Netanyahu Vows to Step Up Enforcement of Coronavirus Regulations

Only schools with outbreaks set to close ■ Dozens of staff in two hospitals quarantined ■ Over 100 test positive for coronavirus Friday ■ Al Aqsa mosque reopens

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Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Health Ministry, May 28, 2020.
Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Health Ministry, May 28, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz

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Israel has seen a spike in coronavirus cases as it begins lifting restrictions on restaurants, bars, tourist attractions and other businesses. Despite the uptick, the country's number of COVID-19 patients remains low. 

■ 17,012 people in Israel have so far tested positive for the coronavirus; 284 people have died. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 554 people tested positive; two people have died. In the Gaza Strip, 61 people were diagnosed, 18 of whom recovered, and one person has died. 

■ Coronavirus tracker: Live stats of cases and deaths

LIVE UPDATES

7:30 A.M. Al Aqsa mosque reopens after more than two months

Hundreds of worshippers gathered early this morning as gates to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque reopened.

The mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was shut on March 15 by the Waqf religious authorities, over fears of the spread of the coronavirus. 

Worshippers must wear face masks and bring personal prayer rugs should they wish to pray inside the shrines or on the compound’s outdoor grounds, the Waqf said in a statement. (Jack Khoury, Nir Hasson and Reuters)

11:30 P.M.  Diagnoses of seventh-grader in Holon puts over 120 in quarantine

A seventh-grader in the central Israeli city of Holon has been diagnosed with coronavirus, prompting authorities to place some 120 students and six teachers in quarantine for two weeks. (Haaretz)

10:00 P.M. Education Ministry to step up efforts in schools

Education Minister Yoav Galant said his office will brief students on abiding by health regulations amid a spike in cases in educational institutions. The ministry will set up task forces in all districts to tackle infections, said Galant. 

9:00 P.M. Netanyahu says coming days will be a test 

Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity reopens as Palestinians ease coronavirus curbs

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a special speech in response to the recent spike in confirmed coronavirus cases. Netanyahu said the coming days will be "a test" to see if there is a change in trend in coronavirus infections in Israel. Netanyahu said the government will take steps to counter the spread of the virus, including increased enforcement of the coronavirus regulations and support for businesses that keep with regulations.

For now, Netanyahu said, the government is not imposing additional restrictions but may have to if citizens don't abide by regulations. Netanyahu beseeched Israelis to keep their distance from one another, wear masks, and wash their hands.

Netanyahu spoke alongside Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, who presented a plan to rehabilitate the economy. Katz spoke giving grants to businesses that bring back their employees, and added that over half a billion shekels had been budgeted for businesses.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz said following the declaration that Katz's plan was lacking and that he would bring up the issue at the next government meeting.

People in the park in Tel Aviv, May, 2020.
People in the park in Tel Aviv, May, 2020. Credit: Eyal Toueg

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was not present at the press conference. His office issued a statement explaining that Edelstein took part in consultations by phone earlier Saturday, despite the fact that he observes the Sabbath, because the meeting would help save lives. When asked why he was not present at the press conference, his office said, "the health minister felt it was very important that the Israeli public receive this information immediately after the Sabbath, and therefore preferred not to delay the press conference while they waited for him to arrive." (Haaretz)

7:42 P.M. Number of coronavirus cases in Israel increases by 25

25 people tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday, raising the total tally of infections to 17,012, less than 2,000 of them still active. No patients died on Saturday. 

Over the Shavuot holiday there has also been a marked drop in number of tests being conducted. (Haaretz)

6:37 P.M. Tests conducted in Jerusalem after mass infection in school

Over 1,000 people were tested for coronavirus in Jerusalem on Saturday, the majority of them students, relatives and staff of the Gymnasia Rehavia school, where more than 70 people have been diagnosed with the virus. (Nir Hasson)

5:15 P.M. Schools to remain open, despite rise in infections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ministers of health, education, finance, defense and economy held a phone discussion on the coronavirus situation. They decided to keep schools open, despite over 30 educational institutions having been detected as infection hotspots. Only schools with detected infections will be closed, the ministers decided. (Ido Efrati, Nir Hasson and Noa Landau)

4:00 P.M. Tel Aviv levies fines on businesses 

The Tel Aviv municipality handed out fines to seven bar owners for failure to comply with coronavirus restrictions. It also fined the Oman 17 club where a large party was held. (Bar Peleg)

11:33 A.M. Mosques in Iran to resume daily prayers, president says

Government employees went back to work in Iran on Saturday and President Hassan Rohani said mosques are to resume daily prayers throughout the country, even though some areas are seeing high levels of coronavirus infections.

Passengers traveling on the Jerusalem light rail as public transportation services resume, May 27, 2020.
Passengers traveling on the Jerusalem light rail as public transportation services resume, May 27, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Rohani also said on state television that the hours of shopping malls, which had been allowed to open only until 6 P.M., will be extended, a further step in the government's plans to ease coronavirus restrictions.

"Doors to mosques across the country will open to public for daily prayers," Rohani said, adding that social distancing and other health protocols should be observed. He did not say when they are due to reopen.

Authorities are taking tougher measures to ensure that health regulations are observed, including barring commuters not wearing masks from buses and metro trains, Iranian media reported.

Alireza Zali, head of the government-led Coronavirus Taskforce of Tehran, told state TV the situation in the capital was "still not favorable," adding that the easing of restrictions should be accompanied by "more serious observance" of regulations.

