As the highly contagious coronavirus spreads around the world, Israel and the Palestinians struggle to contain a local outbreak that has virtually halted daily life and led to tens of thousands of people entering quarantine.
■ 2,495 Israelis have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, with the vast majority of cases mild and 64 recoveries. Five patients have died and 41 are in serious condition.
■ In the West Bank, 64 cases have been diagnosed so far, and 17 have recovered, the majority of them in Bethlehem. One woman in her 60s died in the West Bank. The Palestinian prime minister ordered a lockdown as of Sunday night. In Gaza, nine cases were diagnosed, the first two after returning from Pakistan, while seven came down with the virus after coming to contact with them.
■ Israel's government approved emergency measures to limit movement of citizens and trade, shuttering cultural and recreational establishments as well as schools and universities and banning gatherings of over 10 people. Read the complete guide to the lockdown. No foreigners are allowed to enter Israel, unless they apply for special permits from the Foreign Ministry in advance and can prove they are able to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 71: A tale of two crises: Coronavirus vs. Constitution
■ For information on the Health Ministry's app that tracks contact with confirmed coronavirus patients, click here. For more information on the Health Ministry's official website on the corovavirus outbreak, click here.
9:20 A.M. West Bank villagers enter isolation after Palestinian woman dies from coronavirus
All residents of the Palestinian village of Bidu in the Jerusalem area have entered home isolation after a Palestinian woman has passed away because of coronavirus. All those who have been in contact with the woman have also been ordered into isolation at the hospital in the village of Turmus Ayya in the central-northern West Bank. So far, the official number of Palestinians positive for coronavirus is 64. (Jack Khoury)
8:40 A.M. Number of Israelis positive for coronavirus nears 2,500
The Israeli Health Ministry has released updated data about the coronavirus situation in Israel. The overall number of cases has topped 2,495 with 41 in severe condition. Nearly 150,000 have been or still are in home isolation. Nearly 70 are in medium condition and the rest are mild cases.
Five patients have died since the beginning of the crisis. (Ido Efrati)
6:30 A.M. Thousands of coronavirus testing kits, masks delivered to the West Bank
More than 3,000 coronavirus testing kits and 50,000 protective masks for doctors and medical staff were donated by the World Health Organization to the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, in coordination with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. (Jack Khoury)
6:15 A.M. Seven more Gazans test positive for coronavirus, bringing total to nine
The total number of coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip rose to nine after seven security servicemen that were in direct contact with the first two patients that returned from Pakistan tested positive Thursday overnight, according to sources in the Gaza health system.
The seven new patients are in light condition, and were in isolation prior to testing positive and will continue to be isolated, as well as the two other patients, say the sources. (Jack Khoury)
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11:45 P.M. Pentagon orders halt overseas movement for U.S. military over coronavirus
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has issued a stop movement order to the U.S. military halting travel and movement abroad for up to 60 days in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus through the ranks, the Pentagon chief told Reuters on Wednesday.
The measure is by far the Defense Department's most sweeping to date and will affect forces around the world. (Reuters)
11:35 P.M. France pulls out military forces in Iraq amid coronavirus demands
France is pulling out its military forces from Iraq as French forces are increasingly called upon to help fight the coronavirus at home.
The chief of staff of the French armed forces said in a statement Wednesday night that France is suspending its anti-terrorism training operations in Iraq and also bringing home its Iraq-based troops involved in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group. (The Associated Press)
11:30 P.M. At Jerusalem nursing home where two residents died, coronavirus and drustration spread
“The Health Ministry keeps saying, ‘Protect Grandma and Grandpa,’ so why aren’t they protecting us? Do they want us all to get infected?” asks Esther Koby, a resident of the Migdal Nofim assisted living residence in Jerusalem, which has become a coronavirus hotspot.
Migdal Nofim was the site of one of the first coronavirus outbreaks in Jerusalem, after an employee infected several residents and staff members.
Two residents have died, and the infection has spread, with a total of six residents and six staff members and another three foreign nursing aids infected.
