Coronavirus Israel Live: Fifteen Malls Reopen in Government Pilot

Pandemic czar says third lockdown is 'on the agenda' ■ Serious cases drop, but overall active cases rise ■ Israel weighs closing West Bank, Gaza crossings amid Palestinian COVID spike

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The Ayalon mall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, November 27, 2020.
The Ayalon mall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, November 27, 2020.Credit: Liat Levy
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Haaretz

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 9,429 active cases; 2,834 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 9,249 active cases and 671 deaths, and in Gaza 6,903 active cases and 78 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

1:23 P.M. 'As if there was no coronavirus' | Israelis throng malls, authorities struggle to enforce rules

There were queues in front of every store as Israelis flocked to the fifteen malls granted a temporary license to reopen on Friday. Stewards employed by the shopping centers, as well as local authorities staff were struggling to enforce strict social distancing rules, as shoppers stood in line for hours in order to drip-feed into chain stores.

Israel also marks Black Friday, and between 9 A.M. and 12 A.M., 400 million shekels ($120 million) were recorded nationally in credit card sales. This is only ten percent down on last year, and a little above sales from 2018. Still, owners deplored the government's policy, arguing that only reopening fifteen indoor malls was bound to create overcrowding.

"For a long time, the Health Ministry, which does not understand a thing about trade, has insisted on making fateful decisions," said Shahar Turgeman, chairman of the Association of Retail, Fashion and Restaurant Chains. "We call on the Israeli government to open all trade immediately according to purple badge rules, and remove the limit of ten people per store," he added. (Liat Levy and Israel Fisher)

12:34 P.M. Pre-schools, first and second grade to remain open over Hanukah holiday, Israeli government announces

The Education Ministry and the Treasury agreed to implement the plan, which will see schools operate on reduced hours during the week of the holiday, from December 13 to December 18. Staff will be sourced from local authorities, after the teachers' union refused to caution bringing people to work during holidays. 

The scheme should cost around 150 million shekels (around $45 million), which will be allocated from a broader aid package to the school system. Parents will also contribute, on a sliding scale depending on their catchment area and income. The aim is to alleviate the financial burden of childcare for working parents, "leading to savings of hundreds of shekels per child," a joint statement by the two ministries said. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

10:00 A.M. Fifteen malls reopen as part of government pilot

Nine malls were chosen by lottery to reopen Friday as part of a government pilot that will attempt to test the ability of shopping centers safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The nine malls chosen are, in the Jerusalem area: Big Fashion in Beit Shemesh, Center 1 in Jerusalem and the Arad mall, in the city of the same name; in the central part of the country: Herzliya's Seven Stars, Ramat Gan's M Haderech and Hod Hasharon's Sharonim malls; and in the north: Cinemall in Haifa, Arena in Nahariyya and Mall One in Nof HaGalil, just outside of Nazareth.  

Another six malls – those belonging to the Azrieli group in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and those belonging to the Melisron group in Be'er Sheva, Petah Tikva and Kiryat Bialik – also reopened.

In order to reopen, the malls were required to appoint attendants to remind guests to abide by regulations, including mask wearing and social distancing. The malls are required to have an electronic registration system that keeps track of the number of people in the facility, though people are not required to provide identifying information. One person is allowed in for every seven square meters of space. Malls are required to avoid gatherings, in particular, lines at the front of stores. Employees and shop owners must be briefed on the regulations.

Following the pilot period, and an assessment of the results, the cabinet will decide when and in what manner all the malls will be allowed to open. (TheMarker)

THURSDAY

10:00 P.M. COVID czar says third lockdown is 'on the agenda'

Israel's new coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said on that a third lockdown is "Definitely on the agenda." He added that "the data is worrying. The basic reproduction number of infection is higher than 1, the daily number of patients is also higher than desired and today we have reached a thousand."

However, he added: "We are preparing vigorously to lead a nationwide vaccination campaign, and at the end I hope we can declare that the people of Israel have won the fight against the coronavirus, but it will take some more time."

In a statement to the media, Ash clarified that "we have more difficult days ahead" and assumed that "the coronavirus will be here in the coming year" and that "an effective vaccination of the population will be at best around mid-2021, and at worst towards the end of next year."

