Coronavirus Israel: Cabinet Extends Airport Closure Through March 6

Vaccine 95 percent effective, Israeli HMO reports ■ UAE to supply 20,000 doses of Russian vaccine to Gaza ■ Palestinian workers in Israel allowed to return to West Bank

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A man walks past check-in desks at Ben-Gurion International Airport, in January.
A man walks past check-in desks at Ben-Gurion International Airport, in January.Credit: Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

>> This story is no longer being updated. Click here for the latest COVID-19 updates from Israel

Israel is in the midst of an extensive vaccination campaign, and is beginning to see a drop in COVID infections and severe cases. Israel exited its third nationwide lockdown, but inbound and outbound flights remain suspended except for special cases. So far, 5,501 Israelis have died of the virus.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip received 1,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, though it may take at least a few more months for their campaigns to reach enough members of the population. 1,617 people have died so far in the West Bank, while 538 have died in Gaza.

>> How many have already been vaccinated

>> Health Ministry seeks to bar unvaccinated from certain jobs

>> Israel's lessons and warnings for the world, two months into vaccine drive

LIVE UPDATES

8:55 P.M. Israel extends ban on inbound and outbound flights

The coronavirus cabinet extended the restrictions banning inbound and outbound flights until March 6.

Under the ban, which was announced by the cabinet on January 25 and was supposed to be in effect until February 20, planes of foreign airlines are not allowed to land in Israel and Israeli airlines aren't allowed to operate regular flights. (Judy Maltz)

>> Click here to read the full report

4:01 P.M. Palestinian workers in Israel allowed to return to West Bank 

The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said Thursday that Palestinian workers currently residing in Israel are allowed to return to their homes in the West Bank.

Since the start of the third lockdown, some 30,000 Palestinian workers have been sleeping in Israel on a daily basis and assessments are that many others return to the West Bank each day illegally. (Hagar Shezaf)

>> Click here to read the full report

3:10 P.M. Israel extends quarantine hotels for returning citizens

The government approved Thursday an extension of the mandated quarantine in hotels to all returning Israelis. 

Those who are required to quarantine can shorten the period from 14 to 10 days at the hotel if they take two coronavirus tests that come out negative. Citizens who can provide vaccination documentation or proof of COVID recovery upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport will be exempt from quarantine. (Haaretz)

2:05 P.M. UAE to supply 20,000 doses of Russian COVID vaccine to Gaza

A shipment of 20,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine are expected to arrive in the coming days to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and without Israeli involvement, the Palestinian Authority announced Thursday.

The Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines will be transfered to Gaza through Egypt by the UAE.

On Wednesday, Israel allowed the transfer of 1,000 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines through the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza – the first batch of vaccines to have arrived in the Strip. The vaccines were donated by Russia and transferred from the Beitunia border crossing in the West Bank with the approval of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced Thursday that the shipment was donated by the UAE with the aim of aiding the citizens of Gaza during this critical stage of the pandemic. Shtayyeh said that the distribution of the vaccines will prioritize Gaza medical officials, the elderly and the sick. (Jack Khoury)

>> Click here to read the full report

1:10 P.M. Health Ministry, police discuss enforcement plan for falsified vaccination certificates

The Health Ministry held a meeting on Thursday with senior police officers to discuss enforcement and punishment for issuers and users of falsified green vaccination certificates, said the Health Ministry's director-general Chezy Levy, as Israel continues to the next phase of COVID lockdown exit plan.

"We are disgusted by the false information undermining the foundation for vaccination that does not serve the public health," Levy said.

Levy emphasized that health remains the ministry's number one priority and incentive also at this point in time, when immunizations, reduced infection rates and proper conduct mean that we are now "facing a point in time when we can reopen some of the activities we all so desperately want to participate in."

