This story is no longer being updated. Follow live updates here.
Two months into its mass coronavirus vaccination campaign, Israel sees a drop in COVID infections and in the number of severe cases. Israel exited its third nationwide lockdown, but some restrictions remains on inbound and outbound flights. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 5,933 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. It may take a while still for a mass vaccination campaign to get under way in the Palestinian territories. A total of 1,827 people have died of COVID in the West Bank, while 560 have died in Gaza.
10:45 P.M. Reopening brings joy for Israelis, but concern for businesses
Just four days into Israel’s post-coronavirus normal, consumers are responding with gusto, crowding shopping malls, boosting turnover at stores and keeping waiters busy taking orders at restaurants and cafés.
But for businesses, the joy of being open as usual has been dimmed by a shortage of workers, uncertainty over the government assistance that many businesses are supposed to be getting, and doubts about what many business people say are absurd COVID regulations.
Figures released on Wednesday by the Bank of Israel, since the first easing of lockdown rules in the middle of February, consumer spending as measured by credit card use has recovered in sectors that had been the hardest hit by pandemic restrictions, including tourism, education, leisure and restaurants. Nevertheless, spending remains much lower than pre-COVID levels.
In tourism, for example, the moving average for credit card spending in the seven days through March 8 was 55% lower than it was in January 2020, the eve of the pandemic. Spending at restaurants was 19% lower. Overall, however, credit card spending was 14% higher than in January 2020. (Israel Fisher)
6:15 P.M. 40,000 doses donated by UAE to enter Gaza tomorrow
The Russian Sputnik V vaccine doses will enter through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, UAE-based Palestinian political leader Mohamed Dahlan announced.
- 'It was dangerous': The weekend COVID-19 came to AIPAC – and changed the Jewish World forever
- Israel halts law giving cities info on people who didn't receive coronavirus vaccine
- Eight questions ahead of Israel’s COVID election day
This is the second shipment that Dahlan facilitated. A previous shipment of 20,000 doses came in the second part of February through the same method.
On his Facebook page, Dahlan wrote that he would continue to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and ensure that more shipments were delivered.
By bringing this many vaccine doses in, Dahlan is directly challenging the Palestinian Authority, which so far has only managed to bring in 10,000 doses, of which 2,000 were sent to Gaza. (Jack Khoury)
Why Bibi stayed silent on High Court's landmark decision on Reform conversions: LISTEN
4:45 P.M. In-person classes to resume in all 'orange' localities, Health Ministry announces
Citing an improvement in COVID infection rates and a desire to allow students to return to their educational routine, the Health Ministry announced on Wednesday that in-person classes will resume in all so-called orange localities.
An updated list of localities indicating their respective color designations will be published soon, the ministry added.
Until now, in-person classes took place only in so-called “bright orange” municipalities where 70 percent or more of residents over age 50 are vaccinated. (Haaretz)
4:20 P.M. Tel Aviv teachers must present vaccination certificate or negative COVID test
The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality announced that as of Sunday, teachers must show a “green passport,” a negative COVID test or a document proving recovery from COVID in order to enter schools.
The city cited a rise in infection rates in schools as the reasoning behind the decision, which contradicts a previous one by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, stipulating that mayors don’t have the authority to ban unvaccinated teachers from schools. (Bar Peleg)
12:31 P.M. Israel sees decrease in COVID infections rates, HMO data shows
The rate of COVID tests returning positive has dropped to 3.3 percent, data released by Israel's Health Ministry showed, the lowest since December 19.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 infection rate known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – has decreased from 0.95 yesterday and currently stands at 0.9.
The figures also show a decline in the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized in serious condition, which stands at 653, as well as the number of patients currently on ventilators, 215. (Ido Efrati)
Click here for the full story
12:13 P.M. Israeli lawmakers give initial approval for digital tracking of arrivals
A bill to allow digital tracking of all individuals arriving in Israel was approved by the Knesset in its first reading. The bill still needs to pass two more votes before becoming law.
According to the bill, arrivals to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport would be required to wear and e-bracelet or install an app on their phone, both of which are meant to monitor quarantine compliance. Those who refuse to wear the bracelet or to consent to phone tracking through the app will be mandated to quarantine in state-run hotels.
Israel raised the daily cap on Israelis returning from abroad to 3,000 last week. The digital tracking is meant to provide a means of enforcing quarantine to prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants. (Jonathan Lis)
7:46 A.M. Passover lockdown unlikely, Israel's COVID czar says
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said that Israel is unlikely to enter another lockdown during Passover in light of the country's downward trend of coronavirus infection rates.
Speaking in an interview with 103 FM Radio, Ash said that infection rates are declining, and therefore "It's highly probable that another lockdown won't be imposed during Passover," or until Israel's March 23 election.