As of Friday, Iran had recorded 146,668 infections, with 7,677 deaths. (Reuters) 

FRIDAY

10:05 P.M. Israeli city weighs closing schools for a week 

Bat Yam Mayor Tzvika Brot held talks with emergency preparedness, healthcare and police officials after six new cases were diagnosed in the central Israeli city in two days. 

Several of the new patients are schoolchildren, and Brot announced at the end of the meeting that he is weighing closing a number of schools for a week. A decision will be reached on Saturday night.   

Others at the meeting raised the concern of infection from reopened synagogues in the city, due to laxness with the coronavirus rules. Brot instructed municipal police to enter synagogues on Saturday, for the first time, to ensure that they are adhering to guidelines. (Bar Peleg)

8:05 P.M. 78 students and staff members of Jerusalem school have tested positive 

As of 7:30 P.M. Friday evening, 78 people, of them 64 students and 14 staff members, have tested positive for the coronavirus after being exposed to it at the Gymnasia Rehavia school in Jerusalem, the city's municipality said. Thus far, 700 students and staff members from the school have been tested. (Nir Hasson)

7:30 P.M. Israel records over 100 new cases as numbers continue to spike for third day

The total number of cases went up to 16,987 on Friday evening, Health Ministry figures said, representing a rise of 101 new cases in a day as compared to 64 the day before. This is a relatively high daily increase when compared with the past few weeks.

The number of active cases has slightly risen after weeks of dropping as people recovered; the total now stands at 1,927, with 39 in serious condition, including 37 on ventilators. 

A street performer next to Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, May 26, 2020.
A street performer next to Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, May 26, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The overall death count stands at 284. (Haaretz)

6:10 Rise in cases due to not observing rules, Health Ministry director general says 

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov said in a press conference that although Israel is carrying out the same amount of coronavirus tests, more Israelis are testing positive. 

The newest cases, he added, are not concentrated in any particular area of the country or in any specific community. As of the press conference, Bar Siman Tov said, 70 new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Israel Friday. "From here, the way to 100 or 200 is short, and from there, the way to 700 to 1,000 patients in a day is even quicker," he noted. By the end of the conference, the number had risen to 85.

The spike in cases, Bar Siman Tov said, is due to the population not observing the coronavirus guidelines. "The rules are simple all in all, and sadly, we're seeing that they're not being followed," he said. He called on Israelis to wear masks, keep a two-meter distance between each other, and observe good hygiene. He also reminded Israelis not to go to areas with high incidence of the virus.  

The spike is centered around schools, he said, but added that the country has not yet decided whether or not they will close schools again and return to distance learning for certain upper school grades. 

"It depends entirely on our behavior," Bar Siman Tov said, whether or not a second wave of the coronavirus hits the country. (Ido Efrati)

6:00 P.M. Six more Jerusalem school students test positive

Six more students from Jerusalem's Gymnasia Rehavia school have tested positive for the coronavirus. (Nir Hasson)

5:00 P.M. Health Ministry recommends closing middle and high schools, returning to distance learning

Due to the rise in coronavirus cases, the Health Ministry is requesting that grades seven through 12 return to distance learning. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein supports the move, and the Education Ministry is weighing it. A decision on the matter is expected on Saturday night, during a meeting in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely participate. 

On Friday morning alone, 40 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed, out of 720 tests carried out; 5.5 percent of tests came back positive. On Thursday, 78 coronavirus patients were diagnosed, out of 5,200 tests conducted. (Rony Linder)

4:30 P.M. 31 hospital staff quarantined after doctor tests positive

Thirty-one staff members at Soroka Medical Center in the Negev were quarantined after coming into contact with a doctor in the surgical unit who tested positive for the coronavirus. The doctor presumably caught the infection from inside the hospital.

As usual, the hospital and the Health Ministry are carrying out an epidemiological investigation of people who came in contact with he doctor.

Appropriate guidelines will be provided in accordance with the test results, said the hospital's spokesperson. (Almog Ben Zikri)

1:40 P.M. Fears of infection wave among migrant workers

The Israeli army's coronavirus research group warned that there may be a high rate of coronavirus infections among migrant workers in Israel that is going undetected. "The percentage of those testing positive is high, and may indicate morbidity of an unknown scope," the group wrote in a document.

Migrant workers live in crowded conditions and are less likely to test for the virus, out of fear that they would lose their job, the group wrote. In addition, they are more likely to slip under the radar when it comes to epidemiological tools and contact tracing, despite coming in contact with a large number of people through their work, mostly in hospitality and caretaking.

Ichilov Hospital tested migrant workers at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station on Tuesday, finding that nine out of 41 tests were positive. (Bar Peleg)

12:00 P.M. 41 hospital staff quarantined after nurse tests positive

Fourty-one staff members from Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera were quarantined after coming in contact with a nurse who tested positive for coronavirus. 

The nurse did not work last week when she began to develop symptoms, and adhered to safety measures when in contact with patients. The quarantined workers were all tested and one was found positive.

The hospital and the Health Ministry began an epidemiological investigation to identify those who came in contact with her. (Noa Shpigel)

9:45 A.M. Coronavirus infections detected in Bedouin town

Extensive coronavirus testing will be conducted in the Bedouin town of Kuseife, after five people in an educational institution there tested positive. (Almog Ben Zikri)

THURSDAY

9:45 P.M. Israel records 64 new cases in a day, a sharp daily increase 

The total number of cases went up to 16,872 on Thursday night, Health Ministry figures said, representing a rise of 64 new cases in a day. This is a relatively high daily increase when compared with the past few weeks.

The Health Ministry urged Israelis not to become complacent in the face of an apparent return to routine, and called upon citizens to maintain social distancing directions.