According to Ash, "In the coming days, we will provide more than a million serological tests. Based on the antibody tests, we will know who is not at risk of infection, and they will receive a green passport ... The passport will also be given to those who have recovered from the disease. It can be said that the traffic light plan will not only be for areas but also for people." (Ido Efrati)

9:45 P.M. Israel diagnoses over 1,000 cases in a day

The number of total coronavirus cases has risen by 1,022 since Wednesday, the first time the number of cases in a day rises above 1,000 in Israel since November 16.

There are currently 9,427 active cases nationwide, of whom 276 patients are in serious condition, including 114 who are on ventilators.

Three patients died, raising the death toll to 2,829. (Haaretz)

12:08 Netanyahu visits vaccine logistics center, says storage won't be a problem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Teva Pharmaceuticals' logistics center on Thursday in the town of Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines would be stored and distributed when Israel acquires them, saying that the facility can store vaccines in low temperatures.

Pfizer's vaccine, which the company has said is highly effective, must be stored at the ultra-cold temperature of  minus 70 degrees Celsius, while Moderna's must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius, about the temperature of a normal freezer.

"From what I see here today, we have no logistical limitation to store, freeze and distribute these vaccines," Netanyahu said. "This is very important news." (Noa Landau)  

8:35 A.M. Active cases continue to rise, reach three-week record

The number of total coronavirus cases has risen by 402 since Wednesday, with the number of active cases standing at 9,422. This is the biggest number of active cases in Israel since November 4.

There are 282 patients in serious condition – a record low since late July – including 122 who are on ventilators.

The death toll remains at 2,826. (Haaretz)

12:34 A.M. Cabinet approves pilot to open markets, 15 shopping malls starting Friday

The coronavirus cabinet approved a one-week pilot scheme to open 15 shopping malls starting Friday. The cabinet will discuss opening more malls throughout the country after reviewing COVID statistics gathered during this week.

As part of the pilot, seven museums, as well as outdoor markets, will open, while adhering to coronavirus restrictions. (Noa Landau)

12:28 A.M. More Arab communities declared as restricted areas to curb COVID infection rates  

The Ministerial Committee for Restricted Areas declared two neighborhoods in Kuseife, one neighborhood in Hura and Reineh as restricted areas starting Thursday in a bid to curb coronavirus infection rates there.

In addition, the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth will remain a restricted zone until December 1, as well as the Druze village of Isfiya until November 28. (Noa Landau)

WEDNESDAY

7:30 P.M. Number of active cases rises above 9,000

Israel diagnosed 576 new coronavirus cases so far on Wednesday, Health Ministry data shows, raising the number of active cases to 9,010, while the death toll stands at 2,826.

There are currently 285 patients in serious condition, of whom 110 are on ventilators. (Haaretz)

7:00 P.M. Israel to reopen schools for tenth to twelfth graders on Sunday

About 400,000 tenth to twelfth grade students in Israel will return this coming Sunday to schools for at least two days a week. A week later, about 423,000 seventh to ninth graders are expected to join them, announced the Education Ministry. 

Grades 10-12 will study in groups of 20 students at most, at least two days a week.

Grades 7-9 will return on December 6 and will be taught in groups of 20 students at most, at least two days a week. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

6:30 P.M. Gantz asks Netanyahu that Knesset vote on increasing COVID fines on Monday 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he demands that the increase in COVID-19 violation fines be put to a Knesset vote, as agreed in the cabinet, as early as this coming Monday. 

Gantz wrote to Netanyahu that the issue was discussed in the cabinet in October and that a decision was made on November 2: "The failure to implement the Cabinet decision impairs our ability to fight the disease, open up the economy and increase enforcement tools at our disposal. While we discuss in cabinet meetings ways to maintain guidelines and strengthen discipline and enforcement, we delay the implementation of the decision [to raise fines] for unclear reasons. This is a significant tool from the law enforcement system."

12:20 P.M. Netanyahu weighing closing West Bank and Gaza crossings amid Palestinian COVID spike

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged officials to examine the option of closing crossings with Palestinian territories amid a rise in virus infections in the West Bank and Gaza. About 60,000 Palestinian workers enter Israel daily through these crossings.

