Coronavirus Israel Live: Gov't to Vote on Reopening Economy Hours Before Slated Date

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The Tikvah Market in Tel Aviv, last December
The Tikvah Market in Tel Aviv, last DecemberCredit: Hadas Parush

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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, 5,821 Israelis have died of the virus.

Meanwhile, 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, and many months for it to reach enough members of the population. 1,741 people have died so far in the West Bank, while 555 have died in Gaza.

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>> How many have already been vaccinated

>> Israel fears South African strain spreading beyond control

>> Israel to reopen more schools, cafes on Sunday


7:51 Government approves reopening universities for vaccinated Israelis on Sunday

The Israeli government approved reopening university campuses beginning Sunday for Israelis with a 'green pass' – a certification of vaccination.

Classes will return within the 'green pass' framework, which would include students who have received both coronavirus vaccinations, paired with a socially-distanced classroom arrangement.

Students who use labs can return without having obtained a 'green pass.' Classes will continue to be broadcast online for those who don't have a 'green pass.' (Judy Maltz)

6:30 P.M. Gov't to vote on reopening economy on Saturday

The government will only vote on regulations regarding the third phase of opening the economy on Saturday evening, even though the third phase is currently scheduled to begin on Sunday, because preparatory work in the run-up to the vote has not yet been completed.

The coronavirus cabinet was scheduled to approve the resumption of studies on academic campuses on Friday, but this matter will also be put to a vote only on Saturday night. 

Meanwhile, the government voted in favor of resumption of in-person classes for grades 7-10 in green and yellow cities and in orange cities where more than 70 percent of residents are vaccinated.

Other matters on the agenda include the opening of cafes and restaurants; and the opening of hotels and event venues for vaccinated or recovered so-called Green Pass holders. (Judy Maltz)

4 P.M. Israel postpones vaccine drive for Palestinian workers, citing budget issues

The vaccination campaign for Palestinian workers with permits to work in Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank scheduled to begin on Sunday will be postponed due to budgetary issues. 

According to sources familiar with the matter, funding for the campaign was originally intended to come from the Health Ministry's budget. But on Thursday night, following a decision by Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, funding for the drive was instead tacked on to an inter-ministerial budget for wide-ranging coronavirus-related expenditures, which has not yet been approved by the government. There is concern this inter-ministerial budget won't be approved at the next cabinet meeting due to disagreements with Kahol Lavan, the sources said.  

No new date has been set for the start of the campaign. The postponement took contractors and those involved in the campaign by surprise, as they had believed that the budget for it had already been approved. (Hagar Shezaf)

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1:46 P.M. Coronavirus committee to approve reopening universities on Sunday

The coronavirus committee is set to approve students to return to university campuses beginning Sunday. Classes will return within the 'green pass' framework, which would include students who have received both coronavirus vaccinations, paired with a socially-distanced classroom arrangement.

According to the pending decision, students who use labs can return without having obtained a 'green pass.' Classes will continue to be broadcast online for those who don't have a 'green pass.'

Different tertiary educational institutions are expecting to reopen campuses after the Passover holiday break in late March, despite the pending ruling which would allow classrooms to open next Sunday. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

8:20 A.M. Israel records 4,377 new coronavirus cases, nearly 40 percent receive second COVID-19 vaccine

4,377 Israelis have contracted the coronvairus in the last 24 hours, as the downward trend in patients in serious condition continues. According to Health Ministry data, the figure now standing at 702. 

Over 97,000 Israelis received the coronavirus vaccine on Thursday. Nearly 4.9 million Israelis have received their first dose of the vaccine, and 3.6 million received their second. (Haaretz)


7:15 P.M. Israel vaccinates 700 Palestinian workers as inoculation campaign commences

Israel's pilot program to inoculate Palestinian workers in Israel was launched successfully on Thursday, with 700 laborers from the West Bank receiving a shot against the virus. 

The Palestinians, all of whom have Israeli work permits, were vaccinated at the checkpoint at Sha'ar Efraim.

Israel announced on Sunday that it will allocate 120,000 Moderna vaccines for Palestinian workers.  The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said the inoculations will take place at compounds placed at eight checkpoints in the West Bank and in four settlements. (Hagar Shezaf)

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5:17 P.M. Netanyahu says Israel, Austria and Denmark will set up joint R&D vaccine fund

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel, Austria and Denmark will establish a joint fund for research and development of COVID-19 vaccines.

"We are going to do a joint research and development fund and discuss ... the possibility of joint investment in production facilities for vaccines," he told reporters, with Austria's chancellor and Denmark's prime minister at his side. (Reuters)

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4:00 P.M.  After Pressure, Pfizer CEO postpones Israel visit until after election

The CEO of Pfizer, the manufacturer of the main coronavirus vaccine used in Israel, has delayed his planned visit to Israel following warnings that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may exploit the visit for his campaign ahead of Israel's March 23 election.

Last week, Senior Israeli scientists, doctors and academics wrote letters urging the CEO Albert Bourla of Pfizer to postpone his visit due to the possible political ramifications.

Albert Bourla was scheduled to arrive in Israel on March 8 at the invitation of Netanyahu. The trip had been coordinated by the National Security Council. Pfizer has committed to providing Israel with at least 10 million doses of the vaccine. So far, about 7.5 million Pfizer doses have been given to Israelis. (Jonathan Lis and Judy Maltz)

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2:35 P.M. Israel seeks to place every returning citizen under surveillance

The Israeli government has proposed legislation that will allow authorities to use electronic surveillance bracelets and other technologies to track those returning to Israel during their respective quarantine periods. 

