As the highly contagious novel coronavirus spreads around the world, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are struggling to contain a local outbreak that has virtually halted air traffic in and out of Israel, led to tens of thousands of people being quarantined, with 97 people diagnosed with the illness in Israel and 25 among Palestinians in the West Bank.
■ 97 Israelis have so far tested positive for coronavirus, known as COVID-19, with 25 of them diagnosed on Tuesday; thousands have been placed in isolation; four have recovered
■ Netanyahu says the government is banning indoor gatherings of over 100 people, urges people to avoid unnecessary gatherings
■ World Health Organization officially says coronavirus can be characterized as a pandemic
■ Director General of Israel Health Ministry calls on employers to make preparations for more and more people to work from home
7:11 A.M. U.S. Embassy employees in quarantine after patient's visit
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The Tel Aviv branch office of the U.S. Embassy confirmed Thursday morning that a person who tested positive or the coronavirus visited there last Thursday morning. All affected staff are in quarantine, the embassy statement said, but the visa department is still in operation. (Haaretz)
4:45 A.M. U.S. authorities clarify rules for ban on European flights
The Department of Homeland Security released a statement clarifiying the conditions of travel for people coming into the United States from Europe.
The ban will apply to all foreign nationals who have been in the 26 countries of the Schengen Area (basically the European Union and associated members, but not the United Kingdom) at any point over the last fourteen days.
The restriction allows for some leeway - for permanent residents, family members of U.S. citizens and "individuals who are identified in the proclamation."
The statement also says U.S. citizens travelling in Europe will be directed to specific airports for additional screening. (Haaretz)
4:09 A.M. Republican Jewish Coalition cancels annual event
The RJC Annual Meeting, due to take place in Las Vegas this week, was postponed, the lobbying group said in a statement.
The event was supposed to feature Donald Trump as well as former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and anti-Semitism czar Elan Carr "along with thousands of RJC activists from around the country," the statement said. (Amir Tibon)
3:30 A.M. NBA suspends all games
The U.S.'s main basketball league, a global staple, has decided to suspend all games for the foreseeable future after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for COVID-19.
Many other events have been cancelled or postponed as the United States responds to the coronavirus - including several St Patrick's Day parades due to take place on March 17. (Haaretz)
3:05 A.M. U.S. suspends all flights from European destinations, except U.K.
President Donald Trump announced a series of moves to respond to the coronavirus crisis in a live televised address. The major policy announced was the suspension of all commercial flights from European destinations for 30 days.
There was some confusion as to whether this would include cargo, but the president later clarified on Twitter that "the restriction stops people not goods." During the address, Donald Trump also said there would be some exceptions, notably regarding the United Kingdom.
Commentators were already speculating as to the effect of the announcement on the oil markets, which have suffered a major blow from the global outbreak.
President Trump also announced a slate of economic measures. (Haaretz)
2:08 A.M. 200 enter quarantine after teacher diagnosed in Modi'in
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Close to 200, including 94 students, have been ordered to enter quarantine after coming in close contact with a teacher that tested positive for COVID-19, the Modi'in municipality said in a statement. (Haaretz)
10 P.M. Israeli research center to announce it developed coronavirus vaccine, sources say
Scientists at Israel’s Institute for Biological Research at Ness Ziona are expected to announce in the coming days that they have completed development of a coronavirus vaccine.
According to Health Ministry 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. (Ido Efrati)
9:45 P.M. Corona patient in critical condition in Tel Aviv
An Israeli man who tested positive for coronavirus is in critical condition after being put into a medically induced coma at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. (Ido Efrati)
9.30 P.M. Israel announces number of coronavirus cases reaches 97
The number of Israelis who have tested positive for coronavirus has climbed to 97, according to Israel's Health Ministry. (Haaretz)
9.15 P.M. Israel closes sports events to fans
Israel's Health Ministry has announced that upcoming sports events will be closed to fans, adding another restriction to those announced by Netanyahu earlier on Wednesday. Thursday's Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball Euroleague game with Spanish team Saski Baskonia will take place with closed doors. The team was allowed to forgo virus procedures in order for the match. (Haaretz)
8.30 P.M. Israeli prison guard tests positive for coronavirus
A guard at Israel's Nitzan Detention Center who had been in contact with a sick prisoner has also tested positive for coronavirus. She has been put in isolation and people who were in contact with her were ordered into quarantine, according to Israel's Prison Service. (Josh Breiner)
8 P.M. Italy says number of coronavirus deaths climbs to 827
Italian authorities said 827 people have died since the outbreak of coronavirus began, local media reported. Authorities said 10,590 have been affected with 1,045 recovering. (Haaretz)
7:24 P.M. Israel bans indoor gatherings of over 100 people
Indoor gatherings of over 100 people have been banned, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced during a press conference. According to Netanyahu, authorities are also considering having universities throughout the country postpone the beginning of the semester, which for most, started this week.