Infection rates in the West Bank have been rising sharply in the past few weeks and the PA imposed a lockdown in specific regions from Friday to Sunday, in an effort to bring the situation  under control. This lockdown was to be followed by two weeks of a nighttime curfew. The PA has sought to avoid a general lockdown amid concerns about the impact this could have on an already strained economy, and concerns about causing hunger in Gaza.

Ramallah health authorities said that 1,126 new cases were diagnosed from Monday to Tuesday in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem. The rate of positive tests reached 17%. (Noa Landau) 

TUESDAY

8:44 P.M. Gaza's health system days from being overwhelmed, advisers say

A sharp rise in coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip could overwhelm the Palestinian enclave's meagre medical system by next week, public health advisers said on Sunday.

Gaza, where the dense and poor population of 2 million is vulnerable to contagions, has logged 14,000 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths, mostly since August.

Seventy-nine of 100 ventilators for COVID-19 patients have been taken up, said Abdelraouf Elmanama, a member of Gaza's pandemic task force.

"In 10 days the health system will become unable to absorb such a hike in cases and there might be cases that will not find a place at intensive care units," he said, adding that the current 0.5% mortality rate among COVID-19 patients could rise. (Reuters)

2:00 P.M. Nearly 1,000 diagnosed Monday

Israel registered seven new coronavirus deaths, Health Ministry data shows, raising the toll to 2,818. There are currently 8,904 active cases; 946 people were diagnosed on Monday, and 245 more since midnight.

There are currently 287 patients in serious condition, of whom 115 are on ventilators.   

8:30 A.M. Health Ministry Director General warns against hasty reopening 

After the decision of the coronavirus cabinet to reopen schools and launch a pilot scheme for reopening malls was announced, the Health Ministry director general told Kan Bet public radio that the executive was taking risky, difficult decisions.

During the coronavirus, "every move is a risk. The question is how much risk you take, in terms of the least bad," Levy said. "The plan we outlined called to reopen according to infection rates, not dates. The plan called for a controlled, slow reopening... We are not working according to that plan," he added.

Saying the infection rates were higher now than at the peak of the lockdown, he said he was "worried, afraid of the course we're on... We're taking risks, I hope I'm going to be wrong."

Levy said he hoped the first Israeli will be vaccinated in the first quarter of 2021, calling on people not to give in to fear about the vaccines and get the shot. (Haaretz)

07:00 A.M. Coronavirus cabinet approves plan to reopen all schools in 'green' and 'yellow' communities by December 6

The interministerial committee set up to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, dubbed coronavirus cabinet, approved early on Tuesday morning a plan to reopen all school grades, starting next week. 

The plan, which was put forward by the Education Ministry, will see high school students resume in-class tuition on Sunday. They will be joined by middle schoolers a week later, on December 6.

Students will return to school in groups, and spend at least two days a week in the institutions. This only applies to communities not hard hit by the outbreak and classified as 'green' and 'yellow' on Israel's traffic-light coronavirus plan.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant hailed the decision as a success. In a statement published on Twitter on Tuesday, he said that the plan will be made possible by more extensive testing for both students and staff. 

"To you all, dear students, all that remains is to prepare your bags," he added. 

Some 300,000 fifth- and sixth-graders are due back to class throughout Israel on Tuesday, after spending the last nine weeks in distance learning. On Monday, the ultra-Orthodox leadership also told religious schools for girls to reopen, in spite of coronavirus regulations, "in order to prevent the moral decline" of the students. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

7:00 A.M. Coronavirus cabinet approves pilot scheme to reopen indoor malls and markets

The coronavirus cabinet approved a plan to run two separate pilot programs for reopening indoor malls and outdoor markets, and extended the scheme until December 6.

Depending on the success of the pilot, new regulations will be proposed, and a reopening date set. (Ronny Linder)

MONDAY

10:45 P.M. Close to half of new coronavirus cases come from Arab community

The Arab Emergency Committee, which is responsible for the coronavirus response in Israel's Arab community, is sounding the alarm after new figures reveal 45 percent of new cases diagnosed are from Arab towns. 