The number of active cases keeps dropping as more people recover; the total now stands at 1,909, with 37 in serious condition, including 36 on ventilators. 

One patient died on Thursday, raising the overall count to 281. (Haaretz)

15:00 P.M. Health Ministry approves reopening universities as soon as Sunday

The Health Ministry approved an order Thursday that will allow higher education institutes to return to a broader scope of activities including on campus studies and exam taking as early as Sunday.

The same order will also allow the meeting of youth movements, informal educational frameworks (except summer camps and youth camps at this stage), as well as seminars and conferences.

The reopening of these institutions must follow certain guidelines including not more than 50 people in a room, keeping two meters apart and wearing masks.

Also, from Sunday, all schools will be fully operational in accordance with Education Ministry orders, including in places designated as hot spots, in accordance with the restrictions. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

1:05 P.M. Health Ministry cancels order to divide kindergarten classes into groups

Kindergarteners will no longer have to be divided into small groups during a school day, an official document released by the Health Ministry says.

At the beginning of this week, Haaretz learned that kindergarten teachers were instructed to divide the children into two groups that do not come into contact with one another, while children met later at their afterschool day care centers. In addition, schoolchildren were not divided into groups while in the classroom.

According to the new instructions, it is now allowed to prepare meals for the children in the kindergarten and they are allowed to eat together.

Furthermore, the ministry will allow youth movements to hold two-day fieldtrips, without limiting the number of children participating in the trip. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

9:37 A.M. Three Jerusalem schoolteachers test positive for coronavirus

Following the temporary closure of Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Rehavia after three of its students tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday, three teachers at the school were also diagnosed with the virus.  

Studies will resume on Sunday, via distance learning, after the Shavuot holiday.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon and Hadassah Medical Center Director Zeev Rotstein agreed that all the school’s 180 staffers would be tested for coronavirus on Sunday at the drive-through testing station at Hadassah Ein Kerem. (Nir Hasson)

WEDNESDAY

8:30 P.M. Jerusalem shuts school after three students test positive for coronavirus

Jerusalem city hall announced it would be closing Gymnasia Rehavia, one of Israel's oldest Hebrew-medium high schools, temporarily after three of its students tested positive for COVID-19. 

The school will go back to distance learning starting next week, in coordination with the Education Ministry, a statement said.

The Health Ministry and Magen David Adom will be testing all teaching staff starting tomorrow. (Nir Hasson)   

7:18 P.M. Israel records 36 new cases in a day, biggest rise in almost three weeks

The total number of cases went up to 16,793 on Wednesday night, Health Ministry figures said, representing a rise of 36 new cases in a day. This is the biggest daily rise since May 8, when 55 new cases were discovered.

The number of active cases keep dropping as more people recover; the total now stands at 1,912, with 41 in serious condition, including 38 on ventilators. 

There were no further deaths, with the overall count at 281. (Haaretz)

10:35 A.M. Israel extends security service tracking of coronavirus cases for three more weeks

The Shin Bet security service will be allowed to continue electronic tracking of coronavirus cases and those in contact with them for another three weeks after the Knesset's subcommittee for intelligence authorized the extension on Tuesday. (Jonathan Lis)

>> Click here to read the full report

10:20 A.M. Two kindergartners in central Israel test positive

Two kindergartners in central Israel tested positive for the coronavirus, authorities announced on Wednesday. The two are siblings and were infected by another family member. They have been staying at home since May 22. Everyone who was within two meters of either for over 15 minutes beginning on May 21 is required to enter isolation at home. (Bar Peleg)

5:45 A.M. Three new cases diagnosed in Gaza

The Gaza Health Ministry says it has diagnosed three more coronavirus cases, bringing the total cases in the Strip to 61. Eighteen people have recovered, while 42 people are staying in an isolation facility set up near the Rafah border crossing. According to the ministry, the three were diagnosed while staying in the isolation facility and were not in contact with anyone outside of it since entering. (Jack Khoury)

TUESDAY

9:03 P.M. Government confirms easing of coronavirus regulations on restaurants and bars, tourist attractions, swimming pools, and private transportation

Rules are substantially relaxed, allowing most restaurants and bars to reopen to up to 85% of their capacity. Other places are restricted to a person per seven square meters (6 square meters in swimming pools), while keeping 2 meters distance between individuals and wearing masks remain essential. 

Meetings of up to 50 people will be allowed, again respecting the Health Ministry rules. People from different households are now able to ride in the same car, with limitations. 

"First, we want to help the economy - the business owners and the self-employed who long for this moment. Secondly, we want to make your life easier, allow you to get out, get back to normal, have a cup of coffee, drink beer, too," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. (Haaretz)

7:22 P.M. Israeli Health Ministry registers another 23 cases, no new deaths

The latest figures from health authorities in Israel confirm that 16,757 people tested positive for coronavirus, 23 more since the last update on Monday night. 

There are currently 2,019 active cases, 37 of them in serious condition, with 33 on ventilators. The totally number of deaths remains at 281. (Haaretz)

5:44 P.M. Pre-schools and special education courses set to reopen in coronavirus hot spot of Bnei Brak

Some students in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak will return to school on Sunday, the municipality announced, three weeks after the rest of the country

Pre-schools and special education courses will reopen in full, according to government guidelines, a statement said, provided the contagion status remains unchanged.

Bnei Brak became a coronavirus hot spot in March, leading the town to be put on full lockdown and under more stringent restrictions. (Bar Peleg)

3:45 P.M. Gaza confirms three new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 58

Three new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, bringing the total number of cases in the Hamas-controlled enclave to 58. Authorities say the three have been kept in isolation.