As for the activities to be reopened, he explicitly referred to "the pool, the gym, a restaurant, all sorts of activities in the future, also abroad." (Ido Efrati)

1:00 P.M. Health Minister: Israel won't fine unvaccinated, but won't be allowed to attend events

"There is no, and there will not be any, obligation to get vaccinated in the State of Israel, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Thursday, amid controversies revolving around whether or not Israel can force residents to vaccinate, noting that it is "their right" to choose not to get vaccinated.

"There will also be no personal sanctions against anyone who is not vaccinated," Edelstein said, noting that Israel "does not do such things" and that getting vaccinated is "a great privilege given to all of us and does not exist in many countries in the world."

That said, Edelstein also said that beginning on Sunday, Israel will green light and hold events in which hundreds of people who have been vaccinated can participate, and emphasized that masks are still important.

Edelstein said that the trial run of opening thes kinds of events over the next two weeks is anticipated to have glitches, and as such requested that "mountains not be made of mole hills."  He also noted that nearly three million people have downloaded the ministry's Green Certificate (Tav Yarok) app.

Edelstein also noted that the ministry is aware of the possibility that people will make and use forged certificates, and emphasized that those who do could wind up in jail under any of a number of legal prohibitions that already exist. (Ido Efrati)

12:40 P.M. This weekend, Tel Aviv municipality plans to open 7 pop-up immunization stations at leisure and recreation centers

The Tel Aviv municipality will open 7 pop-up immunization stations at leisure and recreation centers throughout the city this weekend, to encourage city residents to vaccinate, especially in areas where the number of those who have been vaccinated is low.

On Friday, stations will be open at Dizengoff Square, the Bnei Brit Community Center in Jaffa (23 Isaac Harif St.), and on Washington Boulevard in Florentin (in case of rain, the station will be moved indoors to the Florentin Community Center at 74 Arbarbanel St.). On Saturday, stations will be open at Habima Square, by the beach on the Tel Aviv promenade in front of the Opera Tower (just north of Allenby St.), Menachem Begin Park (entrance from Hinanit Street), Park Hamesila (near the bridge).

Hours and locations are subject to change due to the stormy weather. Tel Aviv Digital cardholders will be eligible to receive free gifts. (Bar Peleg)

12:00 P.M. Some vaccinated Israeli women report irregular menstrual cycles, bleeding

Several Israeli women who received the coronavirus vaccine have posted on social media in recent days that they had been experiencing irregular menstrual cycles and abnormal vaginal bleeding.

The Health Ministry received similar reports from 13 women saying their period came early, while others reported irregular bleeding between their menstrual periods. 

The Health Ministry's vaccine monitoring committee discussed the issue on Wednesday and said it would follow up on the issue to understand whether a connection does exist between the vaccine and the reported phenomena.

Vaginal bleeding was not a side effect reported in Pfizer's clinical trials, and until several days ago, no such incidents had been reported since Israel's vaccine campaign kicked off in late December. (Ido Efrati)

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10:55 A.M. Two Canadian researchers urge delay in administering Pfizer vaccine's second dose, cite Pfizer data

Two Canada-based researchers on Wednesday urged governments to delay administering the second dose of Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine, which they said had an efficacy of 92.6% after the first dose, as it was not significantly beneficial in the short term.

"Given the current vaccine shortage, postponement of the second dose is a matter of national security that, if ignored, will certainly result in thousands of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths this winter in the United States," the authors warned.

The researcher's findings were derived from Pfizer's documents submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and are also similar to the first-dose efficacy of 92.1% reported for Moderna Inc's mRNA-1273 vaccine, they wrote in their letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

They cautioned that there may be uncertainty about the duration of protection with a single dose, but said that the administration of the second dose a month after the first provided "little added benefit in the short term."

In its response, Pfizer said that alternative dosing regimens of its vaccine had not been evaluated yet and the decision to do that resided with the health authorities. (Reuters)

>> Click here to read the full report

9:50 A.M. More than 110,000 Israelis received jabs on Wednesday

Israel has now inoculated more than 4.1 million people (roughly 45.3 percent of the population), with around 110,000 people receiving a jab on Wednesday. Of the overall figure, more than 2.7 million people (about 30.2 percent of the population) received the second dose of the vaccination. 

