Coronavirus Live Israel: Pandemic Czar Says Fourth Lockdown 'Possible' Before Election

Number of seriously ill coronavirus patients hits two-month low, data shows ■ Cabinet approves lifting ban on flights for Israeli citizens ■ Israel discovers first three cases of New York strain

The coronavirus ward in Shamir Medical Center, Tel Aviv
The coronavirus ward in Shamir Medical Center, Tel AvivCredit: Hadas Parush

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, 5,797 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.

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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.”

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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)

>> Click here to read the full report

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)

>> Click here to read the full article

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)

>> Click here to read the full story


9:10 P.M. Gov't to let 1,000 Israelis return from abroad per day at first

Following the coronavirus cabinet's decision to allow 3,000 Israelis to return every day, Transportation Minister Miri Regev decided to lower the number to 1,000 per day in the first week. According to the ministry, this will allow for a more efficient home isolation with electronic bracelets. (Judy Maltz)

7:30 P.M. COVID cabinet approves lifting ban on flights for Israeli citizens

The coronavirus cabinet lifted the current restrictions on flights to and from Israel for Israeli citizens, while unvaccinated citizens will need approval to leave the country.

Non-Israeli citizens will still need approval to enter the country. The new regulations will take effect on Sunday.

Up to 3,000 Israelis will be able to enter the country every day, including through land borders. Returning citizens will be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before departure. (Judy Maltz, Jonathan Lis)

5:53 P.M. Israel discovers first three cases of New York strain

The Health Ministry said that three cases of the New York strain of COVID-19 has been detected in Israel, all in one family. The strain was discovered three months ago and has been spread mainly in the United States.

Researchers that have examined the new variant have found it to have the same mutation found in South Africa, which may make the virus more resilient to the vaccine. (Haaretz) Read the full story here.

5:24 P.M. Israel is the only democracy barring its own citizens from returning

Israel is the only democracy in the world that bars its own citizens from entering the country, a Haaretz investigation concluded, which included statements by foreign governments, media reports and the International Air Transport Association website, which monitors global travel restrictions.

Moreover, nearly every country permits citizens and permanent residents to return home including some non-democracies. For a few countries, such as Eritrea, no information about entry or exit restrictions was available.

Israel halted both incoming and outgoing flights at Ben-Gurion Airport on January 26 to prevent the spread of coronavirus variants. Israelis have only been able to return via special rescue flights and only if their entry is approved by the Transportation Ministry’s Exceptions Committee based on special personal, medical or humanitarian considerations.

The Israel Democracy Institute conducted a more limited survey of seven other countries – Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, Canada, Sweden and Russia – and found that none of them deny entry to their own citizens, making the Israeli policy an outlier.

In a few countries, like Australia, there are limits on the number of citizens and permanent residents permitted to enter each day, which means that citizens may not be able to return as soon as they would like. However, in contrast to Israel, this limit stems from the fact that there are very few flights rather than from a policy that prohibits mass returns. (Roi Simyoni)

4:30 P.M. Gov't expected to discuss easing restrictions on flights to and from Israel

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to discuss easing restrictions on flights to and from Israel, with regular commercial flights resuming on Sunday, and allowing Israelis stuck abroad to return to Israel.

The new regulations are expected to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated passenger. Another proposal conditions entry to Israel for unvaccinated on a COVID-19 test a few hours before departure.

The plan was formulated in a meeting on Monday, in which National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, representatives of health, transportation, public security, interior defense, finance ministries and representatives of the Attorney General's Office participated. It also followed testimony and complaints from Israeli travelers of discrimination by the exceptions committee, which decides who may bypass the ban on entering the country, largely to the benefit of ultra-Orthodox travelers.

According to sources in the legal system who are familiar with the details, the representatives from the Attorney General's Office asked the committee to provide data on the number of approvals and rejections it gave for entry to Israel. According to the representatives, they need the data to examine deficiencies and omissions in the committee's conduct over the past weeks.

Last week, the committee's legal advisor said that approval of exceptions to enter the country on humanitarian grounds is given arbitrarily and based on precedents, rather than clear criteria. Haaretz has found that there are no democratic countries that make it as difficult for its citizens to enter the country as Israel. (Judy Maltz, Jonathan Lis, Rita Rosenberg Kendel).

3:20 P.M. Special Education students will return to school

The Education Ministry announced that starting on Sunday March 7 that special education students will resume full activities in green, yellow and orange communities. In red and orange localities, classes will resume and take place until 2 P.M.

11:46 P.M. Austria, Denmark to work with Israel on vaccines

Austria’s leader says his country and Denmark intend to stop relying solely on the European Union for coronavirus vaccines and will work with Israel to produce second-generation vaccines.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz plans to visit Israel with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Thursday and confer with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on vaccine research and production cooperation.

The EU has faced criticism for its slow vaccine rollout, while Israel has vaccinated a large part of its population. Kurz said in a statement Tuesday to the Austria Press Agency that it was right in principle to take a European-wide approach to inoculations, but maintained that the European Medicines Agency has been too slow to approve vaccines and pointed to companies’ delivery shortfalls. (The Associated Press)

>> Click here to read the full report

10:32 A.M. Israel's COVID spread slightly declines

Israel's COVID-19 infection rate known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – has dropped to 0.97 after having reached 1 on Monday. An R number lower than 1 means the pandemic is slowing. (Haaretz)

4:24 A.M. Israel's AG says Netanyahu needs cabinet approval before exporting vaccines

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot send vaccines to other countries without first consulting the foreign and finance ministries and receiving approval from either the full cabinet or the diplomatic-security cabinet, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ruled on Monday.

Last week, after the media reported that Netanyahu planned to send tens of thousands of vaccine doses to other countries on the basis of the National Security Council’s recommendations, Mendelblit asked National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat for clarifications about the plan. In response, Ben-Shabbat announced that the shipments had been put on hold until Mendelblit ruled on the issue. (Judy Maltz)

>> Click here for the full report

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