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Coronavirus Israel Live: Ultra-Orthodox Leader Orders Schools to Fully Reopen Against Regulations

Israel to lift general lockdown Sunday, reopen beaches, preschools ■ Netanyahu hails lockdown as 'great success' ■ Tel Aviv shop owners set fire to their merchandise in protest

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A class in session at a Talmud Torah (ultra-Orthodox religious school) in Jerusalem, October 15, 2020
A class in session at a Talmud Torah (ultra-Orthodox religious school) in Jerusalem, October 15, 2020 Credit: Emil Salman

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Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are dealing with a renewed coronavirus outbreak, leading to proposals and measures intended to curb its spread and mitigate the economic ramifications of the crisis by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

Israel currently has 35,212 active cases; 2,167 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 5,093 active cases and 421 deaths, and in Gaza 1,610 active cases and 24 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

9:45 P.M. Netanyahu addresses Israeli public on eve of first stage of Israel’s lockdown exit strategy, which goes into effect Sunday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Israeli public on Saturday night, on the eve of the first stage of Israel’s lockdown exit strategy, which goes into effect Sunday. 

When asked whether he condemned Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky’s instruction to directors of religious schools that they fully reopen on Sunday, contrary to Health Ministry regulations, Netanyahu said: “I call on the Haredi community not to do this… Our torah sanctifies live, it is a bible of life.”

When asked if he would send police to keep religious schools from opening: "We can't send police to every street corner or every city.” He also said that regulations would be enforced “to the best of our ability”, and that the most important thing was to keep a tight seal on ‘red’ cities.

While warning that the “second wave is far more massive than the first,” Netanyahu affirmed the lockdown, saying that “The decision to implement a lockdown was a good one, and I stand by it. The lockdown worked…This time, we are exiting the lockdown carefully, according to the model laid out by experts."

9:10 P.M. Leader of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Community orders Talmud Torah to fully reopen on Sunday, contrary to lockdown regulations

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Lituanian ultra-Orthodox community leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, ordered the directors of Talmud Torah (religious schools) to fully reopen on Sunday, contrary to Health Ministry regulations and despite disagreement from his co-leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein. Edelstein is of the opinion that conflict with the government should be avoided and that Talmud Torah should only reopen with the government's consent.

It is anticipated that tens of thousands of students will return to religious studies Sunday following Kanievsky's instructions. According to the rabbi's decree, school directors are to enforce social distancing rules and split classes to the greatest extent possible. Masks should also be used and hygiene maintained. An ultra-Orthodox Talmud Torah director who spoke with Haaretz said that some schools would split the students into groups that would study on alternate days.

Although Kanievsky believed that the schools should have reopened as early as last week, following pressure from a number of sources, he ordered the schools' directors to refrain from doing so in the hopes of reaching agreement with the Health Ministry regarding a reopening strategy.

However, last week it became clear that such an agreement could not be reached because the government cannot allow the ultra-Orthodox education system to reopen while the secular one remains closed.

Kanievsky, who contracted the coronavirus about two weeks ago, had ordered Talmud Torah and yeshivas to stay open during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, asserting that the abolition of the Torah was more dangerous from the virus. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

8:30 P.M. Tel Aviv to reopen beaches, restore lifeguard services

The Tel Aviv Municipality announced on Saturday evening that its beaches will open tomorrow for the winter season with lifeguard services. The Municipality asks that visitors comply with the Health Ministry guidelines, noting that "full cooperation is required from the public" and that it is its "responsibility to uphold the rules."

On the occassion of the announcement, Tel Aviv-Yafo Mayor Ron Huldai said: "The people of Israel are currently eager to enter an inviting and safe public space, and no less important - free. We are happy to make such a space accessible to the public, all the more so at this time." (Bar Peleg)

8:20 P.M. Coronavirus czar urges Israelis to remain cautious as restrictions ease

In a press conference Saturday evening, coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu beseeched Israelis to remain cautious as the first stage of the lockdown exit strategy goes into effect Sunday. “This isn’t a return to routine, rather an easing of the restrictions. I’m asking: limit your contacts, even if they are permitted. Hold off, refuse meetings in closed places. Nature parties, weddings and large gatherings are forbidden. There are no compromises, these will return us backwards if we are not careful,” Gamzu said. “Many of us are not working. We still have 700 people in serious condition, 200 more than when the health system raised a red flag.”

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Gamzu called on Israelis to get tested more frequently and to cooperate with epidemiological investigations, “What we’re missing the most is cooperation. If you have the slightest suspicion, go get tested. We need to find the hidden cases.” 

Gamzu applauded the reduction in infection rates in ‘red’ cities, specifically congratulating the ultra-Orthodox population for reducing infection rates.

Regarding the reopening of schools, Gamzu warned that opening preschools is not a prelude to opening the rest of the education system. “It is more dangerous to reopen schools for the older age groups. It’s against the law. It could take cities backwards and I am asking to refrain from opening schools for older children.”

