Coronavirus Israel Live: Pandemic Czar Fears Infection Spike Among Druze After Mass Funeral

Synagogues to open Sunday, stores to remain closed for another week ■ Health Ministry removes Italy, Germany from list of 'green' countries ■ Cabinet extends state of emergency until January 3 ■ Former army medical chief to replace virus czar

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Israel's outgoing coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, during a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, October 13, 2020
Israel's outgoing coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, during a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, October 13, 2020Credit: Emil Salman
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Haaretz

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Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are dealing with a renewed coronavirus outbreak, leading to proposals and measures intended to curb its spread and mitigate the economic ramifications of the crisis by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

Israel currently has 10,641 active cases; 2,539 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 4,522 active cases and 512 deaths, and in Gaza 2,335 active cases and 32 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

10 P.M. Government approves new COVID regulations, to go into effect Sunday morning

Commencing on Sunday morning, November 1, 2020 at 6 A.M., a new series of coronavirus regulations will go into effect until January 14, 2021.

The regulations were approved by the Israeli government on Friday evening, after they were approved by the coronavirus cabinet on Thursday, on the basis of recommendations received from the Health Ministry:

-- Training and competitions will be permitted for competitive athletes, children and youth, and with respect to swimming and motor sports, also for adults.

-- Driving lessons will be permitted, in accordance with the directives for travel in a private car, that is, the driver and up to two passengers.

-- Social services and other services described in Section 11(b) of the coronavirus regulations will be permitted, not only for essential care. This amendment permits the operation of "day centers and clubs for senior citizens" or services meant to alleviate loneliness among senior citizens, including those not within the framework of the local authority’s social work services, as well as libraries for the blind.

-- Sports training and competition facilities for competitive and professional athletes shall be permitted to operate.

-- In addition to national parks and nature reserves, outdoor heritage and antiquities sites shall also be allowed to operate.

-- Bed-and-breakfast accommodations with up to four completely separate units shall be permitted to operate, but all the guests in any one unit must live together. Operation of a hospitality complex in violation of these conditions shall constitute an offense for which the fine is NIS 5,000. 

-- Businesses offering one-on-one treatments (such as, barbershops, hair and beauty salons) and complementary health treatments shall be permitted to operate in accordance with regulations and by appointment only. It is clarified that these treatments include therapeutic horseback riding, mental and emotional therapies, as well as hydrotherapy swimming pools.

-- Drive-in movie venues shall be permitted to operate.

-- Worship, and that is, only prayer, shall be permitted (up to 10 people indoors and up to 20 outdoors). Worship in a house of prayer with more than the maximum number of people shall constitute a criminal offense, and each person present will be subject to a fine of NIS 500.

-- Events such as a wedding, party, ceremony or organized tour will be permitted, with up to 10 people if indoors, or up to 20 if outdoors.

-- It is prohibited to attend or organize sporting events, conferences, conventions, festivals and art or entertainment shows.

-- It is prohibited for an operator of a business located on public property or an owner of a private venue to hold a prohibited event, and service providers (such as, photography, videography, catering, music, lighting and infrastructure) are also barred from providing services to a prohibited event or an event in which the number of participants exceeds the maximum limit. Violators shall be subject to a to a fine of NIS 5,000. 

-- The operator of a public or business venue in which services are provided by appointment (such as nonmedical services involving physical contact, complementary medical treatments, etc.) must retain the personal details of customers in the event that such information is needed for contact tracing. (Noa Landau)

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4:45 P.M. Coronavirus czar fears spike in infection among Druze after mass funeral

Israel's outgoing coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said on Saturday that he was concerned about a potential significant rise in infections in Druze communities following the mass funeral of a prominent sheikh, and said that anyone among the thousands who attended should be tested “in a few days.”

Gamzu also said that enforcement of coronavirus restrictions would be stepped up in Arab communities in the coming week, stating that the government plans to provide additional budgets to Arab localities to deal with the pandemic. 

Figures from the Health Ministry and monitoring groups show that some 30 percent of the new confirmed cases over the past week were in Arab communities.

