Two months into its mass coronavirus vaccination campaign, Israel sees a drop in COVID infections and in the number of serious cases. Israel exited its third nationwide lockdown, but some restrictions remain on inbound and outbound flights. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 5,950 Israelis have died of the virus.
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 in the Palestinian territories. A total of 1,827 people have died of COVID in the West Bank, while 560 have died in Gaza.
7:47 P.M. Pfizer CEO says younger teens may receive vaccine in fall
Younger teens may be able to receive the coronavirus vaccine in fall, and elementary schoolchildren may be able to get the jab by the end of the year, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said.
Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE will exceed their original global target for COVID-19 vaccines by as much as 20 percent this year, producing 2.3 billion to 2.4 billion doses, Bourla said on Thursday.
"We will exceed clearly, this year, the 2 billion doses," Bourla said in an interview.
By the fourth quarter, the companies will be at a 3 billion dose a year run rate, and should be able to produce that much next year, he added.
Bourla said the company expects to be able to meet its commitment of supplying 120 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. government by the end of March. That would require them to deliver another 60 million doses over the next three weeks.
"Those have already been manufactured" and are currently being tested for quality, he said.
"Unless a batch (of vaccine) fails, we will be able to provide them. Our track record is that our batches don't fail." (Reuters)
7:00 P.M. Palestinians receive 40,000 COVID-19 vaccines from UAE
Palestinians received 40,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine on Thursday, a donation by the United Arab Emirates that could boost a long-time rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of an election.
Mohammad Dahlan, who fell out with Abbas and was dismissed from the president's Fatah party more than a decade ago, took credit for securing the shipment to Gaza from the UAE, where he lives in exile.
In a potential challenge to Abbas, Dahlan has announced plans to field a list of candidates he dubs "Fatah reformists" in a parliamentary election scheduled for May.
The vaccine shipment brought to 60,000 the number of Sputnik V doses that Dahlan has obtained for Palestinians since February, outpacing official Palestinian authorities. (Reuters)
6:04 P.M. Israel's top court slams entry limiting policy
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High Court justices criticized the state's decision to limit entry of citizens into the country as they heard petitions to revoke this policy.
A representative of the state admitted that Israel does not have data on the number of Israelis requesting to enter the country. In addition, state records show that returning Israelis are avoiding quarantine at state-run facilities as the law stipulates.
Following the hearing, the court issued a conditional order instructing the state to explain why the restrictions have not been lifted.
As of now, the number of Israelis allowed to enter the country per day is capped at 3,000, and the government has drafted a list of airports that are allowed to operate flights into Israel.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, alongside justices Neal Hendel and Isaac Amit, requested to receive the figures of Israelis seeking to return to Israel. “I asked the numbers previously, but it didn’t happen,” Hayut said. (Netael Bandel)
2:56 P.M. France eases travel restrictions for Israelis with French citizenship
France will ease some COVID-19 restrictions on international travel outside Europe, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
The ministry said in a statement that French nationals traveling to or from Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Britain and Singapore would no longer have to need a compelling reason to travel.
All other restrictions, such as a requirement for a negative COVID-19 test less than 72 hours before travel, would remain in place, the ministry said, adding a decree was due to be published on March 12. (Reuters)
2:32 P.M. Despite vaccinations, Health Ministry says no to canceling mask mandate
The Health Ministry has no intention of canceling the mask mandate despite the high vaccination rate, ministry director-general Chezy Levy said Thursday.
At a press conference, Levy said that there is not enough information available regarding the ability of vaccinated people to infect others, and that "inoculated individuals can be a source of infection." Therefore, he said, the directive remains in place.
Earlier this week, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said that masks are not necessary outdoors. The U.S. Center for Disease Control has also said that there is no need for vaccinated people to wear masks indoors. (Noa Shpigel)
1:08 P.M. Israelis returning from abroad should pay for e-bracelet, quarantine hostel, deputy health minister says
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish suggests that Israelis returning from abroad will pay for the usage of digital tracking bracelets and for the lodging in government-run coronavirus hostels used to quarantine arrivals. During a session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Kish estimated that 5,000 electronic bracelets will be available next week.
"The state spent more than half a billion shekels on hostels for self-isolation," Kish said. "Some of them were infected in Israel, in which case state funding is justified. However, an Israeli who chooses to fly abroad – part of the cost of the trip is the bracelet and the hostel." (Jonathan Lis)
12:10 P.M. IDF reports 81 percent of its soldiers vaccinated
Ten weeks after beginning its vaccination campaign, the Israeli military reported Thursday that 81 percent of its soldiers have been vaccinated against or recovered from the coronavirus. Next week, the military said, they expect that rate to rise to 85 percent.