"We have to understand this threat is not that different than other threats such as terror. In this crisis we have to change our behavior. I know this is not easy," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister went on to demonstrate how to use a tissue when coughing or sneezing to avoid spreading germs. Netanyahu also urged Israelis to avoid non-essential gatherings, meetings and events altogether and to limit whatever events are held to no more than 100 people. Israel is entering the crisis with an excellent economic situation, he added. (Haaretz)
7:00 P.M. Israel coronavirus case count rises to 82 cases
Three more Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus, bringing the official number of cases to 82. (Haaretz)
6:29 P.M. World Health Organization declares coronavirus a pandemic
The World Health Organization declared that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic but added that it's not too late for countries to act.
“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief.
"All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response," he said. “We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.” (AP)
4:50 P.M. Israel readies for quarantine of entire prisons
Israel's Prison Service is considering imposing quarantine on entire prisons in case of a coronavirus outbreak in one of its facilities.
A prison guard and psychiatrist are awaiting test results after coming into contact with known patients and exhibiting flu-like symptoms. (Josh Breiner)
4:00 P.M. Israel to evacuate jail to make room for coronavirus prisoner patients
Israel will evacuate Saharonim Prison, in its south, to make space to isolate coronavirus patients among the prisoners.
The Israel Prison Service said its staff is being trained to handle prisoners who may be infected and added that it is coordinating its response with the Health Ministry. (Josh Breiner)
3:10 P.M. Iran coronavirus death toll rises by 63, urges public to stay at home
Iran said Wednesday that the new coronavirus has killed 63 more people, raising the death toll to 354 amid over 9,000 cases in the Islamic Republic. Authorities urged people to stay at home, avoid unnecessary travel and avoid spreading disinformation about the outbreak.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour made the announcement in a televised news conference. Across the Mideast, the vast majority of the 9,000 people who have contracted the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes are in hard-hit Iran. It has one of the world's worst death tolls outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Outside the Islamic Republic, only Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon have recorded deaths from the virus in the Mideast. (AP)
2:32 P.M. 77th Israeli diagnosed
The Health Ministry announced that a resident of Ma'aleh Adumim is the 77th Israeli to be diagnosed with the coronavirus. The patient, a woman in her 40's, recently returned from France. (Haaretz)
1:53 P.M. Netanyahu announces 10 billion-shekel package to help Israeli market
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government is allocating a 10 billion-shekel ($2.8 billion) package to help Israeli businesses amid the coronavirus outbreak. One billion shekels will be allocated to the health sector. (Haaretz)
1:11 P.M. Tel Aviv suburb cancels all municipal events
The central city of Herzliya said it would cancel all municipal events, including planned conferences, lectures, tours and gatherings in the city in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Bar Peleg)
12:26 P.M. Auschwitz Memorial to close to visitors
Poland's order to close museums as global virus diagnoses rise will extend to the Auschwitz Memorial. "Due to the decision of the government to close all museums and cultural institutions in Poland, we inform that between 12-25 March the Auschwitz Memorial will not be available for visitors," the site wrote on its Facebook page. (JTA)
12:20 P.M. El Al to put over 75 percent of its employees on unpaid leave
Israel's flag carrier El Al said it would send over 4,500 of its 6,400 employees on unpaid leave after suspending flight to many of its destinations.
El Al said that employees on unpaid leave will be immediately entitled to receive unemployment benefits, and won't be forced to cash in their vacation days. (TheMarker)
10:28 A.M. U.S. coronavirus cases pass 1,000 as states race to contain outbreak
As coronavirus cases crop up across the United States, some governors and other leaders are scrambling to slow its spread, banning large public gatherings, enforcing quarantines and calling National Guard troops.