Gamzu added that the government’s next goal is to reduce the daily infection rate to 1,000 infections per day, “and we can get there,” he added. 

“We’re on the right path,” Gamzu concluded, “we just need more cooperation.”

8:15 P.M. Positive test rate falls to 3 percent as Israel begins lockdown exit

An additional 834 Israelis were diagnosed with COVID-19 since Friday night, reflecting a positive rate of 3 percent. 

There are 35,212 active cases as of Saturday night. 1,212 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized, out of which 689 are in serious condition and 238 are on ventilators. 2,167 people have died. (Ido Efrati)

6:15 P.M. Restrictions to continue in 'red' cities, despite praise from coronavirus czar

The ministerial committee for restricted areas unanimously authorized the Health Ministry’s recommendations to declare red cities as restricted areas, meaning that the eased restrictions announced earlier Friday will not apply there. The declaration is valid for 4 days, from Sunday October 18 until Wednesday October 21 at midnight. 

The restrictions will apply in the following areas:

  • The municipal area of Bnei Brak, from Jabotinsky Street southward
  • The municipal area of Rekhasim
  • The municipal area of El’ad
  • Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem (District 4)
  • Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, Ma’alot Dafna in Jerusalem (District 5)
  • Kiryat Mattersdorf neighborhood in Jerusalem (District 9)
  • The municipality of Beitar Ilit (excluding the industrial zone)
  • The municipality of Modi’in Ilit

The coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, and Maj. Gen. (Res.) Roni Noma also released a statement expressing “great satisfaction” over the significant changes in the behavior of the residents and mayors of red cities. 

“We thought it appropriate to harness the effectiveness of the lockdown in red cities to bring about a further decline in morbidity to the level of orange cities, despite all the difficulties regarding the needs of preschoolers in those cities,” the statement added.  

They also called for the residents and leadership to continue avoiding meetings and gatherings in the coming days, as well as to get tested. (Ido Efrati)

3:30 P.M. Government approves first stage of lockdown exit strategy

The government approved new coronavirus regulations for the first stage of exiting the lockdown, the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry announced Friday. The loosened restrictions will go into effect on Sunday, barring a drastic change in the infection rate. The regulations will be in effect until October 31.

The statement added that if infection rates spike, they will roll back the measures and return to previous regulations.

The ministers will hold a separate debate on so-called “red” cities later on Friday.

According to the decision, the following is the first stage of the exit strategy:

  • The option to open workplaces that do not receive the public
  • In-person takeaways from restaurants
  • The opening of daycare centres and nurseries for children aged 0 to 6
  • The opening of nature reserves, public parks and beaches
  • The opening of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher along guidelines that will be established by the Health Ministry and the NSC, and in capsules
  • Removal of movement restrictions
  • Removal of restrictions against visiting another person in their home, but restrictions against gatherings will remain
  • Gatherings in open areas will be limited to 20 people, and 10 people in closed spaces
  • Training will resume for athletes in the higher leagues

The rest of the restrictions will remain as they were under the lockdown.

The public is requested to observe the guidelines in order to ensure the mortality rate continues to drop in accordance with the aims  set by the Health Ministry. This will ensure that we can proceed onto the next stage of easing the lockdown. 

12:30 P.M. Coronavirus czar: By next week we may have no more hotspots

The Health Ministry said Friday that coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu recommended extending the lockdown on five "red" cities, those with high infection rates, until Wednesday.

Two towns, Beit Shemes and Kiryat Malakhi, were removed from the list of "red" cities. This leaves only the cities of Bnei Brak, the town of Rekhasim, and the West Bank settlements Modi'in Ilit, Betar Illit, and Elad on the list.

Gamzu added that by next Wednesday, he hopes there will be no more "red" cities, and all virus hot spots will be under control.

Yoaz Hendel, the communications minister and a member of the Derech Eretz party, backed up Gamzu, demanding that the lockdown be lifted according to the level of infection in each location, rather than all at once. (Ido Efrati)

12:00 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox lawmaker demands Netanyahu fire coronavirus czar

Lawmaker Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu on Friday, claiming that efforts to reduce infection rates in ultra-Orthodox cities "led him to crunch numbers in the middle of the night in order to put the ultra-Orthodox under lockdown." (Haaretz)

8:40 A.M. Preschools to reopen Sunday without pods, no requirement for children to wear masks

The Education Ministry announced regulations on Friday for preschools for children aged three to six when they reopen nationwide on Sunday (or Monday, for those unable to do so on Sunday). The preschools will function as usual, six days a week, without dividing children into pods. Teachers and aides will be required to wear masks, but children will not. Children will be required to show a daily signed declaration of health. Towns categorized as having a high infection rate will likely have additional restrictions to be decided upon by a ministerial committee.