The Committee also warned that undertesting and the unwillingness of people to get tested could also hide a much starker picture. Officials emphasize that the lack of an appropriate economic safety net encourages non-compliance with coronavirus rules, including localized lockdowns. (Jack Khoury)

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10:30 P.M. Active cases rise to 8,586, five more people die

The current death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in Israel had risen to 2,811 by Monday evening. 

There are currently 8,586 active cases, up from 8,456 at the last update. 531 COVID-19 patients are in hospital, 297 of them in serious condition, out of which 115 are on ventilators. (Haaretz)

8:45 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet approves increased capacity on public transport

Israel's coronavirus cabinet approved a professional recommendation from staff at the Transport, Health and Public Security Ministries to increase the cap on commuters to 75 percent on buses.

This is in order to strike an appropriate balance between demand and public health concerns, Transportation Minister Miri Regev said, adding it would come into force on Tuesday, pending approval from the Economic Affairs Committee. (Haaretz)    

6:52 P.M. Knesset committee renews Shin Bet tracking mandate

Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet, will continue monitoring and tracking Israeli residents to curb the spread of the coronavirus, until at least December 3, after its mandate was renewed by the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. 

The agency itself has expressed doubts regarding in the tracking of Israeli citizens' movements, while Israel's privacy watchdog has warned against the consequences of the policy. (Noa Landau)

11:47 A.M. Leader of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Community orders opening girls' schools 'to prevent moral decline'

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, instructed to open girls' schools in spite of the coronavirus restrictions, "in order to prevent the moral decline" of the girls.

"The girls are sitting at home and getting bored and as we know boredom leads ... [to sin] and the situation of many of the girls is really bordering on a life-threatening situation," the rabbi wrote. 

The education system for ultra-Orthodox girls has so far operated largely according to the guidelines and was only partially opened after government approval. However, in many institutions belonging to the Hasidic public the studies continued as usual in all age groups. In addition, many high schools and seminars held part-time classes in small groups, contrary to guidelines.

About a month ago, Kanievsky ordered the opening of ultra-Orthodox boys' schools, contrary to instructions. 

Police enforcement has been minor thus far and according to a number of ultra-Orthodox sources, it was carried out "for appearances only." 

Most ultra-Orthodox girls' schools operate independently and receive full funding from the state, unlike the boys' schools. It is not yet clear how the girls' schools will operate starting Tuesday and whether they will all obey Kanievsky's instruction. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

10:45 A.M. West Bank to enter weekend lockdown as cases spike

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said a full weekend lockdown would be imposed in the West Bank from Friday through Sunday.

On Sunday, a nighttime curfew would be imposed from 7 P.M. to 6 A.M. for two weeks as a measure to curb the rapid increase in infection rates in the West Bank. (Jack Khoury) 

10:23 A.M. AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine heading to Israel is 'highly effective' prevention

AstraZeneca says late-stage trials of its COVID-19 vaccine were “highly effective’’and prevented 70% of people from developing the coronavirus in late-stage trials, the team reported Monday.

Researchers found that if people were given a half dose followed by a full dose, rather than two full doses, protection rose to about 90%.

Under an agreement which is in advanced stages of negotiations, AstraZeneca would provide some 10 million vaccine doses. The vaccine would be sold under a nonprofit model – the company would not profit from selling the product to Israel during the pandemic.

The initial supply of AstraZeneca vaccines would arrive in Israel in the first half of 2021 subject to regulatory authorities in Europe, the United States and Israel. (Reuters and Haaretz)

8.10 A.M. Six more die from COVID-19 but serious cases drop

Israel's health ministry has reported that the death toll for coronavirus has increased by six, bringing the total to 2,806, with active cases also increasing by 34 to 8,456 since Sunday midnight. 

However, the number of serious cases has fallen by 11 to 298, while patients on ventilators have decreased from 131 to 130 since midnight. (Haaretz)

SUNDAY

11:15 P.M. Total death toll hits 2,800

In the last update of the day, Israel's health ministry said COVID-19 had claimed the life of 2,800 Israeli residents since the start of the outbreak. 

There are currently 8,285 active cases, 508 of them in hospital, of which 295 are in serious condition. 130 patients are currently on ventilators. (Haaretz)

4:00 P.M. Gaza's health system days from being overwhelmed by COVID-19, advisers say

A sharp rise in coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip could overwhelm the Palestinian enclave's meagre medical system by next week, public health advisers said on Sunday.