One of the patients died, 39 remain in quarantine in a government-run facility near the Rafah border crossing, and 18 have recovered. (Jack Khoury)

10:00 A.M. Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity reopens

Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, reopened to worshippers and tourists as Palestinian authorities eased coronavirus restrictions in the occupied West Bank.

Amid lingering pandemic concerns, the church is capping access to 50 people at a time and requires that they be free of fever and wear protective masks. It had been shuttered since March 5, in a blow to Bethlehem's tourism industry.

"The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ gave hope to people more than 2,000 years ago, and opening the church today will, I think, give hope to the whole world that hopefully this pandemic will end - not only in Palestine but in the whole world," Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma'ayah told Reuters.

On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said mosques, churches and businesses would reopen on Tuesday in an easing of anti-pandemic curbs, given the slow pace of infections. (Reuters)

MONDAY

7:40 P.M. Welfare minister proposes end to denying unemployment benefit to those already receiving other benefits

Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli said on Twitter that he has a solution to the Finance Ministry blocking legislation that would allow needy people who were fired or furloughed during the pandemic to get full unemployment insurance along with their income subsidies, which he called "scandalous." 

He said that the potential payments people lost from March "will be refunded, and there will not be any deductions in June."

According to Shmuli, this will mean that those on benefits will receive a refund of around 250 shekels per person, adding that this will go to those who are the most disadvantaged. "The move will be implemented immediately after the Knesset's emergency budget framework is approved, probably next week," he said.

This comes after the Finance Ministry insisted that tens of thousands of people – mainly single mothers, disabled people and women aged 62 to 67 – should still have their state subsidies reduced, as usual, by the amount of unemployment insurance they collect during the coronavirus crisis.

Many of these people had their monthly income subsidies cut by thousands of shekels after asking for unemployment payments, under the terms of the Income Maintenance Law. (Lee Yaron)

7:32 P.M. 14 people diagnosed with the coronavirus, compared to 5 yesterday

14 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to Health Ministry figures. Of the 16,734 people who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus,  just 2,146 still have the virus. Of those people, 41 people are is serious condition. 281 people have died from the virus. (Haaretz)

7:24 P.M. Amid Growing Public Pressure, Palestinian Authority Set to Lift Coronavirus Restrictions

Mosques, churches and businesses in the West Bank will reopen on Tuesday in an easing of coronavirus restrictions, Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said on Monday.

The PA declared a health emergency in March and imposed lockdowns after the first cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Shtayyeh said it was time to "cautiously return life to normal" now that infection rates had slowed.

The announcement of the plan to ease restrictions was made in part due to great public pressure, with criticism that the Palestinian government is contiuing to take draconian measures, even though almost all of the Palestinian territory in the West Bank was declared free of the virus, besides East Jerusalem and the Hebron area. (Jack Khoury)

>> Click here to read the full report

6:30 P.M. Tel Aviv to allow restaurants to expand outdoor seating areas

As Tel Aviv prepares to reopen restaurants and cafes on May 27 after weeks of lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis, the municipality has said that it will allow them to expand their dining areas to sidewalks, gardens and even parking spots.

So far, the city has allowed 115 food establishments to use public areas for dining, including six that will be permitted to place tables and chairs in a number of street parking spots, which will be marked and fenced off by the municipality. This will enable the businesses to maintain social distancing rules, which restrict the number of diners who can sit in an enclosed space. (Naama Riba)

MONDAY

8.30 P.M. Theaters and cultural venues to reopen June 14

The Health Ministry announced on Sunday that performances in theaters and other venues will be permitted starting June 14, subject to restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the outline formulated by the Health Ministry and the Culture Ministry, up to 75 percent of seats in a venue will be able to be filled, with sufficient distance maintained between patrons. Temperatures will be taken at the entrance to venues and audience members will have to wear masks. However, if 75 percent of the venue’s seating comes to more than 500 people, a special permit will be required from the Culture Ministry.

Tickets will also only be sold online, and those who order tickets together will be allowed to sit together. Between each such group there will need to be at least one empty seat, and there will be no intermission during performances.

Also, starting May 27, more people will be allowed into museums – one person for every seven square meters will be permitted to enter, up from 15 square meters as is currently the case.

"This is a very significant step that we achieved after much effort, together with other officials. It’s the first and most important step toward resolving the crisis. I am committed to continuing the effort to return the cultural world to routine,” said Culture Minister Chili Tropper, who announced the guidelines with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.

The Israel Culture and Arts Forum said that the outline “allows culture and art lovers to return to the halls and museums in a safe manner, on the one hand, while conducting artistic activity at a high level on the other. But we must remember that along with formulating the successful operating guidelines, the economic plan must be urgently completed to help cultural institutions that were critically undermined by the coronavirus crisis.” (Ido Efrati, Nirit Anderman, Almog Ben Zikri and Noa Shpigel)

7:30 P.M. Israel confirms only 5 new cases in 24 hours

According to Israel's Health Ministry, only 5 new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 16,717.