Asked about vaccination for children, Ash said he hopes to start inoculating them soon to achieve extensive immunity. (Haaretz)
6:28 A.M. Rise in COVID cases swamps hospitals in West Bank
The West Bank has seen a rise in coronavirus cases over the past few days, overwhelming hospitals in the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Tuesday that most West Bank hospitals are at more than 100 percent capacity including intensive care wards.
The government has closed off the districts of Bethlehem, Nablus, Qalqilyah and Jenin in an attempt to stop the spread of the pandemic. (Jack Khoury)
6:45 P.M. 18,000 Palestinians with work permits vaccinated by Israel so far, rescue service says
Israel began vaccinations inside West Bank settlements for Palestinians authorized to work in Israel or in Israeli settlements on Tuesday, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service.
The vaccination of Palestinians with such authorization began Monday at a number of checkpoints before being extended to sites within settlements.
Eighteen thousand Palestinians with work permits have been vaccinated, Magen David Adom said, and the vaccinations in the West Bank will continue until March 18. (Haaretz)
6:41 P.M. Palestinians without legal residency status to be vaccinated
Palestinians who are living in Israel without legal residency may receive the coronavirus vaccine, the Health Ministry told Physicians for Human Rights on Tuesday.
The group, which Physicians for Human Rights estimates number in the thousands, comprises of Palestinians in many different situations: at-risk groups such as suspected collaborators with Israel and those who left the Palestinian territories because of their sexuality, as well as Palestinians who lack legal residency status but whose “center of life” is in Israel because of marriage. (Jack Khoury)
6:01 P.M. High Court criticizes law to disclose data on unvaccinated citizens to authorities
Israel’s High Court discussed Tuesday a petition filed against legislation that would permit the transfer of details of unvaccinated citizens to the Education and Welfare Ministries.
Several justices, including Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, criticized the law and questioned its effectiveness. “One hour has already passed, and I still don’t understand the use of the law,” said Justice Esther Hayut. (Netael Bandel)
2:02 P.M. Palestinian PM says arrival of more vaccines might be delayed
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh warned that the arrival of additional coronavirus vaccines to the West Bank might be delayed and called on the World Health Organization and 'friendly countries' to speed up the process.
The Palestinian Authority hopes to get the vaccines in the coming weeks through a WHO program known as COVAX, which aims to procure vaccines for needy countries but has been slow to get off the ground.
Shtayyeh said that most hospitals in the West Bank have surpassed their full capacity, which led the Palestinian government to take harsh measures, including lockdowns and closures.
So far, Israel has delivered 2,000 of a promised 5,000 vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority, destined for healthcare workers. (Jack Khoury)
1:04 P.M. As COVID vaccination drive reaches 5-million milestone, Israel targets missing 1.3 million
Israel reached on Monday the landmark figure of 5 million vaccinated with their first dose against coronavirus, around 54 percent of the population, less than three months after its pioneering vaccine drive began.
Out of the five million, around three and a half million people, 39 percent of Israel’s population, have been inoculated with both jabs, and have therefore received the so-called "green pass" – a document issued one week after the second dose of the vaccine allowing the recipient to access venues such as theaters and gyms.
Over 98 percent who received the first dose have received their second dose within 25 days of the first injection, but 1.9 percent have refused to get the second dose without justification.
Despite the high rates of vaccination in Israel, and the declining rate of infection and seriously ill patients, the Health Ministry is wielding the promise of a return to normality to push more Israelis to its vaccination centers. The remaining 1.3 million individuals, including 11 percent of Israelis over 50 – some 280,000 people – are now the priority. (Ido Efrati)
10:40 A.M. Israel sees decline in COVID spread, number of seriously ill patients
The COVID-19 infection rate known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – has decreased and currently stands at 0.95, data released by Israel's Health Ministry shows.
Furthermore, the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized in serious condition has declined and stands at 668.
On Sunday, 3,662 new cases were diagnosed. So far, 4,995,253 Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine and 5,922 have died from the virus. (Ido Efrati)
9:13 Top court hears petition against legislation to disclose names of unvaccinated to authorities
Israel's High Court of Justice is set to hear a petition against legislation that would disclose the names of citizens who have not yet been vaccinated to local authorities as well as the education and welfare ministries.
The petition was filed last week by Physicians for Human Rights and Association of Civil Rights. The panel of judges hearing the petition will include Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justices Hanan Melcer and Neal Hendel.
The petition says that the declared aim of the legislation –encouraging vaccination – is a worthy cause, but that the "extreme and disproportionate" measure was "passed hastily under a flawed process.”
The Knesset approved the law In February, raising privacy concerns.
Under the law, the Health Ministry will be permitted to share names, ID numbers, addresses, and phone numbers of unvaccinated Israelis with the authorities. (Netael Bandel)