This past week, the Health Ministry stopped releasing statistics about communities that have 15 or fewer cases, saying their publication would result in the infected individuals’ identities becoming publicly known, while the monitoring groups say this makes it more difficult to track the spread of the virus. (Ido Efrati)

10:00 A.M. Thousands attend funeral of Druze sheikh

Sheikh Abu Zain Aldin Hassan Halabi, one of the most distinguished religious leaders in the Druze community, was laid to rest Saturday in Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights after followers snatched his body from an Israeli hospital that refused to hand over his body because of COVID restrictions. 

Thousands from nearby communities in the Golan and Galilee attended his funeral in Majdal Shams. The funeral was coordinated with the police and Health Ministry.

>> Read full story

FRIDAY

11:44 P.M. Dozens of Israeli Druze snatch body of sheikh from hospital

Dozens of Israeli Druze on Friday stormed into a hospital where a prominent sheikh had died of the coronavirus, took his body without authorization and transferred it to the town of Majdal Shams, which is under lockdown amid its high infection rates.

Sheikh Abu Zain Aldin Hassan Halabi, one of the most distinguished religious leaders in Israel's Druze community, died aged 76 on Friday afternoon at Ziv Medical Center in Safed after his condition worsened. Thousands of Druze from adjacent communities held a procession for the sheikh in Majdal Shams, raising concerns that this will cause a spike in infection rates in the area. (Noa Spiegel)          

3:27 P.M. Over 3 million cases reported in Mideast

The number of reported coronavirus cases has gone over 3 million in the Middle East, an Associated Press count showed Friday, with the true number likely even higher.

Across the Mideast, there have been over 75,000 deaths attributed to the virus by health authorities, the AP count relying on reported figures by individual countries shows.

There have been 2.5 million recoveries from the virus causing the COVID-19 illness.

In the Mideast, the hardest-hit nation remains Iran, which served as the initial epicenter of the virus in the region. In Iran alone, authorities say there have been over 600,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with some 477,000 recoveries and 34,000 deaths. Yet even those numbers are believed to be low, Iranian officials say.

In some war-torn nations, it remains difficult to know the scope of the pandemic as well. In Yemen for instance, it’s believed that the vast majority of the country’s cases have gone undiagnosed and untreated, and health workers have said only those who are near death are usually brought to hospitals. (The Associated Press)

12:36 Israel confirms more than 100 new cases

The Health Ministry confirmed 111 new cases since Friday morning, bringing the total number of cases since the coronavirus outbreak began to 313,701.

11,362 of the cases are considered active. 724 patients are hospitalized and 188 of them are on life support. Three patients died on Friday, bringing the total number of deaths to 2,514. (Haaretz)

9:33 A.M. New daily cases keep declining

Israel's Health Ministry confirmed 564 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, marking a continued decline in the number of new cases. According to the official figures, there has also been a decline in the number of overall tests, but the precentage of positive ones shrunk, too.

Overall, Israel has confirmed 313,590 cases since the start of the outbreak, with 11,254 of them cosidered active. 738 patients are currently hospitalized, with 410 of them in serious condition and 190 on life support.

2,511 patients died so far. (Haaretz)

00:10 A.M. Cabinet says Synagogues and bed and breakfasts to open Sunday 

Israel's coronavirus cabinet decided that the country will begin its second phase of the lockdown exit strategy this Sunday, which includes reopening synagogues and bed and breakfasts, while stores will remain closed. The cabinet also decided that stores on street level will partially reopen in another week.

Houses of worship will be allowed to accommodate only 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors. Bed and breakfasts will be allowed to operate on condition that people wil not use communal dining rooms or pools. 

The cabinet also agreed to decrease the number of steps in its exit strategy to six, and discussed reopening street retail stores only starting next Sunday November 8 under conditions to be agreed by the Health and Finance Ministries. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

10:45 P.M. Divisions inside the coronavirus cabinet on whether to reopen high street shops

A decision has yet to be made as to whether small stores should be allowed to open on Sunday.

