warned of the risk of mass casualties if the disease reaches the African continent, given the relative weakness of many countries' health systems. (dpa)

3:12 P.M. Israelis storm supermarkets amid rumors of shutdown

As media reported government discussions to shutter all non-essential businesses, Israelis went out en masse to buy food supplies on Saturday. 

Tiv Tam, a chain of 41 supermarkets which operates on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, tells of "sales frenzy not seen since the Gulf War."

"The number of people coming into our stores was two-and-a-half to three times higher than normal on Friday, and so far on Saturday there is a four to five fold increase in customers," says Yossi Shalev, Tiv Tam's vice president of trade and marketing. "The average shopping basket is five times larger than usual," he added. (Adi Dovrat-Meseritz)

2:32 P.M. Israeli government discusses shuttering all non-essential businesses

In a bid to contain the pandemic, the Israeli government is discussing to close all non-essential businesses and services across the country. A final decision on the matter, which has been under discussion among the country's executive since before Shabbat started on Friday, is expected as soon as Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

The repercussions could be massive, sending most Israelis home. Only those providing essential services will be expected to come into work, including gas and electricity, all healthcare providers, crucial government services, as well as some food stores. (Haaretz)

2:06 P.M. Israeli army says combat soldiers should prepare for a month-long stay at bases

The IDF's Spokesperson's Unit said that in accordance with the instructions of the Health Ministry to curb the spread on the coronavirus all combat soldiers as well as those serving in training bases throughout the country should prepare themselves for a month-long stay at bases throughout the country starting Sunday. (Amos Harel)

1:42 P.M. Iran says virus kills another 97, with death toll surpassing 600

Iranian state TV said the new coronavirus outbreak has killed another 97 people, pushing the death toll in the country to 611 amid 12,729 confirmed cases.

Iran is suffering from the worst outbreak in the Middle East. The virus has also infected a number of senior officials there. (The Associated Press) 

12:50 Number of Israelis who contracted COVID-19 rises to 164

The Health Ministry announced that the toll of coronavirus patients is Israel spikes to 164, with two of them in serious condition and 10 in moderate condition. Four individuals who contracted the illness have recovered. (Haaretz)

11:21 A.M. Three more Palestinians diagnosed with COVID-19 in West Bank, bringing total to 38

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that three more people have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the West Bank to 38. Thirty-seven of the cases were diagnosed in Bethlehem and one in the Palestinian city of Tul Karm. (Jack Khoury)

10:44 A.M. U.S. House passes coronavirus emergency bill

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a coronavirus aid package that would provide free testing and paid sick leave, in a bid to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered schools, sports arenas and offices.

By a bipartisan vote of 363 to 40, the Democratic-controlled House passed a multi-billion dollar effort that would expand safety-net programs to help those who could be thrown out of work in the weeks to come.

Economists say the outbreak, which has infected 138,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000, could tip the U.S. economy into recession.

Trump said he supported the package, raising the likelihood that it will pass the Republican-controlled Senate next week. (Reuters)

10:15 A.M. Confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel climb to 154

Israel's Health Ministry said the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 has risen to 154, with three in serious condition and seven in moderate condition. Four have recovered and been released from the hospital.

The ministry added that 38,560 individuals have entered home quarantine so far. (Haaretz)

FRIDAY

9:32 P.M. Trump declares national emergency over virus

U.S. President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency, which he says will open access of up to $50 billion for states and localities to combat the virus. (Reuters)

7:42 P.M. Israel considering ordering closure of non-essential business

Israeli authorities are preparing for the possibility of ordering a widespread closure of workplaces that are not considered to be providing essential services. A decision is expected soon, potentially as soon as Saturday.

If a health emergency was to be declared, all Israelis would be expected to move to working from home except those providing essential services such as water, gasoline, electricity, cooking gas, and of course those in the health and security sectors. (Sivan Klingbail and Hagai Amit)

7:20 P.M. Israel ships 200 coronavirus testing kits into Gaza

The Defense Ministry body responsible for coordinating the government activities in the territories, has delivered 200 coronavirus testing kits to the Gaza Strip on Friday though the Erez civilian border crossing. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, commented on the move: "Viruses and diseases have no boundaries and it is in Israel's outmost interest to avoid a coronavirus outbreak in Gaza and counter the spreading of the virus in the Palestinian territories in the West Bank." (Yaniv Kubovich)

6:45 P.M. Number of confirmed cases in Israel rises to 143

The Health Ministry said the number of confirmed cases has risen to 143, with three in serious condition and eight in moderate condition, with the remainder being milder cases. Three have recovered and been released. (Ido Efrati)