Gaza, where the dense and poor population of 2 million is vulnerable to contagions, has logged 14,000 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths, mostly since August.

Seventy-nine of Gaza's 100 ventilators have been taken up by COVID-19 patients, said Abdelraouf Elmanama, a microbiologist who is part of the enclave's pandemic task force.

"In 10 days the health system will become unable to absorb such a hike in cases and there might be cases that will not find a place at intensive care units," he said, adding that the current 0.05% mortality rate among COVID-19 patients could rise.

Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers have so far imposed one lockdown. A long-standing Israeli blockade, which is supported by neighbouring Egypt, has crippled the Gazan economy and undermined its public health apparatus.

Israel says it is trying to keep weapons from reaching Hamas, against which it has fought three wars and whose facilities it struck earlier on Sunday in retaliation for a Palestinian rocket launch against one of its southern cities.

"We are not giving Hamas any 'coronavirus discounts'," Israeli cabinet minister Izhar Shay told Army Radio. "We will continue responding as appropriate."

But Shay said Israel was enabling international humanitarian aid to reach Gaza, adding: "This is the level that we can preserve in the coronavirus context."

Abdelnaser Soboh, emergency health lead in the World Health Organization's Gaza sub-office, cautioned, however, that "within a week, we will become unable to care for critical cases".

The infection rate among those being tested was 21%, with a relative increase in carriers over the age of 60, he said.

"This is a dangerous indicator since most of (those over 60) may need to be hospitalized," Soboh added. (Reuters)

3:11 P.M. Over 800 new COVID cases diagnosed in Israel's Arab communities over weekend

The Health Ministry said that 837 more people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Arab communities over the weekend.

Last week, 2,168 cases were diagnosed among Israel's Arabs, not including cases registered in mixed-population cities. (Jack Khoury)

1:00 P.M. As cases rise, COVID czar warns biggest challenge is Arab communities

Israel's new COVID czar warned Sunday that cases are on the rise, even as vaccines offer hope. "It won't happen tomorrow morning," Nachman Ash said during a visit to Jerusalem on Sunday. "We will have to cope [with the situation] for several months."

According to Ash, the biggest challenge currently lies in the Arab Israeli communities, where illegal weddings are still taking place and restrictions are not always adhered to. "I call on the leaders of the Arab population to encourage adherence to the guidelines," he said. "No one wants a wedding to become a spreading event, and this is what is happening."

Ash also cautioned that the arrival of vaccines will present its own challenge: Encouraging people to get inoculated. "We will have to reach a point where most of the population is vaccinated in the quickest way possible to put an end to this story as fast as possible." (Ido Efrati)

11:20 A.M. WHO advises against Remdesivir for COVID-19

The World Health Organization recommended against administering Remdesivir to coronavirus patients, even in serious cases of COVID-19. According to the organization, there is no evidence that the drug contributes to patient recovery.

The WHO analyzed four clinical trials of 7,000 patients who were given Remdesivir for COVID-19. “Remdesivir has no meaningful effect on mortality or on other important outcomes for patients, such as the need for mechanical ventilation or time to clinical improvement,” the WHO panel concluded. 

Demand for the drug, originally developed to treat Ebola, has surged across the globe, with Israel having purchased a supply worth $72 million, with options for an additional supply of $30 million.

This is not the first time a drug approved and distributed to treat COVID-19 is found to be ineffective. In June, the FDA withdrew its emergency approval for two drugs that were praised by U.S. President Donald Trump, hydroxocloroquine and cloroquine initially intended for the treatment of Malaria and Lupus. (Ido Efrati)

FRIDAY

4:13 P.M. Israel says has agreed with AstraZeneca on vaccine supply for 5 million people

Israel has reached understandings with U.K. drugmaker AstraZeneca on its potential COVID-19 vaccine. In a joint statement, the Health Ministry, the Prime Minister's Office and the company said the contract, expected to be signed soon, is for 10 million doses, enough for 5 million people.

