Israel sees a steady rise in coronavirus cases and has entered its third national lockdown, while an ambitious vaccination campaign is underway.
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Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza wait to receive vaccines, which could take at least a few more months, as authorities struggle to keep infection rates low.
Israel currently has 82,401 active cases; 4,179 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 4,939 active cases and 1,422 deaths, and in Gaza 5,849 active cases and 496 deaths.
9:14 P.M. 'Radical' Haredim attack cops dispersing illegal gathering in COVID hotspot; police arrest three
Several people belonging to extreme ultra-Orthodox factions attacked police officers who arrived in Bnei Brak to disperse a gathering held in violation of COVID restrictions.
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Video footage shows the officers being pushed and beaten by the rioters. The officers are also seen getting into their vehicle with dozens of people chasing it and smashing the car windows with sticks and stones. The police said one officer was lightly wounded.
Several hours later, a large police force arrived at the area of the yeshiva attended by those who allegedly attacked the officers. According to police, clashes erupted during which youths set fire to trash cans. Officers responded with tear gas and arrested three individuals who were present. (Bar Peleg)
7:55 P.M. Health Ministry panel recommends vaccinating teens 16-18
The Health Ministry panel in charge of prioritizing vaccinations recommended to start vaccinating teenagers aged 16 to 18. (Ido Efrati)
4:11 P.M. Police shutter synagogue, school operating in violation of lockdown restrictions
The police said they closed Wednesday a synagogue and a school in Bnei Brak which operated in violation of COVID-19 restrictions. (Haaretz)
4 P.M. Israel's strained public hospitals say they will refuse ambulances starting Sunday
Six public hospitals told the director general of Magen David Adom emergency services they will not accept ambulances carrying patients who do not require life-saving treatment due to their dire economic situation and lack of equipment and medication.
The hospitals' announcement comes after talks between the Health Ministry and Finance Ministry reached a dead end that prompted hospital directors to set up a protest encampment in front of the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem.
"Due to a severe lack of equipment and medication, we hereby inform you that starting January 24 at 6 A.M., ambulances cannot be referred to the hospitals for patients who do not require life-saving treatment, including coronavirus patients," the directors of the hospitals said in a joint letter.
The hospitals in question are Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Centerin Bnei Brak, as well as three hospitals in Nazareth that warned in past weeks that they are on the verge of collapse.
Health Minister Director General Chezy Levy later said in response that "we will not allow using patients as bargaining chips. The announcement issued [by the hospitals] has no validity and is against Health Ministry protocols. Patients will be taken to hospitals as before." (Ido Efrati)
1:27 P.M. East Jerusalem allows young people to get vaccinated in bid to increase innoculation rates
In a bid to encourage vaccinations, the Jerusalem Municipality has launched a program that will allow young people to be vaccinated if they’re escorting older relatives to receive the vaccine, a move that has been approved by coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash.
The rate of vaccination in East Jerusalem is low compared to West Jerusalem, and other Arab-majority communities nationwide.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon said he asks “all residents of East Jerusalem, and Jerusalem as a whole to go get vaccinated. This is the only way we’ll beat this virus and return to routine life, which we all want.” (Nir Hasson)
12:14 P.M. Two police officers injured after raiding yeshiva in Bnei Brak
Two officers were lightly injured after police raided a yeshiva in Bnei Brak that is suspected of violating coronavirus restrictions.
The police entered the yeshiva, where a few dozen students were learning. According to the police, the yeshiva appeared closed from the outside, and upon closer inspection, the place appeared empty.
At around midday, riot police forces arrived to disperse the gathering, but were met with protest, with some students throwing stones at the officers.
Two locals were arrested for suspicion of disorderly conduct, and two others tried to block the police car from leaving the scene.
When the forces entered the yeshiva, dozens of other locals gathered outside and began jeering at police, screaming “go home Nazis” and “go back to Tel Aviv.” (Bar Peleg)
11:36 A.M. 500 Russia-manufactured vaccines destined for West Bank, Gaza arrive in Israel
Breaking with its previous stance, Israel intends to allow the passage of vaccines imported from Russia to the West Bank as well as Gaza.