The number of active cases stands at 2,285 – a reduction of 58 cases since Saturday. The overwhelming majority of patients are suffering from mild symptoms. (Haaretz)

7:00 P.M. Netanyahu meets Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, lauds shipment of medical supplies

Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and thanked him for accepting  to lead the joint procurement command center for the coronavirus response, ahead of its transfer to the Health Ministry on Tuesday. Netanyahu praised the command center's achievements in securing medical equipment and vital protective gear during the crisis. "First of all, I would like to thank you. Yossi, I assigned you, along with the Defense Ministry, to deal with procurement and acquisition. You did this exceptionally well; the results speak for themselves,” Netanyahu said. (Haaretz)

4:45 A.M. Israeli hospital announces closure of coronavirus ward

 An Israeli hospital has announced it has discharged its last coronavirus patient and, as a result, it is shutting down its coronavirus ward. Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Tiberias, northern Israel, said its last patient received a warm farewell as he left the building with a round of applause. “Thomas, a foreign worker from Eritrea, was discharged in good state on Sunday, May 24, and after nearly two months and a half since the special ward was opened, it was decided to shut it down until further notice,” the hospital statement read. (Noa Shpigel)

10:40 A.M. Jerusalem's Holy Sepulcher reopens after coronavirus closure

Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher reopened to visitors on Sunday after a two-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The church, situated in Jerusalem's Old City, is the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, entombed, and resurrected. The Christian authorities managing the site closed it to visitors in March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but clerics maintained prayers inside the shuttered church throughout its closure.

On Sunday, church authorities limited entrance to 50 people at a time, and required that those entering the cavernous site maintain social distance and avoid touching any of the church’s stones, icons or other religious items. A typical day before the virus outbreak would bring thousands of faithful who kissed or placed their hands along the church's surfaces. (The Associated Press)

>> Read the full report

SATURDAY

8:30 P.M. Number of cases in Israel rises to 16,712

The number of coronavirus cases in Israel has risen to 16,712, of which 2,343 are active cases. The death toll remains at 279. The number of people on ventilators remains at 36. There were 5,010 tests conducted yesterday. (Haaretz)

8:20 P.M. Two hurt in West Bank clashes as shops closed for holiday

Clashes erupted in Bethlehem between Palestinian youth affiliated with the Fatah’s military wing and Palestinian Authority security forces, amid criticism of the government's decision to shutter shops for the Eid al-Adha holiday, which starts on Sunday. A police officer and a militia member were wounded. (Jack Khoury)

4:35 P.M. Gaza announces first coronavirus death

The Gaza Health Ministry has announced the first death from coronavirus in the enclave, a 77-year-old woman who suffered from chronic illnesses and who had been in isolation at a facility near the Rafah border crossing. The ministry said the woman had traveled to Gaza through Egypt on May 19 and had been in isolation since then as a precaution. Twenty-nine people have been diagnosed in Gaza after returning through the Rafah or Erez border crossing over the past week. (Jack Khoury)

>> Click here to read the full report

1:05 P.M. Elderly woman diagnosed with coronavirus in Israeli nursing home; visits suspended

An elderly woman residing in the Mishan nursing home in Be’er Sheva was diagnosed overnight Friday with the coronavirus, and was admitted to Soroka Medical Center in the southern city.

Since the virus erupted in Israel, 14 elderly people from the same ward in Mishan have died from COVID-19, but no new cases were diagnosed there since early April.

The nursing home requested the Health Ministry to perform coronavirus tests on all its tenants and personnel, adding that Mishan is suspending all visits to the ward until test results are in “to ensure the wellbeing of the tenants and their families.

“We will continue looking after the tenants in the ward while implementing a strict policy of social distancing and protection, regardless of the test results.” (Almog Ben Zikri)

10:44 A.M. Iran to reopen religious, cultural sites on Sunday

Iran on Saturday moved to open businesses, religious and cultural sites as it eases restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Museums and historical sites are to reopen on Sunday to coincide with the Eid el-Fitr celebrations that end the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, President Hassan Rohani said on state television.

Holy shrines - some of which became focal points of the coronavirus epidemic in Iran - will reopen Monday.

Rohani had said last week that the shrines would open for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. Some areas of the shrines such as narrow corridors will stay shut.

All workers in the country will return to work next Saturday.

"We can say we have passed the three stages regarding the coronavirus," Rouhani said.

The fourth phase is containment in 10 of Iran's 31 provinces, where the situation is better and screening will intensify while infected patients will be separated from the rest of the population.

The president said last week that restaurants would reopen after Ramadan and sports activities would resume without spectators. Universities, but not medical schools, will reopen on June 6.

Rohani said on Saturday that 88 percent of the fatalities from COVID-19 in Iran were victims with underlying illnesses.

According to health ministry figures, more than 7,000 have so far died from the pandemic in Iran and more than 130,000 have been infected. (Reuters) 

FRIDAY

10:15 A.M. Education Ministry orders wearing masks at school for older kids

The Education Ministry released new orders on mandatory mask wearing amid students' return to schools. Students in the second grade and up must wear masks outside the class and during breaks, while students in the fourth grade and up must wear masks inside the class and can only take it off in the case that two meter distance separates each student. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

THURSDAY

7:45 P.M. Israel's active coronavirus cases continue to drop

Israel has so far confirmed 16,683 coronavirus cases, out of which 2,680 cases are still active after 13,724 people have recovered.

The death toll stands at 279, while 36 patients are on ventilators.

The Health Ministry said that 5,969 coronavirus tests were carried out as of Thursday evening. (Haaretz) 

6:15 P.M. Health Ministery to ease more coronavirus restrictions 

Israel's Health Minister Yuli Edelstein is continuing to ease coronavirus restrictions. After assessing the current situation with senior executives, he instructed the Director General of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar Siman Tov to sign an order permitting gatherings of up to 50 people, even in closed buildings, with 2 meters of distance between each and while wearing masks. 

Additionally, It will also be possible to not wear a mask at the workplace with a 1.20 meter distance between each employee, compared with the 1.50 distance order so far.

