Israel to Lift More Coronavirus Restrictions, Reopen Nightclubs Next Week

Death toll hits 6,000 ■ Infection rate reaches 5-month low ■ Israel to begin allowing incoming flights from additional cities ahead of election ■ Palestinian Authority announces five-day COVID lockdown in the West Bank

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Staff in the coronavirus ward at Shamir Medical Center, Tel Aviv and Tzrifin, last month.
Staff in the coronavirus ward at Shamir Medical Center, Tel Aviv and Tzrifin, last month.Credit: Hadas Parush
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Haaretz

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Months into its mass coronavirus vaccination campaign, Israel sees a drop in COVID infections and in the number of serious cases. Israel continues to lift restrictions on commerce and culture, but some remain on inbound and outbound flights. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 6,008 Israelis have died of the virus.

Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have received 30,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by Israel. A total of 1,933 people have died of COVID in the West Bank, while 565 have died in Gaza.

>> Less deaths, less infection: Israel sees improvement on all COVID fronts

>> How many have already been vaccinated

LIVE UPDATES

7:11 P.M. Israel’s death toll passes grim 6,000 milestone

6,000 Israelis have passed away after contracting the coronavirus, according to figures from the Health Ministry. 

On February 4, the death toll in Israel stood at 5,000, and January was declared as the most deadly month since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, with 1,460 deaths, which authorities attributed to the spread of the hyper-contagious British coronavirus strain. 

However, data from the Health Ministry shows that the daily number of deaths has been on the decline since February. Data collected from Israel’s world-leading vaccine rollout shows initial success in reducing the infection rate and lowering the number of patients in serious condition. (Haaretz)

5:15 P.M. Israel to send Pfizer vaccines to cover 500 members of diplomatic staff in U.S.

The government has begun creating a plan to send doses of Pfizer's COVID vaccine to Israeli officials in the U.S., the Health Ministry and Foreign Ministry said in a joint statement Sunday. The vaccines are set to be sent next week to the consulate in New York, for vaccination of its staff, as well as diplomats in the U.S. from Israel's embassy in Washington and its eight consulate generals along with their families, totaling around 500 people.

Israel plans to vaccinate all of its diplomatic staff worldwide, according the the statement, which said hundreds of diplomats from Israel's embassies in Africa, Europe, Eurasia, India and the Middle East who traveled to the country on special flights have already been vaccinated. (Haaretz)

4:21 P.M. Israel to launch rapid testing program next week

Israel will launch its COVID rapid testing program on Sunday of next week, the Health Ministry said Sunday. Authorities plan to use the rapid tests to allow people to enter locations that require the so-called green passport given to those who have been vaccinated or can prove that they have recovered from the coronavirus. Entry to places that require the "green passport," like restaurants and cinemas, will be restricted to those who have been vaccinated or have recovered, as well as those testing negative for an on-site rapid test. Businesses will be able to order rapid testing kits from a list of approved vendors published on the Health Ministry's site, the ministry said. (Ido Efrati)

4:05 P.M. Israel set to reopen nightclubs for 'green passport' holders next week

Nightclubs will reopen to those with the so-called green passport when the next set of coronavirus restrictions are lifted – likely Sunday of next week, although the exact arrangement will be decided upon later this week. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that in light of the R number's drop to below 0.8 and the decrease in the number of seriously ill patients – which he attributed to the 5 million Israelis who have gotten vaccinated – "it's time to allow clubs to be opened, too." (Ido Efrati)

2:04 P.M. State to High Court: Cap on returning travelers remains intact, but can return from any location

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The state told the High Court of Justice on Sunday that it intends to maintain its quota of allowing only 3,000 Israeli citizens into the country each day, but that it will reopen the skies to flights from all locations.

The state also said that returning travelers will still need to self-isolate in accordance with existing regulations, in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 strains in Israel.

The Foreign Ministry has asked, the state said, to conduct a survey as soon as possible to determine how many Israelis currently located outside the country want to return to vote in the March 23 election. The statement added that law enforcement officials have been instructed to strictly enforce the quarantine of arrivals.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Sunday that the cap should not be increased in light of new strains of the virus, although the managing director of Ben-Gurion International Airport told the High Court that airport staff could handle the entry of around 4,000 incoming passengers a day while observing coronavirus regulations. (Netael Bandel)

10:55 A.M. Israel to begin allowing in flights from additional cities ahead of election

The Transportation Ministry announced Sunday that it will begin allowing incoming flights from additional locations, among them Madrid, Amsterdam, Larnaca and Addis Ababa.

The ministry made the decision on the recommendation of the health and foreign ministries, in order to allow Israeli citizens to return to the country to vote in next week's election. (Judy Maltz)

10:21 A.M. Infection rate reaches 5-month low

Israel's R number – the number of people a person sick with COVID infects – has dropped to 0.78, a five-month low, a report by Israel's Military Intelligence published Sunday shows.

According to Health Ministry statistics, 5,988 Israelis have died of COVID-19. There are currently 626 Israelis in serious condition – down from 750 two weeks ago. On Saturday 773 people tested positive for the virus, after 2.9 percent of tests conducted came back positive. (Haaretz) Read the full story here.

SATURDAY

5:02 P.M. Palestinian Authority announces five-day lockdown in the West Bank

The Palestinian Authority announced a lockdown in all parts of the West Bank starting Monday, due to a rise in coronavirus-related deaths and infection rates.

The lockdown will be in place for five days, and during it most schools will be closed and universities and colleges will move to online learning. Palestinians will be banned from leaving their city or district, and all gatherings, including weddings and funerals, will be banned. (Jack Khoury)

>> Click here to read the full report

2:24 P.M. More than 1,500 new cases diagnosed in the West Bank on Friday

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that 1,587 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 27 have died from the virus over the past 24 hours. Some 6,000 COVID tests were conducted on Friday.

In addition, the number of seriously ill patients in the West Bank has climbed to 170, of whom 48 are on ventilators. (Jack Khoury)

1:05 A.M. U.S. senators to Blinken: Push Israel to 'do more to help Palestinians' with COVID vaccines

Five Democratic senators on Friday asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to urge the Israeli government to do more to help Palestinians living in the West Bank to receive adequate supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The senators – Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Carper, Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkely – wrote Blinken that "the urgency of the moment, as both Israelis and Palestinians face the threat of COVID, demands immediate action."

Sanders, to date, has been the most vocal critic of Israel's failure to distribute COVID vaccines to the Palestinians, slamming the Israeli government for agreeing to first provide vaccines to countries with which it has bolstered relations in recent years. The plan has since been halted by Israel's attorney general due to concerns over its legality. (Ben Samuels)

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