The Health Ministry reported that there were 3,121 new cases on Wednesday. Positive results amounted to 6.3% of the tests conducted in Israel on Wednesday, and there are currently 51,907 active cases. The death toll stands at 5,473. 

1,474 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, of whom 959 are in serious condition and 315 are on ventilators. (Haaretz)

7 A.M. Health Ministry pushes legislation to bar unvaccinated Israelis from certain jobs

The Health Ministry is advancing a bill to prevent employees from going to work in certain jobs unless they’ve been vaccinated.

The law will not specifically say for which types of workplaces it is valid, and leave it to the ministry to draw up detailed regulations.

Ministry sources said these regulations are intended to target employees whose job involves great public exposure, such as teachers, medical workers, public transportation workers and police.

The wording of the measure as reported Wednesday by Yedioth Ahronoth is in the preliminary stages and has been handed over to the Prime Minister’s Office. The intent is to require employers to deny entry to any employee who doesn’t produce a vaccination certificate, a certificate of recovery or a very recent negative coronavirus test. The measure faces many legal hurdles and its chances of passing at this stage are unclear. (Ido Efrati and Jonathan Lis)

6 A.M. Palestinian workers forced to stay in Israel, but with no COVID vaccine 

Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers from the West Bank are forced to spend the night in Israel due to the pandemic, but Israel refuses to vaccinate any of them.

Since the start of the third lockdown, some 30,000 workers have been sleeping in Israel on a daily basis and assessments are that many others return to the West Bank each day illegally.

The rules say these workers will have to stay inside Israel until further notice. A Health Ministry statement from February 10 says that Palestinians working in Israel legally or not will not be vaccinated against COVID.

Most of these workers are employed in the construction industry. On Thursday the head of the construction union, Raoul Sarugo was scheduled to meet with officials at the ministry to resolve the issue. He said the union has proposed a plan to vaccinate laborers at eight checkpoints, and that it would finance the logistics of the operation. The plan is pending Health Ministry approval. (Hagar Shezaf)

>> Click here to read the full report

WEDNESDAY

8:40 P.M. Health Ministry eases criteria for schools to reopen nationwide 

The Health Ministry announced easing of the criteria for reopening schools on Wednesday, and classes are scheduled to restart in many cities as of Sunday. In addition to cities with very low coronavirus rates – schools can reopen in cities with moderately low levels of coronavirus infection, and where at least 70 percent of residents over 50 have been vaccinated. 

The ministry has also allowed schools to hold activities for up to 20 students oudoors, instead of the previous limit of nine, including staff – even in communities with high infection rates. (Ido Efrati, Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

6:46 P.M. Dr. Fauci hails Israel's efficient vaccine rollout, says it shows that U.S. citizens must get vaccinated 

Dr. Anthony Fauci highlighted the gaps in Israel and the United States' vaccine distributions, along with the subsequent data emerging from Israel, as proof of the need for the population to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"It is noteworthy that when you look at the amount of vaccinations, per 100 people, namely, how many vaccinations were given per 100 people, Israel is way up there with 78 doses per 100 people, compared to the United States, which is 16.7 doses per 100 people," Fauci said during a press briefing. 

"So we have been hearing and seeing in the press that Israel has a remarkable diminution in cases associated with the efficiency of their vaccine. The reason I bring this out to you is that it is another example of the scientific data, starting to point to the fact that vaccine is important not only for the health of the individual to protect them against infection and disease, but it also has very important implications from a public health standpoint for interfering and diminishing the dynamics of the outbreak," he added. 

Fauci stressed that the bottom line message based on the Israeli data is that "when it is your turn to get vaccinated comes up, get vaccinated, it's not only good for you and your family and your community, it will have a very important impact on the dynamics of the outbreak in our country." (Ben Samuels, Washington D.C.)