On Wednesday, Israel announced that 500 vaccines from Russia will be sent to vaccinate healthcare workers in Gaza and the West Bank, irrespective of their age.
This information was sent in a letter addressed to Professor Aviad Cohen, the representative of the Goldin Family at Israel’s High Court, who petitioned the court to disclose details on aid and relief provided to Gaza in a draft statement requested by the state.
In a message from the government addressed January 6 2021, Israel said that “at this time,” there are no intentions to send vaccines to Gaza from Israel,” yet fell short of mentioning the names of any major vaccine manufacturers.
A few days later, Israel announced that 200 doses of the vaccine were delivered to the West Bank, and 100 have already been administered. The remaining 100 are expected to be given to “healthcare workers over 60 that are caring for coronavirus patients in Palestinian hospitals.” (Netael Bandel)
10:20 A.M. Health Ministry: R number drops below 1 for first time since October
The R number, which measures the rate of the coronavirus spread, dropped below 1 for the first time since October, the Health Ministry said Thursday. It currently stands at 0.99.
According to the data, the coronavirus infection rate has been slowing since the end of December, yet this marks the first time that it has dipped below one.
The R number reflects the average number of people each patient will infect. When the R number drops below one, the number of new infections decreases.
The Health Ministry warned that the infection rate is still high, adding that “the rate of contagion continues to decline, which is reflected in a decrease in the weekly number of new cases.” (Ido Efrati)
8:20 A.M. Health Ministry releases latest numbers of Israel's vaccination drive
205,000 Israelis were vaccinated Monday, Health Minister Yudi Edelstein said.
"134,000 received their first dose, and 71,000 received their second dose," Edelstein said.
"This brings the number of vaccinated Israelis to 2,365,000, and of that total, 692,000 have received their second injection," he added, also thanking medical staff nationwide for administering the vaccinations. (Ido Efrati)
10:53 P.M. Israel's post-vaccine dilemmas
Despite the lockdown and the fast pace of vaccinations, dozens of coronavirus patients are dying every day. Hospitals are struggling to provide their best level of medical care, and millions of Israelis are feeling the stranglehold of the lockdown.
According to a study conducted by Hebrew University researchers, which echoes the findings of teams at the Weizmann Center, the Technion and the Tel Aviv University, coronavirus patients in serious condition are increasingly likely to die, and to die more quickly. Meanwhile, the impact of the vaccination campaign is not yet being seen on the infection rate.
This leaves Israel with five points it will be thinking about over the next few weeks. (Ronny Linder)
10:48 P.M. Self-employed Israelis, small business owners bear brunt of crisis, study shows
Israel’s self-employed and small- and medium-sized business owners are feeling the impact of the coronavirus crisis more so than salaried workers, according to a survey conducted by researchers at the Israel Democracy Institute.
The survey, titled “The State of the Workforce During the Coronavirus Period,” was conducted in the beginning of December, before the third lockdown was called at the end of the month, and then intensified in the second week of January. The survey is considered a representative sample of the self-employed in Israel and is a continuation of a survey conducted in June 2020 among the same respondents.
The change between June and December is worrying. For instance, 8% of respondents stated in December that they’d shuttered their business permanently due to the pandemic, versus 5.4% in June.
Before the pandemic began, there were some 500,000 businesses in Israel. Since then, 40,000 have closed for good. (Tali Heruti-Sover)
6:34 P.M 10 new cases of South African COVID mutation detected in Israel
The Health Ministry said on Wednesday that 10 more cases of the South African COVID-19 mutation were detected in Israel, bringing the total number of cases to 22.
The carriers of the mutation came to Israel from Dubai and South Africa, the Health Ministry added. (Haaretz)
2:21 P.M. Pfizer vaccine likely to protect against U.K. variant, study shows
The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is likely to protect against a more infectious variant of the virus discovered in Britain which has spread around the world, according to results of further lab tests released on Wednesday.