The Health Ministry meanwhile issued an announcement urging preschool teachers and aides to get tested for the coronavirus over the weekend ahead of the reopening.  (Haaretz)

8:05 A.M. Former Shin Bet deputy director dies

Itzhak Ilan, formerly deputy chief of the Shin Bet security service, has died of the coronavirus at the age of 64. He served in the Shin Bet in a variety of roles beginning in 1982 and until his retirement in 2011. Ilan suffered from a serious lung condition and received a  lung transplant last year. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

11:10 P.M. Active cases in Israel continue to decline 

The Health Ministry said that there are 40,851 active cases as of Thursday night, reflecting a decline of 1,702 since midnight. 

Fourteen people have died from COVID since last night, raising the death toll to 2,127. Currently, 1,304 coronavirus patients are hospitalized, out of which 742 are in serious condition and 246 are on ventilators. (Haaretz) 

8:30 P.M. Agreement reached to open yeshivas next week

The head of the task force to battle the coronavirus in the ultra-Orthodox community, Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa, and yeshiva heads have agreed that religious schools would open on Tuesday, as long as infection rates in the community continue to decline. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

8:09 P.M. Netanyahu says imposing lockdown 'requires courage'

Speaking at the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the nationwide lockdown that started on September 25 "is working and saving lives.

"A nationwide lockdown requires courage," Netanyahu said and called for “gradual and responsible” exit strategy.

The prime minister added that "Should we see a rise over the next two weeks, we’ll reinstate restrictions. We must work in unity and cooperation." (Jonathan Lis)

7:46 P.M. Health Ministry demands teaching staff not be changed or substituted in preschools

The Health Ministry is demanding not to substitute or change teaching staff at preschools after Israel's coronavirus cabinet has decided to open preschools on Sunday.

The ministry also insists that children from different preschools will not be placed in the same daycare programs.

Israel Teachers' Union, which represents the preschool teaching staff, said in a statement: "To our great regret, the government has not learned the lesson from the first lockdown, and is in a hurry to open the education system, while ignoring the Health Ministry's stance.

"Our consistent position is that the state must decide on the right conditions and timing to open preschools, and only then open them, and not the other way around. Once again, [preschools] are being opened due to public pressure and without proper preparation. We are warning that the lack of proper solutions might lead to severe disruptions in opening the preschools. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

7:39 P.M. Israeli army to allow combat soldiers to leave base every 28 days

The Israeli Defense Forces will allow combat soldiers, as well as soldiers undergoing special training, to leave their bases every 28 days.

Since the second nationwide lockdown began on September 25, these soldiers were not permitted to leave their bases. (Yaniv Kubovich)

7:28 P.M. Infection rate continues to decline, top health official says

The Health Ministry’s public health services, Dr. Sharon Alroi-Preiss, said that the Israel's R rate, or viral reproduction rate, currently stands at 0.62, which is lower than Wednesday's 0.66 R rate.

This is below the threshold of 0.8 set by the ministry as a condition to begin the exit from lockdown. (Ido Efrati)

6:59 P.M. Israel's confirmed cases top 300,000

The Health Ministry said that 1,511 more Israelis have tested positive for the virus since Wednesday night, bringing the total number of confirmed patients since the pandemic began to 300,011.

Twenty-three people have died from COVID since last night, raising the death toll to 2,121. Currently, 1,314 coronavirus patients are hospitalized, out of which 730 are in serious condition and 248 are on ventilators. (Haaretz) 

5:34 Cabinet approves opening preschools, lifts distance limit

Israel's coronavirus cabinet approved several measures to ease the country's lockdown, which began on September 25, still pending a government vote.

Should the measures be ratified by the full cabinet, as of Sunday, the distance limit of 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from one's home would be lifted and preschools would reopen.

Restaurants could also offer take-out services from their premises, and other businesses that do not provide in-person services could reopen. Beaches and nature reserves would also reopen to the public.

In addition, public transportation will resume full activity, with fifty percent capacity.

The Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Temple Mount will be opened for prayer services in small groups.

The Ministerial Committee for Restricted Areas will decide on Saturday whether to extend the lockdown on several red cities, which include Bnei Brak, Rechesim, Modi’in Ilit, Bet Shemesh, Betar Ilit, Kiryat Malachi, and neighborhoods in Jerusalem. (Noa Landau) 

4:38 Police brace for anti-gov't protests, won't limit number of participants

The Jerusalem district police are continuing to gear up for the protests that are expected across from the Prime Minister’s Residence on Thursday and Saturday evening this week. The police do not intend to limit the number of protesters there.

Although current coronavirus restrictions limit the number of protesters at the site to about 2,000 – spaced at 2 meters apart and in groups – senior police officials have said that they will expand the area where the protest is held to whatever extent necessary so that the restrictions are complied with and have no intention to prevent protesters from attending.