Assessing the situation also increased the need to prepare for a second wave of the coronavirus. Edelstein said at the meeting: "We are in a 'time to open' but should not go into complacency. I reiterate - the continued opening of the economy in accordance with the Health Ministry's plan depends mainly on our adherence to the rules of the Ministry. Without the cooperation of Israeli citizens, the coronavirus may intensify and the economy may close again." (Haaretz)

6:00 P.M. Gaza authorities consider full closure on Eid al-Fitr in light of renewed outbreak 

Hamas authorities in Gaza announced that as of Thursday, the Rafah and Erez crossings will be closed due to the new outbreak of coronavirus cases in the Strip.

In addition, it was decided to put another 2000 Gazans into isolation for fear of having been in contact with patients who had been diagnosed in recent days.

A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, Khalil Alhiya, explained that the increase in the number of patients in the Gaza Strip poses a real threat and this requires taking measures to prevent further spread of the virus.

He said the Gaza authorities are investigating the possibility of imposing a complete closure on holiday days (Eid al-Fitr) throughout the Gaza Strip, and the decision will be made by the end of the week when the results of the tests are received. (Jack Khoury)

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5:00 P.M. 29 new coronavirus cases found in Gaza, raising fears of renewed outbreak  

Twenty-nine new cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed in the Gaza Strip among Palestinians returning in recent days from the Rafah and Erez crossings, who have been placed in isolation since.

The number of patients in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the crisis has now risen to 49, of which 16 have recovered.

This is the largest number diagnosed in the Strip since the beginning of the crisis. The Gaza Health Ministry is awaiting the results of hundreds of additional tests done over the past two days.

According to Health officials, the patients had come in contact with dozens of people staying in isolation centers. Health officials in Gaza are now investigating whether there was contact between the patients and people outside the isolation facilities, which would indicate a greater number of cases.

The Gaza Health Ministry announced high alert following the new cases found today. (Jack Khoury)

2:44 P.M. Seven more Palestinians test positive in Gaza, raising toll to 30

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that seven more people were diagnosed with the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip, raising the toll there to 30. Out of these, 16 have so far recovered.

The seven new cases are individuals who returned to the coastal enclave through the Rafah crossing and have entered quarantine. (Jack Khoury)

WEDNESDAY

8:21 P.M. Number of active coronavirus case in Israel drops under 3,000

Israel has so far confirmed 16,665 coronavirus cases, out of which 2,812 cases are still active after 13,574 people have recovered.

One more person has died from the virus, bringing death toll to 279, while 40 patients are on ventilators.

The Health Ministry said that 6,938 coronavirus tests were carried out Tuesday. (Haaretz) 

TUESDAY 

11:00 P.M. Israel permits reopening houses of worship with restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the reopening of houses of worship Tuesday night after consulting with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Maj. Gen. Meir Ben-Shabbat and other parties.

The order will go into effect Wednesday, and prayer will be restricted to up to 50 people in the space, keeping a distance of 2 meters between the worshipers. Each house of worship must assign a coronavirus trustee to enforce restrictions and safety measures, and masks will be mandatory and worshipers must adhere to hygiene rules. (Noa Landau)

8:30 P.M. Health Ministry data show another drop in active coronavirus cases in Israel

Latest figures released by the Health Ministry show the total number of active coronavirus cases in Israel has dropped again from 3,074 on Tuesday morning to 2,946. Meanwhile, the total number of cases since the beginning of the crisis has grown by 9 new patients to 16,659. 50 patients are in serious condition, 38 of them on ventilators. One more patient has died bringing the total number of Israeli coronavirus fatalities to 278. (Haaretz)

6:30 P.M. Gaza Health Ministry announces 3 more coronavirus cases

The Health Ministry in Gaza said three people who recently returned to the Strip were found to be positive for the coronavirus. The statement specified they entered Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and noted they were placed in isolation facilities as per the local regulations. The three patients – one in his 70s, one in his 40s, and one 19-year-old, are all in good condition. The cases bring the total number of Palestinians infected with the virus in Gaza since the beginning of the crisis to 23. However, 16 have recovered, and the active cases as of Tuesday are therefore only seven. (Jack Khoury)

2:10 P.M. Ex-health minister says was not involved in policy-making

Former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman did not fully participate in the decision-making process concerning the coronavirus outbreak, he told Kan Bet radio in an interview on Tuesday morning.

“Here and there they updated me,” said Litzman when asked if the professional staff in his ministry were the ones who made recommendations to fight the pandemic, which they then took to the National Security Council and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Haaretz)

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2:08 P.M. Transportation Ministry announces public transport in school rush hour to resume

In her first decision as transportation minister, Likud lawmaker Miri Regev said public transport would resume at full capacity between 7:00 A.M. and 8:30 A.M., and between 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M., specifically to allow students to go to and from school. (Haaretz

2:04 P.M. Residents of south Tel Aviv neighborhood told to stay home after family tests positive

After six members of one family were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the Neve Ofer neighborhood of Tel Aviv, a testing station was opened there in order to test as many residents as possible. At this time, 115 have been tested, with resuts to come tomorrow. (Bar Peleg

1:08 P.M. Al-Aqsa Mosque to reopen next week

Ziad Abu Moch, the head of the Interior Ministry's Islamic Administration, announced that after talks, they have decided to reopen the Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 27. 

12:55 P.M. Israel to allow restaurants and clubs to reopen on May 27

Restaurants, bars and clubs will be allowed to reopen on May 27, after discussions between the restaurant association and the Health and Finance Ministries.

Restaurant owners have been pushing to reopen the embattled sector.