Most of the patients who took ill were under nursing home care. (Nir Hasson)
11:25 P.M. Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre closes amid coronavirus fears
Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered in Christian tradition as the site of Jesus's crucifixion and burial, was closed on Wednesday as a precaution against the coronavirus.
The closure, initially for a week, followed a meeting between Israeli police and church leaders, said Wadie Abu Nassar, spokesperson of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, after the Israeli government announced tighter restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
"The initial understanding is that this order is valid for one week, although nobody knows how long this crisis will take," he said. Adeeb Joudeh, a Palestinian whose family holds one of the keys to the church, confirmed the decision on Facebook. (Reuters)
11:20 P.M. Saudi King says G20 exceptional summit to unite coronavirus efforts
Saudi Arabia's King Salman said on Wednesday that as the world confronts the new coronavirus, the Group of 20 major economies will convene in an exceptional summit to come up with initiatives to unite the efforts to combat the pandemic.
"As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges to healthcare systems and the global economy, we convene this extraordinary G20 summit to unite efforts towards a global response," the king said on Twitter.
The kingdom, which holds the G20 presidency this year, will host G20 leaders by video-conference on Thursday amid criticism that the group has been slow to respond to the global crisis. (Reuters)
10:24 P.M. Police breaks up gathering in Jerusalem
The police arrested and fined three people in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem for holding a gathering despite lockdown.
10: 20 P.M. Palestinian Authority receives testing kits from WHO
Three thousand coronavirus testing kits and 50 thousand face masks donated by the World Health Organization were transferred to the West Bank in coordination with the Israeli army. (Yaniv Kubovich)
9:30 P.M. Knesset lawmaker goes into quarantine
Kahol Lavan legislator Boaz Toporovsky was ordered into isolation after being in the vicinity of a confirmed patient. He is the 9th lawmaker to be quarantined since the start of the outbreak in Israel. (Jonathan Lis)
8:50 P.M. Netanyahu warns of imminent curfew
In a televised address, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that unless a significant reduction in the spread of coronavirus is seen in Israel, the country will soon go on "full lockdown."
He stressed that self-discipline is imperative, and that “We must stay at home. Stay home, and stay alive. Everyone must obey.”
He promised to release a financial aid package for businesses in the coming days.
8:29 P.M. Travelers from the United States, France, Spain and Italy will be tested upon arrival
Defense Minister Naftali Bennet said that starting Saturday, the army will be responsible for new regulations concerning people returning from abroad.
According to new regulations, travelers returning from the United States, Italy, Spain and France will be isolated in a quarantine center upon their arrival. They will be immediately tested for the virus and if negative, will be released to complete a 14-day home quarantine. Those who will test positive may have to stay in the quarantine center. Results will not take longer than 48 hours, according to a defense ministry statement.
Travelers returning from all other countries will be required to self-isolate for 14 days at home.
8:20 P.M. Number of confirmed cases in Israel rises to 2,369
The Health Ministry said that 2,369 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel as of Wednesday evening, a 22 percent increase in one day. Five patients have died, 39 are in serious condition and 64 have recovered.
8:10 P.M. Israeli president: We shall overcome
In a televised address to the nation, President Reuven Rivlin said new lockdown regulations are "for our own safety and for the safety of our families."
Rivlin added: "In these trying times, we must learn to obey… even if we think these orders are wrong. We must obey and do what’s demanded of us ... We shall overcome."
8:04 P.M. In America’s only Orthodox town, coronavirus poses unique challenge for insular Jewish community
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to strike around the world, Orthodox communities in the United States have made unprecedented and dramatic steps to try to slow the rate of infection.
Orthodox groups and prominent rabbis have issued notices urging people to comply with the social distancing guidelines issued by authorities. They have even gone as far as to call for people to cancel large Passover gatherings and reduce the holiday preparations to “essential” things only.
Synagogues, religious schools and other institutions have also closed in line with health requirements.
New York is by far the hardest-hit state, with more than 26,000 confirmed cases and some 210 deaths. Over 13,000 of those cases are in New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference Tuesday that the rate of new infections is doubling about every three days. “We haven’t flattened the curve and the curve is actually increasing,” he said. “We are exercising all options as aggressively as we can."