Data published on Thursday showed AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s potential vaccine produced a strong immune response in older adults, with researchers expecting to release late-stage trial results by Christmas. (Ido Efrati, Noa Landau and Reuters)

3:28 P.M. Israel declares some Arab and Druze communities restricted areas

The Health Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a joint statement that the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth and the Druze village of Isfiya are declared restricted areas starting Saturday at 8 A.M. until Thursday at 8 A.M.

In addition, the Arab city of Qalansawe and the Druze village of Buq'ata will remain restricted zones until next Friday at 8 A.M. (Noa Landau)

2:26 P.M. Pfizer applies for emergency use of its vaccine

Pfizer said Friday it is asking U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month and eventually an end to the pandemic – but not until after a long, hard winter.

The action comes days after Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech announced that its vaccine appears 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study. (The Associated Press)

>>

12:52 P.M. Some malls open, flouting gov't COVID directives

Several mall owners decided to open their businesses on Friday, defying government and Health Ministry orders and disregarding the fact that an orderly plan for opening big indoor shopping centers has yet to be approved by the coronavirus cabinet.

At this point, owners plan to open just a few malls, while pressuring the government to agree to a full opening of indoor shopping centers under the coronavirus restrictions. (TheMarker)

8:23 A.M. Israel confirms just over 700 new cases on Wednesday

Israel has registered 718 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to figures issued by the Health Ministry, bringing the total number of active cases in the country to 8,427. This marks a continued decline in new daily cases since Monday.

1.4% of Wednesday's nearly 55,000 tests came back positive.

515 patients are currently hospitalized, with 304 of them in serious condition and 134 on life support. Since the start of the outbreak, 2,742 COVID-19 patients have died. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

7:15 P.M. Israel added to UK's safe travel list

Israel, Uruguay and Sri Lanka were added to England's safe travel list on Thursday.

Travellers from those countries as well as Namibia, Rwanda, Bonaire, St Eustatius & Saba, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands will no longer have to self-isolate on arrival in England from Saturday.

No countries have been removed from the safe list this week, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter. (Reuters)

8:20 A.M. Nearly 800 diagnosed yesterday

There were 794 Israelis diagnosed with the coronavirus yesterday, Health Ministry figures show. There are currently 8,381 active cases in the country, and 304 patients in serious condition. Of those, 138 are on ventilators. There have been no new COVID-19 deaths since the previous update.

WEDNESDAY

10:30 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet raises maximum occupancy limit applicable to stores

The coronavirus cabinet has approved an increase to the maximum occupancy applicable to stores, the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry announced on Wednesday night. 

Under the terms of the new approval, the maximum occupancy limit applicable to stores has been raised to up to 10 people from four people, depending on each store’s respective size. The limit applies to all stores, whether located in shopping malls or on the street. (Noa Landau and Ido Efrati)

10:30 P.M. Interministerial committee amend list of designated “red” coronavirus hotspots

Arraba has been designated a “red” coronavirus hotspot for five days, from Thursday until end of day Tuesday, and Iksal is no longer deemed a “red” zone, effective from tonight. (Noa Landau and Ido Efrati)

6:45 P.M. Knesset committee approves reopening restaurants, tourist attractions and trade in Eilat, zoos nationwide

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee unanimously approved on Wednesday the regulations that would allow for the reopening of restaurants, tourist attractions and trade in "green islands" in the resorts of Eilat and the Dead Sea, which will go into effect in the coming hours.

In addition, regulations were amended to allow the opening of zoos and safaris nationwide. (Chaim Levinson)

6:30 P.M. Netanyahu says Israel to sign contract with Moderna for greater vaccine supply

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “believes we’re on the verge of signing” an agreement with Moderna Inc. on increasing the number of vaccine doses Israel would acquire from the company. “This is great news,” Netanyahu said in a video statement, adding he spoke with top Moderna officials over the past few days.

On Monday, Moderna said its potential COVID-19 vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from an ongoing study. This puts the company, alongside competitor Pfizer Inc., on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S. 

Israel’s existing contract with Moderna is for 2 million doses of the two-step vaccine, enough to vaccinate 1 million people. Israel’s population is roughly 9 million people. (Noa Landau)

1:44 P.M. Pfizer ends vaccine trial with 95 percent efficacy

Pfizer Inc said on Wednesday that final results from the late-stage trial of its COVID-19 vaccine show it was 95% effective, adding it had the required two-months of safety data and would apply for emergency U.S. authorization within days.