With new deaths reported and the number of confirmed U.S. cases passing 1,000 on Wednesday, lawmakers and health officials set up containment zones and quarantine areas and sought to limit contact with those who might be infected. (AP)
10:39 A.M. Over 400 elementary school students enter quarantine in central Israel
All 465 students attending the Yoseftal elementary school south of Tel Aviv have entered home quarantine after being in a contact with a nine-year-old student who was diagnosed with COVID-19. In addition, 26 educators and 20 school staff have also been quarantined. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)
10:02 A.M. Sixteen hospital staff members enter quarantine
Sixteen staff members from Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital have self-quarantined after being exposed to a coronavirus patient. (Ido Efrati)
9:51 A.M. Over 10,000 foreigners leave Israel in 24 hours
Israel's Population and Immigration Authority said that 10,827 foreigners have willingly left Israel in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of tourists leaving Israel in the past two weeks to 197,066.
Israel has also refused entry to over 400 foreign nationals since Friday. (Haaretz)
9:36 A.M. Two patients hospitalized at home, Maccabi HMO says
Two patients from southern Israel who were treated by Maccabi HMO were transferred overnight Tuesday to home hospitalization. This is the first time coronavirus patients are hospitalized at home in Israel. (Ido Efrati)
8:40 A.M. Number of Israeli cases rises to 76
The number of Israelis diagnosed with the coronavirus has risen to 76, the Health Ministry announced Wednesday morning.
According to sources, the last patient confirmed arrived at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital on Sunday with high fever. The patient, however, wasn't tested for coronavirus, with the medical staff claiming that he didn't meet the criteria set by the Health Ministry to get tested.
The patient was discharged from the hospital on Monday, but returned on Tuesday and was tested for the virus after an ER doctor on shift insisted to get him tested. The patient, currently in moderate condition, is hospitalized and receiving intensive care. (Ido Efrati)
10:48 First case of Israeli returning from U.S. diagnosed with virus
Among the 25 Israelis diagnosed today is a man in his sixties who visited the U.S. and was in contact with someone later diagnosed with the virus. The man returned to Israel on an El Al flight from New York on March 2. Another visited the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.(Noa Landau)
10:20 P.M. Number of those diagnosed in Israel jumps to 75
The number of people diagnosed with the virus in Israel has jumped to 75, with 25 new cases diagnosed on Tuesday. Among the new cases was a man who visited the Tel Aviv branch of the U.S. embassy after his return from Spain. (Noa Landau)
10:00 P.M. Netanyahu confident about Israel's economic resilience against coronavirus
Netanyahu discussed how Israel's economy could weather the storm if the coronavirus crisis deepens at a high-level meeting in Jerusalem. "We are entering the Corona crisis and our situation is better than most countries around the world. We have taken steps, such as establishing a NIS 4 billion fund to help businesses that have been hurt by the Corona," Netanyahu said. "Almost all food comes by sea so there is no reason to storm the supermarkets. There is more than enough food and there will be more than enough food," he added. (Noa Landau)
8:53 P.M. Coronavirus tally climbs to 61 in Israel
Two Israeli men in their 60s who returned to Israel from Switzerland and Spain were diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday, as well as a 29-year-old who arrived from Germany via the Czech Republic on Sunday. (Ido Efrati)
8:43 P.M. Israel bans events with more than 2,000 people
The Health Ministry says it is banning events with more than 2,000 people, and that people should avoid visiting hospitals and nursing homes. "The necessity of holding events in general should be considered, and this number is expected to be updated according to developments," a Health Ministry statement added. (Ido Efrati)
8:15 P.M. Israel to monitor citizens returning from abroad, police to enforce self-quarantine
A police statement says law enforcement will be working to ensure that Israelis returning from abroad are adhering to the two-week self-quarantine ordered by the government. Information about those returning from abroad will be placed in the police's data system starting tonight, according to the statement. The police and Health Ministry have formed task forces made up of police officers and Health Ministry officials to prevent self-quarantine violations. (Josh Breiner)