The encouraging results from an analysis of blood of participants in trials are based on more extensive analysis than those released by the U.S. drugmaker last week.
Last week, Pfizer said a similar laboratory study showed the vaccine was effective against one key mutation, called N501Y, found in two highly transmissible new variants spreading in Britain and South Africa.
The latest study, posted on bioRxiv.org but not yet peer reviewed, was conducted on a synthetic virus with 10 mutations that are characteristic of the variant known as B117 identified in Britain.
Among the 11 authors of the study are Ugur Sahin and Oezlem Tuereci, co-founders of BioNTech. Sahin is chief executive and his wife Tuereci is chief medical officer.
It provides further hope as record numbers of daily deaths from COVID-19 are reported in Britain, which is believed to be driven by the more transmissible variant. It also means vaccine development would for now not have to start all over again.
But the virus needs to be continuously monitored to check that changes maintain protection by vaccines, the study said. (Reuters)
1:27 P.M. Health Ministry says only Israelis 40 and older to be vaccinated, despite HMO statements
Following announcements from health maintenance organizations that they will begin vaccinating Israelis aged 35 and older, the Health Ministry released a statement saying that it has instructed them only to vaccinate those over age 40.
"The vaccination regime and the groups that will be vaccinated is a central plan by the Health Ministry, together with HMOs, and it is determined according to the number of vaccines available and the ability to vaccinate," the ministry's statement said.
"At this point, the instruction given [to HMOs] as of yesterday speaks to vaccinating those aged 40 and older."
1:10 P.M. Police identify coronavirus patient at wedding attended by dozens in Ashkelon
Police opened an investigation Wednesday after a woman who was diagnosed with the coronavirus attended a wedding in the southern city of Ashkelon a day earlier.
Police broke up the wedding, which hosted dozens of people in violation of coronavirus guidelines, after receiving reports of a mass gathering. By the time they arrived at the synagogue hosting the event, police found tables that had seated dozens more diners, who had already left the event.
Among the guests that police found hiding in the venue was a coronavirus patient who was violating her quarantine.
The officers handed out 21 fines to guests, suppliers and organizers of the event. A criminal investigation was opened into the organizers as well, on suspicion of an act that can spread disease.
12:58 HMOs to start vaccinating Israelis over 35
The Meuhedet Health Maintenance Organization is allowing Israelis aged 35 and older to receive the coronavirus vaccine, days after HMOs allowed people over 40 to make inoculation appointments.
Clalit, Israel's largest HMO, clarified that while it was not vaccinating members under 40, it is opening its online systems to people aged 35 and up, "in order not to waste our ability to vaccinate over 100,000 people a day." (Ido Efrati)
12:49 P.M. Meretz MK calls for 100,000 Moderna vaccines to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority
Meretz Knesset Member Esawi Freige has requested that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein transfer 100,000 Moderna coronavirus vaccines that Israel is not using to the Palestinian Authority.
"In a reality in which the world is fighting the worst pandemic of the past century, such a large amount of vaccine doses cannot be left unused," Freige's office said. "Therefore, the most ethically and medically correct step is to transfer those same 100,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority, who still does not have enough vaccines for a broad vaccine drive."
Freige says that Israel is the de facto controlling power in the West Bank, and therefore is ethically responsible for the health of its residents.
"It is in Israel's interest and is no less important, it is an ethical imperative for those that the State of Israel occupies and whose lives it controls," he said. (Jonathan Lis)
12:50 P.M. Over 800 patients have died this month, death toll reaches 4,212
Over 800 coronavirus patients have died in Israel since the beginning of January, according to Health Ministry data released Wednesday. The number of deaths crossed the 4,000 level at the beginning of the week, and reached 4,212 on Wednesday morning. Out of 82,930 active cases, 1,918 are hospitalized. There are 1,113 in serious condition, including 308 on ventilators. (Ido Efrati)
11:44 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox schools continue to open despite lockdown
Dozens of ultra-Orthodox educational institutions were open Wednesday despite the coronavirus lockdown. Even though more and more Haredi institutions have opened in past days, police enforcement has remained minimal.