“We won’t prevent protest and won’t prevent anyone wishing to come to the site from protesting, as long as the regulations are maintained,” a senior police officer said.

However, as at prior protests, at this week’s demonstrations on Thursday and Saturday, the police will deploy special teams to enforce the required wearing of face masks and the regulation pertaining to refusing a police officer’s order to disperse a crowd. That regulation has been vigorously enforced recently. (Josh Breiner)

4:09 P.M. Netanyahu opposes Haredi minister's proposal to ease restrictions on weddings

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed the proposal by Shas chairman Arye Dery to ease the restrictions on weddings, and allow holding them with the attendance of 200 people.

Netanyahu said that such a move might lead to renewed outbreak of the virus in Israel's Arab community.

On his part, Dery replied that he "represents the Jewish people," according to sources who attended the meeting discussing the Shas chairman's proposal.

Dery's office later released a statement saying that the aforementioned quote is "inaccurate," adding that the minister represents a broad public that considers such things as very important." (Noa Landau)

3: 57 P.M. Finance minister says will seek opening small businesses, preschools on Sunday

An announcement was made on behalf of Finance Minister Yisrael Katz stating that he would be seeking to permit all of the country’s businesses that don’t provide in-person to open as of Sunday, along with businesses with up to 10 employees.

He will also be demanding that restaurants, which are currently limited to providing food deliveries, also be allowed to offer take-out food from their premises and that kindergartens be allowed to open.

The Finance Ministry also said rather than uniform restrictions around the country, Katz would be demanding separate restrictions in so-called “red cities,” with the highest infection rates, as well as the creation of a team that would provide these towns expanded financial assistance. (Noa Landau)

3:13 P.M. Netanyahu hails lockdown as 'great success'

At the beginning of the coronavirus cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The lockdown up to now has been a huge success,” and added: “They are beginning to talk about [our] success in other countries, particularly in Europe, where in several countries the incidence of disease has already surpassed ours. At the moment, they are deliberating over a question that we also deliberated over and made a decision on – whether to have a lockdown.”

“We are seeing a consistent and clear decline in all of the numbers,” the prime minster said, adding that the government plans to use Health Ministry data along with expert opinions to formulate "a gradual easing of the conditions of the current lockdown." (Noa Landau)

2:10 P.M. Self-employed, shop owners set fire to their merchandise in protest

Dozens of protesters, among them traders from the textile industry and other self-employed, demonstrated against the lockdown Thursday by burning their merchandise on Jaffa Road in Tel Aviv.

The owner of a clothes store who set fire to her goods shouted: “We have whole collections that are going straight to the trash. Now, the winter merchandise is starting to arrive, the money has run out, all the workers are at home, and we have young children at home. The bank is calling, demanding answers. What are we supposed to do? There is nothing to do with the merchandise.”

Another protester who stood beside her said that the sight “pains my heart.”

One of the people who organized the protest and identified as self-employed said, “Me and thousands of freelancers have lost faith in our detached leadership... These 'noble' people do not even abide by their own decisions. We ordinary people have reached the limit with their contemptible behavior.” (Bar Peleg)

1:00 P.M. Two universities require online students turn on cameras

Two Israeli universities, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have decided to require students keep their computer cameras on during online classes – even during those where attendance isn’t mandatory.

In a letter on Wednesday to students TAU said that a failure to turn on the camera would be booked as an absence in classes with mandatory attendance.

Hebrew University wrote on Thursday that students had to keep the cameras on because it “reduces the concerns that students will give in to the temptation to be distracted during class and therefore essential to creating a learning community” in the classroom.  It also said that “courtesy requires students to enable the teacher to see them listening and responding.” At the same time both institutions said that students may request an exemption by providing a reasoned excuse. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

12:05 A.M. Almost 2000 more Israelis diagnosed with virus, no new deaths

298,500 Israelis have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, with 45,151 of those cases active, according to data released by the Health Ministry. 1,848 new cases were detected. 755 of those with the virus are in serious condition, with 241 of those on ventilators. The number of deaths remains at 2,098. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

7:45 P.M. Netanyahu says lockdown working, vows to resume air travel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted in a recorded video on Wednesday that the number of coronavirus cases and rate of new infections are decreasing, asserting that "the lockdown that I led and that the cabinet ultimately approved – this lockdown is working." Netanyahu said he would convene the coronavirus cabinet on Thursday and that the first thing to be discussed would be "a separate exit path for red cities," referring to cities categorized as having a high infection rate. He also vowed to resume air travel and to give citizens more financial assistance. (Noa Landau)

2:45 P.M. Protests to resume outside of Netanyahu's residence

Protest groups have announced they will resume Saturday night demonstrations outside the prime minister's residence, the first large-scale protests there since demonstrations were curbed two weeks ago during Israel's second coronavirus lockdown. Although the lockdown was extended, the restrictions on traveling to protests have expired. 