The drugmaker said efficacy of the vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech SE was consistent across age and ethnicity demographics, and that there were no major side effects, a sign that the immunization could be employed broadly around the world.
Efficacy in adults over 65 years, who are at particular risk from the virus, was over 94%.

The final analysis comes just one week after initial results from the trial showed the vaccine was more than 90% effective. Moderna Inc on Monday released preliminary data for its vaccine, showing similar effectiveness.

The better-than-expected data from the two vaccines, both developed with new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), have raised hopes for an end to a resurgent pandemic that has killed more than 1.3 million people globally and wreaked havoc upon economies and daily life. (Reuters)

10:30 A.M. Record infections among Palestinians as health officials fear collapse

Eleven Palestinians died on Tuesday from the coronavirus and 1,068 new verified infections were recorded on Tuesday evening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem).

This is the highest number of infections among Palestinian detected in one day: 486 in Gaza and 582 in the West Bank. In East Jerusalem, 90 new infections were reported.

However, according to medical sources, the number of actual infections is probably three times higher.

A set of restrictions and local curfews are in place in both Palestinian territories, and authorities have stepped up enforcement, which includes detention for those flouting coronavirus rules. Officials are urging the population to respect the regulation, warning about the impoverished health system's collapse. (Amira Hass)

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9:01 A.M. Israeli army to stop monitoring social media in fight against COVID-19

The Israeli military announced on Wednesday it would no longer monitor posts on social media in Israel as part of its efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Israel's Military Intelligence has assisted the police in trying to break the chain of infection by monitoring social media posts to stop large gatherings, such as outdoor raves, as well as locating infected individuals who violated quarantine.

The military is wary of overstepping its boundaries when it comes to its role in the fight against the coronavirus, out of concern that it could be perceived as harmful to democracy, according to senior officials. (Amos Harel)

8:45 A.M. 815 Israelis diagnosed Tuesday

There were 815 Israelis diagnosed with the coronavirus Tuesday, Health Ministry data shows. There are currently 8,293 active cases. There are 307 patients in serious condition, of which 131 are on ventilators. (Haaretz)

6:30 A.M. Most Israelis afraid to be first to receive COVID-19 vaccine, poll finds 

For a significant percentage of the Israeli public, the fear of being vaccinated against the coronavirus is greater than the danger of the virus and its broad social and economic consequences.

A recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute indicates that 52 percent of Israelis are unwilling to be vaccinated during the first cycle. Only 21 percent replied that they were definitely ready to be inoculated when the vaccine arrives in Israel, while 19 percent said that they would agree to be vaccinated. The rest said responded that it was difficult for them to say. The survey, which sampled over 600 people, also shows that the fear of being vaccinated is more common among women than among men, and more among young people than older ones.

The survey is not the only one attesting to a relative high percentage of people afraid to be vaccinated. A broader survey conducted from late July through August by researchers and doctors from the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, which sampled almost 2,700 subjects, including 900 health workers, showed a significant negative response to getting inoculated – both among health care workers and the general public. (Ido Efrati)

TUESDAY

7:45 P.M. Court seeks clarifications on tracking by Israel’s security service

The High Court of Justice issued a show cause order on Tuesday, ordering the state to explain why Shin Bet contact tracking of coronavirus patients is not limited to cases in which patients are uncooperative with epidemiological investigators. The court also ordered the state to explain why, as is required by law, it is not promoting civilian technology as an alternative to the use of contact tracing. (Netael Bandel)

1:30 P.M. Merchants in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market reopen in protest of coronavirus regulations 

Tens of stall-owners in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market reopened on Tuesday, defying government restrictions on open-air markets.

Since the second lockdown was implemented in September, the bulk of the merchants in the market have been shut, with the exception of grocers and stalls selling takeaway food. This is in contrast to markets in other areas, which have opened in agreement with local authorities. 

In response to the protest, Tel Aviv Municipality fined one merchant and issued several warnings to others.