The schools belong to particularly extreme ultra-Orthodox sects, and have continued to operate throughout the lockdown, in which all schools are supposed to be closed for in-person learning. In past days, certain boys' schools belonging to the Lithuanian Hasidic sect have reopened, with the approval of the community's leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. Some of the schools have, at this point, reduced their activities; others have opened only for grades seven and eight.
Police have been operating in Haredi neighborhoods to enforce the coronavirus regulations. Forces responding to reports of COVID violations in Jerusalem's Ezrat Torah neighborhood were pelted with rocks, causing injury to an officer; on Tuesday, police and residents clashed in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria, where many officers were sent to a Bratslav yeshiva that was operating against the regulations. (Aaron Rabinowitz)
11:30 A.M. Deputy health minister says Israel may be unable to hold elections as planned due to high infection rate
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish said Wednesday morning that if the coronavirus infection rate does not decrease, he does not know whether Israel will be able to hold an election in March as planned.
In an interview with 103 FM radio, Kish said that if the election was due to be held now, "The Health Ministry would recommend to the Central Elections Committee to delay it by a month, until the lockdown is over, until the infection rate lowers."
Kish said that the March 23 election may have to be delayed, and clarified that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from his own Likud party, "Never discussed this… there's a date for Election Day and Likud is preparing for it." He added that the Central Elections Committee is the only institution with the authority to delay elections. "The Health Ministry is subordinate to it on this matter," he said, adding that the ministry can only be involved in an advisory capacity.
Despite Kish's statements, it is the Knesset, and not the committee, that is authorized to delay elections. The Basic Law on the Knesset allows its members to delay Election Day to an unspecified date due to "exceptional circumstances." The law does not specify for how long the elections can be delayed, only that it can take as long as "is needed for the aforementioned circumstances."
A majority of 80 Knesset members is required in order to push off the election. The law was originally intended to prevent elections from being held during wartime, may also apply to difficulties that may arise due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nitzan Horowitz, chairman of the Meretz party, responded to Kish, saying that his party will fight against "this attempt to steal democracy under the cover of a health crisis." He added that Netanyahu "is trying to delay the elections because the infection rate does not suit his campaign. He will do everything in order to extricate himself from the terror of justice." (Jonathan Lis)
9:37 A.M. Rocks thrown at police in Jerusalem Haredi neighborhood after reports of COVID violations
A rock was thrown at a police vehicle in the Ezrat Hatorah neighborhood in Jerusalem, shattering the window and injuring an officer, who was hit in the head.
Police arrived at the scene after receiving reports of coronavirus regulation violations, where they were pelted with stones. One of the stones hit the police vehicle.
7:22 A.M. Israel passes 200,000 vaccinated in a day
About 550,000 Israelis have received their second dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein wrote on his Twitter Wednesday.
"We've surpassed 200,000 vaccinations in a day – this is the pace that'll defeat the mutation!" Edelstein said of the more contagious variants of the virus discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
7:59 P.M. Gynecology chiefs recommend vaccine for pregnant women
Israel’s council for gynecological health has recommended the coronavirus vaccine for pregnant women and women needing or undergoing fertility treatment, particularly those at high risk exposure or suffering underlying conditions.
The recommendation Tuesday follows a rise in cases of pregnant women hospitalized for the virus; some of their lives are at risk, as well as those of their unborn babies. (Ido Efrati)
7:37 P.M. Who's responsible for Israeli airport's testing fiasco?
“Why isn’t every foreign tourist who is permitted to enter Israel obligated to be tested for the coronavirus?” asked a naïve commenter on a Facebook Live chat conducted by the Health Ministry on August 8.