The announcement comes one day after the government told the High Court of Justice it did not intend to extend the “special state of emergency” set to expire at midnight. This allowed the governmnent to legally compel protesters to remain within a kilometer (0.6 miles) of their homes.

On Tuesday, protest groups called on the public to join the demonstrations being held around the country in the next few days.

The Black Flag movement has called on the police to remove fencing around streets near Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem and urged supporters to arrive in full force both on Saturday and to the hundreds of demonstrations Thursday.

“Come and open a new page in which you allow us to protest safely,” the group said in a statement addressed to the police. (Bar PelegRead the full report here.

11:38 A.M. Knesset committee approves extending lockdown, allows exception for weddings

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved extending emergency measures limiting gatherings on Wednesday morning, with the amendments made by the cabinet.  

The committee approved extending the current lockdown, including limitations on gatherings in public spaces and closing non-essential workplaces, until Sunday at midnight.

The amendments include broadening the exceptions to the rule limiting travel past one kilometer from home. Israelis can now travel to attend a wedding of a close relative, so long as the event has up to 20 participants if held outdoors and 10 if held indoors.

Committee head Yakov Asher called on protest groups not to demonstrate on the coming Saturday night, saying "This week is not the time for protests, but to stay home so that we can return to work." He added that the country will ease the lockdown majorly next week.  

The extension, including the amendments, will go into effect in the coming hours. (Jonathan Lis)  

11:08 A.M. Over 970,000 Israelis unemployed

Since the day before the lockdown began about a month ago, 251,611 Israelis have registered for unemployment, with 220,064 of them on unpaid leave. 

Of those, 175,618 signed with the Israeli Employment Service at least once before since the coronavirus crisis began in March. Since yesterday and until 7 A.M. this morning, 5,437 Israelis have registered as unemployed. 

There are currently 971,096 unemployed Israelis, the service reports, of which 620,854 are on unpaid leave.  

From yesterday until 7 A.M. this morning, 5,437 Israelis registered for unemployment. (Sivan Klingbail)

TUESDAY

11:35 P.M. Government confirms regulations remain in place, further discussion to take place on Thursday  

A joint statement by the Prime Minister's office and the Health Ministry officially confirmed the lockdown would be in effect until Sunday, with further discussions to take place on Thursday.

The cabinet will meet to discuss the staggered exit plan, and decide specifically on whether to reopen small businesses that are not public-facing, preschools, as well as allow restaurants to operate for collection. The inter-ministerial commission will also discuss restrictions on air travel, which remain in effect until Thursday.

The cabinet has decided to add going to the wedding of a close relative as another exclusion to the rule currently limiting movements to 1,000 meters from home. Athletes playing in a senior sports league will also be allowed to resume training.

The Treasury also issued a statement saying workplace restrictions remain in effect until Sunday, October 18. (Noa Landau)

11:05 P.M. Israel sees drop in rate of COVID-positive test results

An additional 2,184 Israelis were diagnosed with COVID-19 since Monday night, according to the Health Ministry, showing a 4.9 percentage of positive test results, compared to seven percent the previous day.

Nineteen more people died since Monday, raising Israel's COVID death toll to 2,040. Out of 50,778 active cases, 2,541 are on ventilators. A total of 47,301 tests were conducted on Monday, and 30,689 have been performed since. (Haaretz)

10:47 P.M. Gov't not renewing emergency regulations, lifting limitations on protests

According to Defense Minister Benny Gantz's office, the government's emergency regulations, which expire at midnight, will not be renewed, allowing Israelis to demonstratse farther than 1,000 meters from their home.

Two weeks ago, the Knesset amended the law to allow protesters to be barred from demonstrating more than a kilometer from their homes. As a result, the main anti-Netanyahu protest in front of his official residence in Jerusalem has been replaced with numerous smaller protests nationwide. (Noa Landau)

10:15 P.M. Minister attends wedding, violating lockdown 

Religious Services Minister Yaakov Avitan attended a wedding in which dozens of people were present, violating lockdown restrictions. 

The wedding was held at a private house in the presence of 60-50 people, and Avitan greeted the bride and groom at a canopy held outside, according to a Channel 13 report. The minister was even photographed inside the house signing the Jewish marriage contract in the presence of the groom and family members.

The government's lockdown restrictions prohibit gatherings of more than ten people in a closed space and 20 in an open space. Avitan confirmed the report and apologized, saying: "I am very sorry for my participation in the wedding tonight. I arrived at the wedding for a quarter of an hour, I made a mistake in my judgment and I express remorse." (Haaretz)

9:48 P.M. Netanyahu, Gantz agree to extend nationwide lockdown until Sunday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz agreed during a coronavirus cabinet meeting on Tuesday to extend Israel's nationwide lockdown until Sunday evening. The decision was ratified by the other ministers in the cabinet. (Noa Landau)

7:40 P.M. COVID cabinet convenes but will not discuss easing lockdown until Thursday

Israel's Coronavirus cabinet has convened Tuesday night, however the cabinet will discuss easing the lockdown in light of the decrease in infection rate on Thursday. 