Owners of these establishments will be responsible for taking the temperature of each customer. Venues hosting up to 100 patrons will be able to resume at full occupancy, while bigger places will have to restrict attendance to 85%. A mandatory distance of one meter between tables will have to be respected in outdoor seating areas.

Clubs will only be able to play recorded music; live performances remains restricted.

Last week, Deputy Health Minister Director Prof. Itamar Groto and public health chief Prof. Sigal Sudetzky visited chef Haim Cohen's Yaffo Tel Aviv restaurant to meet with restaurant union head Shai Berman, who presented them with a plan for completely reopening restaurants.

Restaurants, bars and clubs were low on the list of the Health Ministry's priorities for reopening, and were to open on June 15. The Finance Ministry was pushing for them to reopen on May 31.

Several other steps are still under discussion. (Ido Efrati)

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11:00 A.M. One dies, seven more test positive for coronavirus in Israel

Latest figures released by the Health Ministry show the total number of cases has reached 16,650, with 3,074 of those currently active and 13,299 recovered. 51 patients are in serious condition, 39 of them on ventilators. 

One patient has died since Monday evening, bringing the total number of Israeli coronavirus deaths to 277.

1:06 A.M. Health Ministry rescinds order to wear masks in public spaces, schools amid extreme heat wave

Newly appointed Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced that due to soaring temperatures, wearing masks in open areas or classrooms without air conditioning is not mandatory, as long as people don’t congregate.

On Sunday, the Health Ministry rejected the Education Ministry’s request to allow students not to wear masks amid the extreme heat wave across the country. That decision sparked resistance among students, parents and doctors. (Haaretz)

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SUNDAY

11:29 P.M. Despite extreme heat wave, Health Ministry refuses to exempt Israeli students from wearing masks in school

The Health Ministry rejected a request submitted by the Education Ministry to allow students not to wear masks in classrooms amid the extreme heat wave throughout the country.

The Health Ministry, however, said that students who are studying in classrooms without air conditioning are allowed not to wear masks.

Earlier on Sunday, the Israel Pediatric Association called on the ministry to exempt school children from the obligation to wear masks in school until the heat wave ends, claiming that the order is “impractical and extremely difficult to implement” under current weather conditions. (Ronny Linder and Lior Dattel)

11:14 P.M. Iraq faces full local lockdowns as virus cases jump

Iraq will impose a complete lockdown on some areas of the capital, the country's new health minister said on Monday, amid an uptick in coronavirus cases in recent weeks since curfew hours were relaxed.

The new government under Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was sworn into power just two weeks ago following a five-month leadership vacuum. Responding to the pandemic and a severe economic crisis brought on by falling oil prices is foremost on its agenda.

Areas of Baghdad believed to play a role in spreading the virus will face a full lockdown as of Wednesday for a period of two weeks, Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi said in a statement. (The Associated Press) 

9:20 P.M. Some school in Israel to remain closed 

Several cities announced they will not reopen schools for grades 4 through 10 on Tuesday because the extreme heat wave will make it difficult for students to wear face masks. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

8:30 P.M. Three people die in Israel; no surge in new cases 

Three more people died from COVID-19 in Israel, raising the toll to 276. The count of new cases continues to be low, with 22 people diagnosed with the coronavirus, bringing the total to 16,643, 20 percent of which are still active.

More than 4,500 people were tested on Sunday, and 251 were announced as fully recovered, according to the health ministry. 

7:20 P.M. Students struggling to wear masks in hot weather

Education Ministry Director General Shmuel Abuav called on the Health Ministry to allow students to not wear masks on extremely hot days. In a letter to his counterpart at the Health Ministry, he said the order to wear masks at schools at all times is one “the students cannot uphold.” (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

7:12 P.M. Palestinians report new cases after days of zero new cases 

The Palestinian Authority ramped up testing in the village of Beit Ula near Hebron after five people there tested positive for the coronavirus. These are the first positive diagnoses after days of no new cases in the West Bank or Gaza.

Palestinian Health Minister May al-Kaila said the new cases involve a woman, three minors and a baby who were infected after coming in close contact with a worker who had recently returned from Israel. Palestinian laborers working in Israel have been identified as a potential source of contagion, and in the next week authorities prepare to tests 35,000 workers who will return to the West Bank for Eid al-Fitr.

Furthermore, there will be a total curfew during the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan, from May 22 to May 25. (Jack Khoury)

5:45 P.M. Just five active coronavirus cases in Gaza 

The Gaza Health Ministry said that there are five active cases of COVID-19 in Gaza, after 16 patients successfully recovered and none died. (Jack Khoury)

12:25 P.M. Residents of south Tel Aviv neighborhood told not to leave homes after coronavirus cases diagnosed

Tel Aviv's municipality has instructed residents in the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Ofer to stay in their homes after five members of a family living there were diagnosed with the coronavirus. Two schools were also closed. The city disinfected several areas in the neighborhood and asked the Health Ministry to boost testing there. (Bar Peleg)

12:00 P.M. N.Y. Synagogues may hold Shavuot services

Synagogues in upstate New York may be able to hold small services for next week's Shavuot  holiday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at his daily COVID-19 briefing on Sunday.

 “If we can circumscribe a ceremony with 14,15 people social distanced with safeguards, can we find a way to do a ceremony, a religious ceremony, or a ceremony that honors Memorial Day? I think we can,” the governor said, after a Jewish reporter asked. A definitive answer will come in the next day or two, Cuomo added. 