IDF sources said that this constitutes an achievement that will allow the military to return to its operational, training and drill routine, similar to where it was before the pandemic struck. (Yaniv Kubovich)
10:53 A.M. Vaccinated mothers pass on COVID antibodies in breastmilk, research shows
Nursing mothers who were inoculated with an mRNA-based vaccine (such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines) produce and pass on coronavirus antibodies to their babies, without passing on the genetic material of the vaccine, research from Israel and the United States shows.
Results of the studies, which have yet to be seriously reviewed, show that the antibodies formed in breastmilk are better adapted to protecting babies from respiratory viruses such as the coronavirus when compared to the immune reaction created by injecting the vaccine into the bloodstream.
Although the studies are preliminary, they show that the new vaccines can potentially protect infants from the coronavirus similarly to different vaccines that are recommended to women in their third trimester of pregnancy. (Asaf Ronel)
10:15 A.M. High Court hears petitions against limiting entry of Israelis ahead of election
The High Court of Justice is hearing petitions against the government's policy of limiting entry into Israel as part of its efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The petitioners against the government are Israeli citizens who flew abroad before the government decided to close the skies, and were denied entry to Israel by the exceptions committee, which decides who comes back into the country.
The Movement for Quality Government was also among the petitioners, and claimed that the restrictions obstruct the right of Israelis abroad to exercise their democratic right to vote. Israel does not allow for absentee voting, save for diplomats.
In a prior hearing held last week, before the restrictions changed to allow the entry of Israeli citizens into the country ahead of the election, the judges decided to hold another hearing on the petition after new guidelines were issued.
The petitioners said that they stand behind the petition, even after the coronavirus cabinet decided to increase the number of Israelis that can enter the country to 3,000 a day, and disband the exceptions committee. (Netael Bandel)
10:45 P.M. Reopening brings joy for Israelis, but concern for businesses
Just four days into Israel’s post-coronavirus normal, consumers are responding with gusto, crowding shopping malls, boosting turnover at stores and keeping waiters busy taking orders at restaurants and cafés.
But for businesses, the joy of being open as usual has been dimmed by a shortage of workers, uncertainty over the government assistance that many businesses are supposed to be getting, and doubts about what many business people say are absurd COVID regulations.
Figures released on Wednesday by the Bank of Israel, since the first easing of lockdown rules in the middle of February, consumer spending as measured by credit card use has recovered in sectors that had been the hardest hit by pandemic restrictions, including tourism, education, leisure and restaurants. Nevertheless, spending remains much lower than pre-COVID levels.
In tourism, for example, the moving average for credit card spending in the seven days through March 8 was 55% lower than it was in January 2020, the eve of the pandemic. Spending at restaurants was 19% lower. Overall, however, credit card spending was 14% higher than in January 2020. (Israel Fisher)
6:15 P.M. 40,000 doses donated by UAE to enter Gaza Thursday
The Russian Sputnik V vaccine doses will enter through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, UAE-based Palestinian political leader Mohamed Dahlan announced.
This is the second shipment that Dahlan facilitated. A previous shipment of 20,000 doses came in the second part of February through the same method.
On his Facebook page, Dahlan wrote that he would continue to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and ensure that more shipments were delivered.
By bringing this many vaccine doses in, Dahlan is directly challenging the Palestinian Authority, which so far has only managed to bring in 10,000 doses, of which 2,000 were sent to Gaza. (Jack Khoury)
4:45 P.M. In-person classes to resume in all 'orange' localities, Health Ministry announces
Citing an improvement in COVID infection rates and a desire to allow students to return to their educational routine, the Health Ministry announced on Wednesday that in-person classes will resume in all so-called orange localities.
An updated list of localities indicating their respective color designations will be published soon, the ministry added.
Until now, in-person classes took place only in so-called “bright orange” municipalities where 70 percent or more of residents over age 50 are vaccinated. (Haaretz)
4:20 P.M. Tel Aviv teachers must present vaccination certificate or negative COVID test
The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality announced that as of Sunday, teachers must show a “green passport,” a negative COVID test or a document proving recovery from COVID in order to enter schools.
The city cited a rise in infection rates in schools as the reasoning behind the decision, which contradicts a previous one by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, stipulating that mayors don’t have the authority to ban unvaccinated teachers from schools. (Bar Peleg)