Tuesday's meeting will discuss the rate of infection and the stages of a routine exit strategy.

The Thursday meeting will deal with issuing permits allowing for small businesses to open without a crowd, self-pickup of food from restaurants and the reopening of preschools starting next week. 

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu presented the cabinet with a list of localities considered "bright red," which are expected to remain under full lockdown even after the country eases restrictions. at this stage there are 13 such localities, which were presented to the cabinet and which will not be divided by neighborhoods. 

The so-called "bright red" cities are Modi'in Illit, Bnei Brak, Rechasim, Jerusalem, Beitar Illit, Elad, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Malachi, Ofakim, Ramla, Netivot, Or Yehuda and Ashdod. (Noa Landau, Nir Hasson and Ido Efrati)

5:20 P.M. Civil Service Commissioner gets COVID, hides it from public, staff

Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz, 67, has recently been diagnosed with the coronavirus, but hid the fact from the public.

Members of the commission's management even treated his diagnoses as a secret that must not be leaked whatsoever. Even civil servants who work closely with the commission did not know Hershkowitz had contracted the virus. 

Inside sources claim that Hershkowitz apparently contracted the virus from a driver that complained of symptoms (the comissioner lives in Haifa and works in Jerusalem). TheMarker's first appeal to the commission raised the naive answer that the commissioner was "healthy and intact and even in office these days." The fact that he returned to work after contracting the virus was not mentioned in his office's reply.

It was only when another question was asked that the answer came: "About two weeks ago the commissioner took a test that was positive for the coronavirus, but did not develop any symptoms. He self-isolated in his home and a week ago received a recovery permit as required. For the past week, he has been working full time in his office at the Commission in Jerusalem."

The statement continued: "The commissioner reported as required to the coronavirus commissioner in the Prime Minister's Office, to the corona commissioner in the commission and, of course, to the Health Ministry, which conducted a comprehensive epidemiological investigation."

It should be noted that Hershkowitz is not obligated to report his illness to the public, but as the person in charge of about 70,000 employees, he is expected to act transparently.

When asked why the issue was not reported to the media, no answer was received from the commission. (Tali Heruti-Sover)

3:30 P.M. Some ultra-Orthodox schools open doors despite lockdown

A number of Talmud Torah schools have opened their doors in the last two days despite the lockdown. These are mainly institutions of more extreme communities, with most of the ultra-Orthodox institutions obeying the rabbis' directive not to open for the time being until an agreement is reached with the Health Ministry regarding an orderly opening outline Torah schools and Yeshivas.

Haaretz has learned that a number of ultra-Orthodox schools and have opened their doors Monday and Tuesday in Bnei Brak, Beitar Illit, Elad and Modi'in Illit. Some of them were approached by the police, who stopped their studies and distributed fines. Additionally, two directors of schools in Beitar Illit were summoned for questioning by the police on suspicion of violating the ban on opening educational institutions. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

3:00 P.M. COVID cabinet meeting likely postponed to Thursday

The Coronavirus Cabinet meeting planned for today has been postponed, likely to Thursday, due to a lack of data regarding changes in the virus infection rate, sources within the cabinet told Haaretz. 

COVID scar Ronni Gamzu said Tuesday that he intends to soon speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Defense Minister and alternate PM Benny Gantz, to discuss extending the nationwide lockdown until the cabinet meeting on Thursday. The lockdown is expected to expire overnight between Wednesday to Thursday. 

Gamzu added: "The intention is to open at the beginning of the week, a final decision (will be made) on Thursday. If the intention is to hear final decisions, they would not come out today clearly." He added that "after three and a half weeks we are in close quarters with 3,000 (new) cases a day. Understand the complexity of the situation. This complexity is concentrated in a number of cities that are more difficult because of their conditions, because of the structure. We went down to over 30 'red' cities today But there is a real difficulty in lowering the infection rate. "

The Health Ministry is preparing to ease the lockdown this coming weekend, or at the latest at the beginning of the following week. According to the outline formulated by the ministry, the exit strategy will be done in eight stages, with each expected to last two weeks. Assuming that the decline in the infection rate continues, the ministry expects the exit to be completed in February. (Noa Landau and Nir Hasson)

1:45 P.M. Death toll rises by 11

The country's coronavirus death toll has risen by 11 since Monday to reach 2,032. The number of total cases has risen to 295,625, including 51,564. Of these, there are 826 cases in serious condition and 254 on ventilators. (Haaretz)

1:30 P.M. Protest groups say they will return to Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem on Saturday

Protest groups have announced that they will resume demonstrations outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem on Saturday. Restrictions limiting protesters to remaining within a kilometer of their homes are set to expire at the end of Tuesday, two weeks after being put in place.