5:00 P.M. Pfizer vaccine 95 percent effective, Israeli HMO reports, chances of fully vaccinated person of contracting virus are one in 1,000

Data released by Israeli health maintenance organization Maccabi revealed that out of 620,000 who received their second COVID vaccine, only 608 contracted the virus.

Most of the fully vaccinated COVID patients, Maccabi said, suffered from light symptoms only, or were asymptomatic. Of the 608, 21 were hospitalized, and of those, seven had severe symptoms, three displayed moderate symptoms, and 11 had light symptoms.

Maccabi reported that so far more than a million of its members received the first shot of the vaccine, and over 720,000 are fully vaccinated. (Ido Efrati)

3:51 P.M. First COVID vaccine site opens at a bar

Israel is opening its first COVID vaccination site at a bar in Tel Aviv. The City of Tel Aviv is partnering with the Restaurants and Bars Union, the Restaurants Stronger Together organization, and an anti-lockdown movement to promote the vaccine to youth.

The station opens Thursday near the Jenia bar in Dizengoff Square, Ben Ami Street 13, from 6:00 P.M. until 12:00 A.M. No appointment is necessary and anyone with recognized health insurance can be vaccinated for free. This is intended only for those who have not yet received their first vaccine dose.

One can receive a voucher for a free drink at the bar by presenting the vaccination certificate and a DigiTel Resident Card, a digital card for Tel Aviv residents. (Bar Peleg)

12:15 P.M. 1,265 in Tel Aviv, 120 in Bnei Brak: weekend fines over lockdown reveal unequal enforcement

Police statistics have revealed a significant disparity in the enforcement of coronavirus regulations over the weekends of the third lockdown, with more lenient measures applying to the ultra-Orthodox community.  

The data, acquired by the NGO 'Hatzlacha' through a freedom of information request, compared several localities in Israel. It found that, for example, 1,265 fines were handed out over the weekends (which also span Shabbat) of the third lockdown in north Tel Aviv, in contrast to just 120 in Bnei Brak, which had a far higher rate of infection.  

In the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Modi'in Ilit, there were 2.16 fines for every 10,000 people, as opposed to 16.64 in north Tel Aviv.

The police insisted "thousands of officers are professionally enforcing [regulations] in every area and every sector where violations are uncovered…every hour and every day of the week."

They added that police policy was "uniform" and stressed that the numbers of fines reflected "the amount of violations that officers are seeing on the ground and the nature of the violations." (Josh Breiner)

10:45 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox schools flout COVID restrictions to reopen

Several religious learning institutions, predominantly from the Lithuanian and Sephardic denominations, have reopened this week in defiance of the government's coronavirus restrictions.

Although the slowing rate of infection in many ultra-Orthodox areas has resulted in looser restrictions under Israel's "traffic light” plan, classifying cities according to COVID-19 infection rates, the return to the education system remains prohibited.

These institutions join dozens of more extreme ultra-Orthodox schools which have been operating freely in the last several weeks.

The rate of positive cases among the ultra-Orthodox has dramatically decreased in recent weeks, falling to 18 from 30 percent at the peak of the third wave. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

9:40 A.M. One thousand Russian vaccines on the way to Gaza

One thousand Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines are being delivered to Gaza on Wednesday morning from the Palestinian Authority. 

The vaccines were donated by Russia, and transferred with the approval of the Palestinian Authority. 

The vaccines are currently en route from the Beitunia border crossing in the West Bank to the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza. (Jack Khoury)

>> Click here to read the full report

8:25 A.M. Half of Israelis over 30 vaccinated

Over 50 percent of Israelis over the age of 30 have received the first dose of their COVID-19 inoculation, the health ministry announced on Wednesday.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein also revealed that 160,000 people were vaccinated on Tuesday.

Israel has now inoculated almost 4.1 million people (roughly 44 percent of the population). Of the overall figure, nearly 2.7 million people (about 29.1 percent of the population) received the second dose of the vaccination. (Haaretz)

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