6:10 P.M. Israeli with coronavirus had visited pediatric ward of Jerusalem hospital

An Israeli woman who has tested positive for coronavirus had visited the pediatric ward of Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem in Jerusalem, leading to 15 members of staff being  quarantined. The visit took place eight days ago when she was not suffering from any symptoms. (Ido Efrati)

6:10 P.M. Israeli special education schools object to exclusion from coronavirus closure

Israeli schools for those with special needs have called on Netanyahu to include them in the nationwide school closures over coronavirus in a letter signed by the principals. "Is the health of special education teachers any less worthy than the health of regular teachers?" once teacher said. "Don't tell me routine is important for the children, health is more important." (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

5:50 P.M. Brazil's Bolsonaro says he tested negative for coronavirus on Facebook

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested negative for coronavirus, according to a post on his Facebook page on Friday.

Bolsonaro had been tested after his communications secretary, Fabio Wajngarten, was diagnosed with coronavirus on Thursday following a trip to Florida where both met with U.S. President Donald Trump.

An earlier report by Fox news claimed he had tested positive for the virus. (Reuters)

5:14 P.M. Israel to set up group recovery facilities for coronavirus patients in mild condition

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has announced that Israel is to set up three isolation facilities to quarantine coronavirus patients with mild symptoms across Israel. The three facilities are to be located in the north, center and south of the country, and are meant to counter the spread of the contagion. The decision was taken following a meeting with Health Ministry officials, and Defense Ministry staff were instructed to start preparations accordingly. Authorities are preparing to have about 1,000 people in the facilities in about a week, and should eventually be prepared to hold 3,000. (Yaniv Kubovich)

5:05 P.M. White House convenes meeting after Brazilian president's 'positive coronavirus test,' Fox report says

The White House on Friday is convening an urgent meeting after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who met with U.S. President Donald Trump, tested positive for the coronavirus, Fox Business Network reported on Friday.

Fox News also reported that Bolsonaro's test for COVID-19 had come back positive, but gave no source.

Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reuters)

4:40 P.M. Jerusalem resident tests positive for coronavirus 

The Israel Health Ministry said a 30-year-old Jerusalem resident was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. He had been in contact with another confirmed patient. The new case brings the total number of Israelis who have tested positive for the virus up to 127. 

2:00 P.M. IDF suspends reserve duty training until after Passover

Following a situation assessment, the chief of the Ground Forces Command branch of the Israeli army decided to delay reserve duty training until after the Passover holiday, in light of the spread of the virus in Israel.

The army said the decision was carefully considered and made with the desire to preserve the IDF's competence, while maintaining a commitment between the IDF and its reserve personnel. (Yaniv Kubovich)

11:35 A.M. Four more Palestinians test positive for coronavirus in West Bank, bringing total to 35 

The health ministry in Ramallah confirmed that 34 of the cases were found in Bethlehem, while one was in Tul Karm. Three of the patients are under 18, including a two-year-old, while three are over 60. (Jack Khoury)

11:30 A.M The situation of Israeli driver who was in critical condition improves

8 A.M. Several kindergartens throughout Israel halt activities in defiance of Education Ministry

Significant disruptions in kindergarten and daycare center activities began Friday morning, following the announcement of the closure of schools and universities on Thursday night, which does not include kindergartens.

The teachers' union announced Thursday night that it would declare a labor dispute with the Education Ministry if it was not decided to close kindergartens as well.

Representatives of the teachers' union of various authorities instructed kindergarten teachers to inform the regional superintendents this morning that they are sick, although the teachers union denied they ordered such instructions.

Several local authorities announced Thursday night that kindergartens will be closed starting Friday, including special education kindergartens in some cities. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

7:45 A.M. Number of coronavirus cases climbs to 126 in Israel

The Health Ministry announced Friday morning 17 new cases of the virus in Israel. 119 of said cases are in minor condition, five in moderate condition and two in severe condition. 

Three cases have been cured and released from treatment so far, while 104 remain in hospitals and 19 are being treated at home. 

5:17 A.M. Chinese firms go back to work, new cases keep going down

China's vice-minister for Industry, Xin Guobin, announced 95% or large firms and about 60% of small and medium companies were back at work on Friday, weeks after China imposed drastic containment measures.

Meamnwhile, China's Wuhan city, ground zero of the new coronavirus outbreak, reported five new cases on Friday, the second day in a row the tally has been less than 10, while no locally transmitted infections were reported in the rest of the country. (Reuters)

4:00 A.M. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau's wife Sophie tests positive for coronavirus

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau has tested positive for coronavirus, a spokesman for the prime minister said.