The measure is intended to replace the current practice of sending arrivals to quarantine hotels. However, the bill would also allow the authorities to send to a coronavirus hotel anyone who would prefer to opt out of the surveillance mechanisms or who cannot meet the conditions for quarantining at home.

Under the terms of the proposed legislation, any information collected will be destroyed in real-time, unless the subject of surveillance violates quarantine. In cases of breach, information will be collected and stored in a database for two weeks to a month, as well as transferred to the authorities. 

The bill will be put to a vote in an expedited procedure on Monday.  Discussions in the Knesset's consitutional committee revealed that the objective of the quarantine hotels have been undermined by people who have been authorized to quarantine at home and have violated the terms of their isolation. (Jonathan Lis)

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1 P.M. Israel's Supreme Court to hear petition against controversial law allowing details of unvaccinated people to be transferred to local authorities, Education and Welfare Ministries

Israel's Supreme Court decided on Thursday that it will hear a petition against the recently enacted and controversial law allowing details of unvaccinated people to be transferred to local authorities and the Welfare and Education Ministries.

The petitioners, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights, will argue that the purpose of the law is proper – to encourage immunization – but that the means chosen are "extreme and disproportionate" and claim that the legislation was "hastily adopted, in a rickety and flawed proceeding." They claim that "there are many effective alternatives for encouraging immunization that do not involve a violation of constitutional rights and the transfer of lists of names ... The damage of such a move in terms of invasion of privacy even clearly outweighs the marginal benefit that may be found with difficulty."

The hearing is scheduled to take place on Tuesday and a three-judge panel will preside over the matter, under the helm of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut. (Netael Bandel and Jonathan Lis)

11:25 A.M. Number of seriously ill and hospitalized continues to decline 

The latest figures published by Israel’s Health Ministry indicates a continual decline this week of the number of hospitalized and seriously ill COVID patients. There are currently 1,149 hospitalized COVID patients, of whom 699 are in serious condition and 224 are on ventilators. 

There were 4,143 new COVID cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Israel to 42,276. The death toll currently stands at 5,815. (Haaretz)

7:30 A.M. The economy is set to reopen on Sunday: Is Israel ready for the risk?

The next stage of reopening Israel's economy on Sunday will be the most extensive since the third lockdown began in late December. It will also be the most daring of them – since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously urged Israelis last spring to “have fun,” the government hasn’t attempted such a broad loosening of pandemic restrictions.

A partial list includes the return of in-person instruction for all grades at most schools, outdoor dining at cafes and restaurants (and, for patrons with a “green badge,” indoors too) as well as the reopening of hotels, event halls and convention centers. Gatherings of up to 20 people indoors and 50 outdoors will be permitted, including live performances for green-badge attendees. Election rallies will also be allowed, with up to 300 indoors and 500 outdoors, for the vaccinated and recovered COVID-19 patients.

The timing, less than three weeks before Election Day, has led many to think the reopening is a campaign ploy that could lead Israel straight into lockdown No. 4. Israel’s R-number is hovering around 1, and about 730 severely ill COVID-19 patients are still hospitalized. (Ronny Linder)

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6:40 A.M. Doctors did their best, but politicians led Israel straight into a lose-lose COVID crisis

The news last week that the United States had suffered 500,000 coronavirus deaths was accompanied by commentary noting that the toll was higher than the combined American death toll from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. That was a dramatic comparison but an unfounded one: Every year more people die of natural causes than in war. It would be fairer to compare the COVID toll to deaths from natural causes.

There’s no comparison between the 5,700 Israelis who have died from the coronavirus thus far and the 2,700 soldiers killed in the Yom Kippur War. The Yom Kippur dead were mostly young people, making their mortality rate many times higher than for their age group than in normal times.

By comparison, the 5,700 who have died as a result of COVID-19 should be measured against Israel’s ordinary annual mortality rate. That figure for 2020 was 48,688, as compared to 45,980 for 2019. That amounts to a 5.9-percent increase. (Meirav Arlosoroff)

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6:15 A.M. What’s the (New) Deal With Flights to and From Israel? Latest COVID Rules Explained

Israel is lifting some of the restrictions it has put on travel to and from the country, in an attempt to stem the spread of variants of the coronavirus.

Foreign visitors remain barred, but many more Israelis wishing to come home will be able to do so, although there will be some rules to follow.

Until now, all those entering the country had to go into government-run quarantine facilities, dubbed coronavirus hotels. A new plan allowing people to wear electronic bracelets and go into home quarantine was rushed through for approval by authorities, but neither system has enough resources to deal with incoming travelers. This means that for an as yet undertermined amount of time, people will be returning into home quarantine with little supervision. (Ido Efrati, Jonathan Lis and Rina Rozenberg Kandel)

>> Click here to read the full report

6 A.M. Israel fears South African COVID strain spreading beyond control

Israeli efforts to stop the spread of the South African variant of the coronavirus, which included the shut down of Ben-Gurion International Airport last month, have brought little results, data shows.

Over 450 cases of the infection have been diagnosed so far in Israel, and health professionals estimate that dozens more are being infected each day.

The Health Ministry’s committees on vaccinations and the pandemic said two weeks ago that the variant was spreading beyond control.

The focus on variants was supposed to prevent a scenario in which Israel would be forced to deal with a more infectious and virulent strain of the coronavirus that would turn out to be less sensitive to the Pfizer vaccine. But ministry experts had cautioned that shutting the airport woult not prevent the strain from reaching the country. (Ido Efrati)

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