The Black Flags movement called on police to remove fencing around streets surrounding Netanyahu's residence and urged supporters to arrive in full force on Saturday. (Bar Peleg)

12:27 P.M. Government approves grant for people on disability 

The government has approved a grant for disabled people. It is expected to receive Knesset approval, and the funds will likely be deposited within the month. 

The amount of the grant, which will be paid in two installments, one in October and one in December, will be determined according to the type of benefits normally received, the percentage of disability and the number of months of eligibility of the disabled person during the year 2020, as coordinated with organizations for disabled people.

The move is expected to cost NIS 940 million. (Noa Landau)

11:55 A.M. Is a cure for COVID-19 already sold at a pharmacy near you? Some experts believe so

Around the world, evidence mounts that vitamin D can protect against infection by COVID-19 and ease the virus' symptoms, but the medical establishment isn't convinced. Is it time to think outside the box? Read the full report here

10:22 A.M. Israel High Court to rule on limiting protests under coronavirus restrictions

During the hearing on Tuesday morning, which is ongoing, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut outlined a plan to limit protests depending on the size of the demonstration site and requiring that participants adhere to social distancing rules between protestors.

The High Court is discussing rules for protesting safely in order to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, a day after the government told the court that it does not intend to extend the "special state of emergency" that allows it to limit protests, set to expire on Tuesday. Read the full report here (Netael Bandel)

MONDAY

11:11 P.M. Five more die from virus

The Health Ministry said that 478 more people have tested positive for COVID-19, raising the nationwide tally of confirmed cases to 294,031.Out of these cases, 53,327 are currently active. Five more Israelis have died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 2,021.

As of Monday night, 822 cases are considered serious, out of which 237 are on ventilators. So far, 238,681 people have recovered.

The ministry added that 23,033 coronavirus tests were conducted on Sunday. (Haaretz)

7:29 P.M. Death toll passes 2,000

The death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 2,016 on Monday, according to Health Ministry statistics. Israel confirmed 3,060 new cases. The percentage of tests returning positive dropped to 6.5 percent. To date, Israel has confirmed 293,553 cases, and currently has 52,892 active cases. Of those, 827 people are in serious condition and 227 are on life support. (Haaretz)

5:45 P.M. Government tells High Court it will not renew restrictions on protests

The Israeli government told the High Court on Monday that it does not intend to extend the "special state of emergency" that allows it to limit protests, set to expire on Tuesday.  

Earlier, the Health Ministry told the Justice Ministry they would also not recommend renewing the order restricting demonstrations, even if there is no immediate easing of the lockdown. The announcement was apparently made in coordination with the Prime Minister's office, Army Radio reported.

If the government wants to extend the regulations limiting protests, it must decide to extend the "state of special emergency" for another week and then extend the validity of the relevant regulations.

A source in the Health Ministry told Haaretz: "We will not extend the restrictions on the demonstrations, which expire tomorrow, in the hope that the demonstrators will be able to conduct gatherings according to coronavirus rules, for the health of us all."

The Black Flags movement, which is among the organizers of the anti-Netanyahu protests in recent months, said that they will "return to protest in front of the home of the defendent at Balfour this coming Saturday, as well as at some 1,200 locations nationwide. In addition we will hold protests on Thursday all across Israel." According to the organization, "Over the last month all of Israel realized that an indicted prime minister is a certain recipe for disaster."

"The Israeli people came out in hordes in recent weeks from a deep desire to save Israel, and we call on them to continue and come to Balfour [in Jerusalem] to replace Netanyahu," the organization said.(Netael Bandel and Jonathan Lis)

4:48 P.M. Netanyahu implores ultra-Orthodox to observe lockdown restrictions

Speaking before the Knesset plenum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "if we act hastily, if we succumb to pressure from any section [of Israeli society], we will very soon reach another lockdown. I call on all public leaders on the left and right – to act together on mutual guarantee. And together we will lower the level of infection and mortality. "

In his speech, Netanyahu directly addressed the heads of the ultra-Orthodox community, saying: "The world of Torah is dear to my heart... Our Torah is a doctrine of life, which sanctifies life. Please tell your communities – observe the guidelines, save lives." (Haaretz)

4:00 P.M. Netanyahu says cabinet will discuss exit strategy Tuesday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Knesset's Coronavirus Cabinet will convene Tuesday to discuss a clear exit strategy from Israel's second nationwide lockdown. 

Regarding vaccines, the prime minister says that "the queue [for vaccines] is determined by the size of the country, so we are not at the front of the queue," adding that he is trying to "use the special connections we have to try and advance in line."