In the Satmar Hasidic community – an insular group estimated to include some 65,000 to 75,000 members, most of whom live either in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or the village of Kiryas Joel (aka Palm Tree) north of New York City – unprecedented measures have been implemented as well. (Danielle Ziri)
7:00 P.M. Bibi's shameful, sinful 'corona coup' suffers massive blow | Haaretz podcast
Host Simon Spungin is joined by senior Haaretz correspondents Chemi Shalev and Anshel Pfeffer for a phone-in discussion of the two great crises facing Israel: the global coronavirus pandemic and the unprecedented constitutional crisis.
In part one, Chemi explains how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been influenced by his political and legal entanglements and why his behavior since his indictment has been his greatest sin against the State of Israel.
On the political front, Anshel explains why the resignation of Knesset Speaker Yoel (Yuli) Edelstein is a major blow for Netanyahu but why he could yet emerge victorious. Can he somehow emerge from all this as a national hero. Meanwhile, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz might not be able to take advantage of Netanyahu's setback.
Plus: Why Americans should be wary of President Trump, given his penchant for copying from Netanyahu's playbook and why this Passover will be different from all other Passovers.
6:57 P.M. Unemployment surpasses 20 percent
The unemployment rate in Israel rose to 21 percent. Over 90 percent of people who became unemployed in March are on unpaid leave due to coronavirus. (Lee Yaron)
6:22 P.M. Netanyahu approves renewal of regulatory permits
The government approved the automatic renewal of a variety of permits including business licenses and product import permits for two months. The decision is meant to help reduce the bureaucratic burden on government offices and businesses. (Noa Landau)
6:20 P.M. First Palestinian dies from coronavirus
A Palestinian woman in her 60s died from coronavirus in the village of Biddu near Jerusalem, according to Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority. The woman had not been abroad and had no contact with verified patients, raising concerns of community spread in the West Bank. Four of her family members later tested positive for the virus.
As of Wednesday evening, 64 cases have been reported in the West Bank. (Jack Khoury)
6:10 P.M. Knesset lawmaker to get tested for coronavirus
MK Sundus Salah from the Joint List is to undergo a coronavirus test after she felt ill during session and was discovered to have a high fever. (Jonathan Lis)
5:00 P.M. Trains suspended, bus lines reduced
Public transportation will be scaled down and trains will be completely shut starting 8 P.M. on Wednesday. (Josh Breiner)
4:35 P.M. Police says won't enforce lockdown regulations at first
The Israel Police announced that in the coming days it will set up roadblocks in neighborhoods, cities and highways in order to clarify regulations to the public, in addition to police patrols that will ask citizens to identify and if necessary urge them to return to their houses. Fines will only be levied in cases of severe violation. (Josh Breiner)
2:44 P.M. Orthodox Sephardic rabbis green light video conference Seders in stunning ruling
In a startling ruling, a group of prominent Sephardic rabbis in Israel has permitted the use of Zoom videoconferencing at the upcoming Passover Seder so that families can convene virtually without violating restrictions on gatherings mandated by the coronavirus pandemic. The rabbis who issued the ruling, among them the spiritual leaders of several towns and communities in Israel, are all Orthodox.
The ruling has not been endorsed by Israel’s chief rabbis or the Orthodox religious establishment. Indeed, Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed and a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council (perhaps best known for his vicious remarks about Israel’s Arab minority) called the ruling “a grave error” that would “destroy the spirit of the Seder night.” (Judy Maltz)
1:42 P.M. Israel's chief rabbis order to close all synagogues amid coronavirus crisis
In a joint statement, Israel's chief rabbis urged the public to shut down synagogues across the country and not hold prayers of ten people or more inside the shuls. (Aaron Rabinowitz)
1:41 P.M. Two more Palestinians test positive, bringing toll to 60 confirmed cases in the West Bank
The spokesperson for the Palestinian government in the West Bank confirmed two more Palestinians have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The two latest cases are women, with one returning from abroad to Ramallah and the other resides in the Palestinian village of Biddu in the West Bank, northwest of Jerusalem. The latter case raises concerns since she did not travel abroad, but came to into contact with her son, who may also be carrying the disease. (Jack Khoury)