Sunday marked the 78th day since New York State was put “on pause”. While upstate New York is beginning the first phase of reopening – for construction and manufacturing – downstate New York, including New York City remains closed. (Haaretz)

11:45 A.M. Tel Aviv Municipality says contact tracing conducted after five family members test positive

The Tel Aviv Municipality says the Health Ministry has conducted contact tracing and contacted relevant parties after five members of a family were diagnosed with the virus on Thursday. The city said it had assembled a team to handle the incident and that it had appealed to the Health Ministry with a request for further testing in the neighborhood. (Bar Peleg)

11:05 A.M. Number of cases in Israel at 16,621, no new deaths

The number of coronavirus cases in Israel stands at 16,621, with 47 people on ventilators and 3,335 active cases. The number of deaths remains at 272. There were 4,344 tests conducted on Sunday. (Haaretz)

11:00 A.M. Five members of Tel Aviv family diagnosed

Five members of a family living in the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Ofer has tested positive for the coronavirus, after according to a source, seeking to be tested for about a week. According to the source, members of the family complained of losing their sense of taste last week, but were not immediately tested because they had no other symptoms. At least one of the children in the family went to school this week, said the source. (Bar Peleg)

10:45 A.M. 70% of chains of infection in Israel originated in U.S., researchers say

Mapping of the coronavirus genome in Israel has allowed researchers at Tel Aviv University to track the virus' spread from abroad to Israel and between locations inside the country. The analysis shows that some 70 percent of the chains of infection in Israel originated in the U.S. Most of the remaining 30 percent originated mostly in Europe – Belgium (about 8%), France (6%), the U.K. (5%), Spain (3%), and Italy (2%). Australia, the Philippines, and Russia were each the point of origin for 2% of the chains of infection. (Ido Efrati)

8:20 A.M. Second staff member at Rehovot school tests positive

A staff member at a school in Rehovot has tested positive for COVID-19, after it was announced on Friday that an educator at the same school had the virus. The class of 35 children that she taught will be required to self-isolate at home until May 28. Following the discovery on Friday of a positive case at the school, all members of the teaching staff were tested on Sunday. Tests for the two classes that have been required to self-isolate will be conducted today and tomorrow.  

Israeli children in all grades went back to school on Sunday. Students are required to wear a mask while in the classroom and maintain a two-meter distance from one another during the entire school day. The decision to resume studies comes as Israel’s coronavirus infection rate keeps dropping. Some locales, however, delayed the opening of schools by a day for logistical reasons. (Haaretz)

SUNDAY

10:47 P.M. Former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman says there was too much panic over coronavirus 

Former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said on Sunday that he thought there had been too much of a panic over the coronavirus outbreak in Israel. 

"As soon as my director general said he was afraid that ten thousand will die, I shouted at a government meeting that I disagree and that it's an exaggeration," Litzman told an interviewer on Israeli public radio. 

"The prime minister accepted this exaggeration, and he responded to the director general's fears, and I cannot make much claims against him as the situation is excellent, we cry for every soul we lost, but all in all [it was] 250," he added.

So far, 272 people have died from the coronavirus in Israel.

Yaakov Litzman was sworn in Housing and Construction minister in Israel's new government on Sunday, despite facing backlash over his handling of the coronavirus crisis. (Haaretz

7:47 P.M. Ten more cases confirmed, one person dies, as active cases keep dropping

The Health Ministry confirmed ten more people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the last update on Sunday morning, bringing the total number of cases to 16,617.

One person has died, bringing the total to 272.

The number of active cases dropped to 3,403, with 55 patients in in serious condition and 44 on ventilators. (Haaretz

4:43 P.M. Israeli executive draws up guidelines to reopen synagogues

Officials from Israel's National Security Council, Health Ministry and a representative of Interior Minister Arye Dery have agreed on terms to reopen prayer houses and synagogues. 

Worshippers will be required to sit one seat apart, wear masks throughout, and bring prayer materials from home. A coronavirus gabbai, or warden, will be designated in each synagogue to ensure rules are respected. (Noa Landau)

2:40 P.M. Attendance exceeds 70 percent as Israeli schools reopen

The Education Ministry said that some 74 percent of Israel’s enrolled students in grades first through twelve attended schools as Israel reopened its education system on Sunday.

Education Ministry Director General Shmuel Abuhav said that the return to school will be gradual and at the discretion of the parents. Abuhav added that the growing attendance rate testifies to the trust parents have in the education system and its employees. (Haaretz)

12:30 P.M. Number of coronavirus confirmed cases drops to 16,607, Health Ministry says 

The Health Ministry said that the number of coronavirus cases in Israel stands at 16,607, one down from the date reported on Saturday.

Over the past day, 1,517 coronavirus tests were performed. So far, 12,884 Israelis have recovered, bringing active cases down to 3,452. 

As of Sunday, 271 people have died from the disease, and 48 are on ventilators. (Haaretz)

8:30 A.M. Israel reopens schools as coronavirus infection rate remains low

Israeli children in all grades went back to school on Sunday. Students are required to wear a mask while in the classroom and maintain a two-meter distance from one another during the entire school day.

The decision to resume studies comes as Israel’s coronavirus infection rate keeps dropping.

Some regional councils, however, delayed the opening of schools by a day amid logistical reasons. (Haaretz)

Read previous updates

Hamas police stand guard at the entrance of a mosque as worshipers attend the last Friday noon prayer of the holy month of Ramadan, in Gaza City, May. 22, 2020.
Hamas police stand guard at the entrance of a mosque as worshipers attend the last Friday noon prayer of the holy month of Ramadan, in Gaza City, May. 22, 2020.Credit: Khalil Hamra/AP

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