"In the first lockdown we were united and cohesive, that was a huge advantage. We need to get back to this situation. It's not easy, we see the ramifications, but we have to make the right decisions." (Haaretz)

1:30 P.M. Tel Aviv hospital no longer accepting severe cases due to ward congestion

Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv informed the Health Ministry on Monday it will no longer accept coronavirus patients requiring full nursing care due to the overload created in wards that treat those infected with the virus.

According to the hospital, the congestion was created because no suitable frameworks were found to release 25 patients being treated by nurses who no longer need hospitalization, and so are still being treated in hospital. Nursing wards whose patients become infected in the virus do not always have the therapeutic capacity or medical means necessary to receive them for outpatient treatment upon discharge from the hospitals.

In Ichilov, where 110 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized, 65 of whom are in serious condition, the hospital said that there is a systemic problem in regulating the patient load. According to them, in some of the other hospitals in the country the number of patients is much lower, and patients can be regulated.

Last month, the Health Ministry announced an operation in which hospitalized coronavirus patients were to be transferred from overcrowded hospitals to lower-occupancy hospitals. However, in recent weeks, officials in Magen David Adom and other sources in the health system have made allegations of real difficulties in implementing the move. (Ido Efrati)

1:00 P.M. 10 more virus deaths recorded

157 more Israelis have been diagnosed with the coronavirus Monday, according to statistics released by the Health Ministry, with 10 more deaths. 837 of those are in serious condition, and 243 are on ventilators. The total number of cases in Israel is 292,230, with a total of 1,993 deaths. 51,855 of those cases are active. (Haaretz)

11:45 A.M. Preschools to reopen on Sunday, Health Ministry confirms

Israel's Health Ministry CEO Prof. Itamar Grotto said that preschools would be allowed to reopen on Sunday, contradicting a previous statement by Public Health chief Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis.

"We intend to open preschools and kindergartens for ages 0 to 6 on Sunday, unless there is something unusual in the illness and we do not meet the numbers we set," Grotto told Army Radio.

Alroy-Price said on Sunday that the rate of infection did not reach its intended target of 0.8, down from what she assessed was 1 currently, and that she did not see how it would do so by the beginning of next week. "This is the principle: We reopen according to morbidity indices, and not according to dates," she argued. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

>> Click here to read the full report

11:05 A.M. Israeli Health Ministry to recommend not extending restrictions on protests

The Health Ministry officially told the Justice Ministry they would not recommend to renew the order restricting demonstrations, even if there is no immediate easing of the lockdown.

The announcement was apparently made in coordination with the Prime Minister's office, Army Radio reported.

Sources in both ministries told Haaretz that not allowing protests was an extreme step that could not be justified in light of the improvement in morbidity data. (Ido Efrati)

>> Click here to read the full report

10:01 A.M. 91 fines given in Tel Aviv for praying, but just one in Jerusalem 

From the beginning of the lockdown, the Israel Police gave out one fine for prayer that was in violation of the coronavirus restrictions in the Jerusalem area, despite a series of violations of regulations documented in the city. According to police data, which was presented on Monday to the Knesset's Interior Committee, in the Tel Aviv district, which includes Bnei Brak, 91 fines were distributed within the same period.

According to the data, similarly to in the first virus wave, the number of fines distributed for violating regulations in the northern area of Israel is significantly higher than in other areas. About 15,000 fines have been given in the north of the country since the beginning of the lockdown, followed by the Jerusalem district, with 13,407 fines. In the Tel Aviv District, 10,550 fines were given.

According to the data, most of the fines in the north and Tel Aviv districts were distributed for being in public. In addition, 460 fines were given in the Tel Aviv district for staying in a prohibited place, apparently due to recipients being at the beach. Meanwhile 401 fines were given for crowds that refused to disperse, which were mainly given during the protests in the city. In the Jerusalem district, 293 fines were also given for this offense, while in the other districts the number is only a few dozen. (Josh Breiner)

9:33 A.M. Active cases in Israel continue to decline

The Health Ministry confirmed 1,335 new cases, bringing the total number of cases in Israel to 291,828, with 51,698 of them considered active – down more than 8,000 from the latest update on Sunday.

1,553 patients are currently hospitalized, with 823 of them in serious condition and 224 on life support. 1,983 COVID patients died since the outbreak began.

According to the Health Ministry, 22,777 coronavirus tests were conducted on Sunday, about half the daily average over the past week. (Haaretz)

2:35 A.M. Netanyahu excludes justice minister from talks on lifting lockdown; vote postponed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding preliminary talks on Sunday about possible measures to loosen the lockdown, which will be brought before the cabinet and the coronavirus cabinet for approval on Monday and Tuesday.

The talks are expected to include Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and coronavirus chief Ronni Gamzu.

The Prime Minister’s Office canceled the participation of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at the last minute. According to Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, Nissenkorn was disinvited based on his vehement opposition to limiting public protest. However, Netanyahu’s Likud party has denied the allegation. (Noa Landau, Jonathan Lis and Jack Khoury)

>> Click here to read the full report

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