The prime minister is in good health with no symptoms, the spokesman said in a statement on Twitter.

Justin Trudeau's wife will be in isolation for the moment, while the prime minister will be in self-isolation for 14 days, according to the statement.  (Reuters)

2:27 A.M. Saudi Arabia detects 17 cases of coronavirus, brings total to 62

Saudi Arabia detected 17 new cases of coronavirus, 11 of whom were Egyptians, state news agency (SPA) said on Friday.

This brings the total of cases detected in the kingdom to 62, SPA added. (Reuters)

THURSDAY

10:15 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox leaders urge continued religious studies

Two leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis, Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein, ordered Haredi schools and yeshivas to continue their studies as normal.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders are currently holding intensive discussions with the Health Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office in an effort to get their institutions formally exempted from Thursday’s order closing down schools.

Kanievsky said that canceling Torah study would be more dangerous than the coronavirus. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

7:56 P.M. Israel to shutter schools and universities in attempt to slow spread of virus

Israel will be closing down all schools and universities in an attempt to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced during a press conference Thursday.

This will not include special education facilities, boarding schools, at-risk youth centers and kindergartens, adding that kids in grades first through third will attend special daycare centers instead.  

As he announced new measures, Netanyahu called to form an emergency national unity government "without hesitations" for a limited time, adding that "together we will save tens of thousands of citizens."

Netanyahu said politics must be set aside and that "we will handle the crisis together out of mutual trust." (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

7:20 P.M. Italian daily coronavirus deaths jump 23 percent to 1,016

The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has jumped in the last 24 hours by 189 to 1,016, a rise of 23 percent, the Civil Protection Agency said on Thursday.

The total number of cases in Italy, the European country hardest hit by the virus, rose to 15,113 from a previous 12,462, an increase of 21.7 percent. That marked the biggest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion first came to light on February 21. (Reuters)

6:52 P.M. Chief Rabbi calls to avoid Western Wall

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said on Thursday that people shouldn’t visit the Western Wall or attend mass prayer sessions there. He urged people to pray near their own homes.

“Even large synagogues shouldn’t hold prayers with a lot of people; they should divide the worshipping public in a manner that complies with the Health Ministry’s demands,” he added.

Weddings should not be postponed, he said, but the number of guests should be limited, since the Health Ministry’s latest rules prohibit gatherings of more than 100 people. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

6:45 P.M. Israeli diagnosed with coronavirus worked with the population most at risk, sending over 160 people into quarantine

Out of the 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Israel, the story of patient 45 stands out as one of the most prominent test cases of dealing with what is already defined as a global epidemic. The Jerusalem resident in her sixties who was diagnosed with the virus on Monday is a social worker at a nursing home who encounters daily the population most vulnerable to the virus.

After her diagnosis, nine residents of the nursing home she works in, along with ten employees entered quarantine. The other 160 residents are in voluntary isolation. The remaining staff, along with volunteers, are trying to manage the place alone. (Nir Hasson)

6:40 P.M. Number of coronavirus cases climbs to 109 in Israel

According to a Health Ministry statement, one of those diagnosed is a six-month-old baby. (Ido Efrati)

6:25 P.M. Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem disinfected in preparation for further spread of virus 

Waqf authorities disinfected the Al-Aqsa compound in preparation for further spread of coronavirus.

Waqf, the Muslim religious trust responsible for the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, called on worshipers to adhere to safety rules and hygiene regulations; sick people and anyone suffering from any type of flu are ordered not attend prayer, and those who attend should bring their own prayer rug. (Jack Khoury)

5:50 P.M. Netanyahu to give press conference at 8 P.M. on school operation in light of coronavirus 

5:40 P.M. Netanyahu's trial expected to be postponed due to coronavirus 

Justice Minister Amir Ohana has expanded his powers to freeze court activity in case of escalation in coronavirus cases in Israel, which will grant him the authority to postpone Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trial, expected to begin on Tuesday.  

The worsening situation of the coronavirus and the declaration of a state of emergency in the justice system will prompt Ohana to implement the regulation, thus, probably delaying the first hearing of Netanyahu's trial. (Netael Bandel)

5:40 P.M. Israel's Health Ministry working to increase number of coronavirus tests per day

In recent days, the Health Ministry has been investing efforts in equipping additional laboratories to run more blood test for the coronavirus. Some five labs are expected to open in the upcoming days, in addition to the four that currently operate at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, the Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem and the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

At the moment, some 700 lab tests for COVID-19 are carried out daily in Israel, with about 5,800 tests run so far. The Health Ministry's new goal is to run some 2,200 tests per day within a week. (Ido Efrati)    

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