One merchant, Attilia Dwek, told Haaretz that she strictly observes the guidelines on masks and social distancing, and that she felt obliged to reopen: “I am living on cents anyway. They have shut down our lives,” she said. (Bar Peleg)

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10:45 A.M. Health Minister visits Eilat amid tourism restart

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has begun his official visit to Eilat, following the government's decision to open up "green islands" of tourism. 

"This is great news for the residents of Eilat, but also for each and every citizen of Israel. It will finally be possible to go on holiday in Israel," he said at the coronavirus testing facilities at the entrance to the resort city.

However, he also warned the public "not to come here without a negative coronavirus test," and said that people flouting the rules will mean the project of restarting tourism "will be very short." 

"We have to be careful that nobody brings the virus with them to Eilat," he added.

He is being joined by the mayor of the city, Meir Yitzhak Halevi, the deputy director-general of the health ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto, and the head of the public health services at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Elrai Price. (Haaretz)

MONDAY

9:50 P.M. Number of new daily cases highest in three weeks

There have been 903 new coronavirus cases diagnosed in the country since Sunday, according to Health Ministry figures – the highest daily rise since the last week of October. Two more people have died, raising the death toll to 2,734. There are 320 people hospitalized in serious condition, including 128 on ventilators. The proportion of positive tests stands at 2 percent. (Ido Efrati)

7:05 P.M. Netanyahu says he spoke with Putin about purchasing Russian COVID vaccine

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the possibility of purchasing Russia's COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed Sputnik V.  

Speaking at a press conference, Netanyahu also referenced news of effective vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, saying: "All this won't happen overnight, but we are not talking about years – we're talking about months. So we are already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

Earlier this month, Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center said it had ordered 1.5 million doses of the Russian vaccine. (Noa Landau) 

6:35 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet approves return to in-person classes in low-infection towns

The coronavirus cabinet approved on Monday the resumption of in-person classes for some grades in "green" and "yellow" towns, as defined according to the country's  of classifying which locations have high infection rates. According to the plan agreed upon by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the fifth and sixth grades will resume in-person classes on Tuesday of next week, and the eleventh and twelfth grades the following week. The ministers also approved placing a nighttime curfew on "red" and "orange." Health Ministry officials opposed further loosening of restrictions.

The coronavirus cabinet also decided to expand the use of the authority to declare towns as "restricted zones;" to increase fines for violating restrictions, particularly in cases involving unapproved gatherings; and conditioning work in certain fields on regular testing.(Noa Landau)

4:30 P.M. Dozens of fines handed out to schools for violating regulations expected to be withdrawn

Dozens of fines given to schools that opened in violation of regulations last months are expected to be canceled. The 65 fines of 5,000 shekels (nearly $1,500) each were mostly handed out to ultra-Orthodox institutions and are expected to be withdrawn because the Knesset Education Committee did not approve the regulations permitting authorities to order the fines. The mistake was discovered by legal advisers at the Knesset on Thursday and was first reported on Channel 12 News. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

2:58 P.M. Israeli army, police monitor social media to prevent gatherings

The Alon Command, the Israel Defense Forces program for breaking chains of coronavirus infections, tracks social media to identify planned events with the potential to spread the virus. Current coronavirus regulations in Israel prohibit large indoor or outdoor gatherings.

The monitoring is carried out by around 2,800 soldiers, some of whom serve in Military Intelligence and specialize in tracking social media. The intelligence they gather is forwarded to the police so they can scuttle the planned events. The soldiers’ work has helped prevent a number of outdoor rave parties as well as several large weddings. In a few cases, social media posts tipped off the monitors to individuals who were breaking quarantine. These cases were also referred to the police.

The army says these methods are effective and have reduced the potential for transmission of the disease. But monitoring social media is a violation of privacy, part of the “slippery slope” many have warned about when the state introduces invasive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Amos Harel, Yaniv Kubovich)

2:25 P.M. Moderna says its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective

Moderna Inc said on Monday its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on interim data from a late-stage clinical trial, becoming the second U.S. company in a week to report results that far exceed expectations.

Together with , also shown to be more than 90% effective, and pending more safety data and regulatory review, the United States could have two vaccines authorized for emergency use in December with as many as 60 million doses of vaccine available by the year's end.

Israel has already signed a deal for one million vaccine doses from , valued at $238 million. It also signed  and .

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