Five months later, this question would top the public agenda, and not only regarding tourists – but regarding all those entering Israel. Everyone has already tired of watching with indifference as the country indiscriminately imports COVID-19.
On Monday, the Health Ministry volleyed the question to the Justice Ministry, claiming that it was the legal obstacles they piled on that have thus far prevented the identification of coronavirus patients at Ben-Gurion International Airport. But on August 8, ministry officials were singing an entirely different tune. (Avi Bar-Eli)
7:25 P.M. Cabinet approves 10-day extension to lockdown
Israel's cabinet has approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to extend the nationwide lockdown by 10 days, taking it through to January 31 at midnight.
The cabinet also approved regulations that will require anyone entering Israel to present a negative coronavirus test, conducted 72 hours prior to arrival. (Judy Maltz)
7:00 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox fined half as much, Arabs 50 percent more than other Israelis for coronavirus violations
New statistics show that, since the beginning of the current lockdown, the Israel Police has given an average of 26 fines per 10,000 residents in the ultra-Orthodox community, while the general population received more than 58 reports per ten thousand residents. The number was way higher in the Arab community, where 80 residents per 10,000 were given citations.
The difference stems from the kind of offenses that were committed, Operations Division chief Amnon Ekalai argued, with not wearing a mask the most common in the Arab community, while most fines were given among the ultra-Orthodox for refusing to disperse.
The police also aimed to show that there had been "enforcement and supervision on a large scale," despite multiple claims to the contrary. According to the data, 80 percent of all fines in January were given in cities with high infection rates. (Josh Breiner)
6:20 P.M. Netanyahu proposes extending lockdown until January 31
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed to extend the nationwide lockdown until midnight on Sunday, January 31, during Tuesday's cabinet meeting.
The discussions of the proposal are ongoing. (Judy Maltz)
5:35 P.M. Despite high infection rate, ultra-Orthodox get few fines for breaking COVID rules
As COVID-19 infection rates have skyrocketed in ultra-Orthodox towns and cities, enforcement of pandemic regulations there has been much lower than in other Israeli municipalities, new analysis shows. By contrast, fines were levied at a far higher rate in Arab towns in relation to their number of coronavirus cases.
The analysis was conducted by the organization Israel Hofsheet (Be Free Israel), which advocates for religious and cultural pluralism, based on statistics provided by the Justice Ministry’s Law Enforcement and Collection System Authority. The information has been collected since the beginning of the pandemic last March.
The nonprofit’s data show that the number of fines levied for violating coronavirus regulations has been enforced at a greater rate in municipalities where infection rates are lower than in the highly infected Haredi communities. (Allison Kaplan Sommer)
3:39 P.M. Netanyahu tells ministers opening economy would 'cost many lives'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened a coronavirus cabinet meeting on Tuesday by reiterating his aversion to ending the lockdown and reopening the economy.
“We are in a tight race between the vaccination campaign and the high infection rates in the world due to the mutation,” Netanyahu said, pointing to decisions in Europe to extend the lockdown to March or April.
“True, it is a lot easier to ignore the tremendous spike in infection rates and to open everything, but this would cost many people their lives. I am not considering that, I have never considered that, and I will never consider that. The only thing that should guide us is saving lives and the collapsing health system. No other consideration,” the prime minister said.
He called on “a last-ditch, joint effort” against the virus, despite the fact “it may not be popular or convenient during the election period.”
Netanyahu also added that he “expects everyone to support it.”
This came after more tension in the cabinet as Benny Gantz vowed to condition the vote for holding the discussion on the lockdown extension on the enforcement of coronavirus testing before flying overseas on Monday.
The prime minister also harnessed the speech to slam the “scandalous wedding” that took place in the majority ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, and called on police to deploy “an iron fist” against violators of the restrictions, amid growing reports that law enforcement have turned a blind eye to breaches in ultra-Orthodox areas. (Judy Maltz)