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz insists that stores be allowed to open this Sunday, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein have requested to delay the move by another week. Public Security Minister Amir Ohana supports Katz’s position.

Netanyahu proposed reopening synagogues this Sunday, despite insisting that stores remain closed.

Minister for Social Equality Meirav Cohen of Kahol Lavan proposed that stores be allowed to reopen Sunday, but only serve customers from the street in order to prevent indoor gatherings. Interior Minister Arye Dery, who is pushing to reopen synagogues, seconded her proposal. (Chaim Levinson)

9:48 P.M. Health Ministry removes five European countries from green list

The Health Ministry announced it would remove Italy, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania and Serbia from its list of so-called 'green countries,' in light of increased morbidity statistics. 

Travellers returning from countries on the list are exempt of isolation requirements, although they are still obliged to fill in medical information on the Health Ministry website prior to travel.

The ministry also added Vietnam to the list on Thursday. As of now, the south-east Asian country joins Australia, Canada, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Rwanda, the Seychelles, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay. (Ido Efrati)

9:20 P.M. 564 new cases diagnosed in last day, 440 in serious condition

According to a Health Ministry update valid to 7:23 P.M., only 564 people were diagnosed for COVID-19 in the last twenty-four hours. 

The number of active cases has fallen to 11,164, with 440 in serious condition, 34 less than on Wednesday night. There are 191 people currently receiving breathing support.

Fourteen more people have died, bringing the total to 2,508. (Ido Efrati)

3:04 P.M. Cabinet extends state of emergency until January 3

The Israeli government extended the state of emergency declared over the pandemic by 60 days, until January 3, on Thursday, 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel needed to manage the second phase of its exit from lockdown slowly and carefully.

National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat and coronavirus czar Ronni Ganzu said that although the criteria for further easing restrictions had been reached, some caution was still necessary.

One reason was that the rate of infection has been going up, that the rate of illness in the Arab community is alarming, and that testing has still not reached the expected level. Questions also remained as to whether Israel had yet fully seen the effects of the lockdown.

"If the situation worsens, we will stop the exit process, and return to restrictions," Netanyahu said. (Noa Landau

1:16 P.M. Israel and Italy sign agreement to send coronavirus vaccines to Israel

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi thanked the Italian government on Thursday for agreeing to transfer doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Israel following a meeting with his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio, with whom he signed agreements on education and culture.

The two also discussed regional developments, including Israel's accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as future trade and tourism. Di Maio will soon meet with other Israeli officials, and will visit Ramallah to meet with Palestinian officials on Friday. (Noa Landau)

10:00 A.M. Reversing initial decision, Netanyahu says first through fourth grades to partially reopen

The government will move forward with its initial plan for reopening schools, in which first and second graders will attend in-person classes for only half the week, at least for the first two weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the coronavirus cabinet Thursday. 

Netanyahu said that he spoke Wednesday with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities Haim Bibas, and agreed on the plan.

During those two weeks, Netanyahu said, officials would consider whether it is possible to fully resume classes, but that it would require the school system to double its afterschool programs. "But it's not feasible for Sunday, and we're not delaying the decision. We are therefore moving forward with the current plan," Netanyahu said.

Under the original plan, announced earlier this week, children in first and second graders were to attend school only three days a week, while third and fourth graders would attend five days a week. The decision faced many objections.

On Monday, the coronavirus cabinet announced that the first and second grades would follow the format for the third and fourth. Sources close to Education Minister Yoav Gallant explained that grades three and four could resume in-person instruction five days a week, but the first two grades would have to split time because of a lack of available staff. (Noa Landau)

WEDNESDAY

4:50 P.M. Students to attend primary school four days a week

The Ministry of Education said grades 1-4 will resume in-school learning for four days a week starting Sunday. Schools with sufficient resources to resume teaching in capsules for five days a week could do so. (Or Kashti)

4:20 P.M. Decline in infections greenlights reopening of economy

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu said Israel achieved its target of fewer than 1,000 COVID cases a week in order to reopen the economy. The R number, representing the rate of the disease's spread, has dropped below 1 to 0.8. The next phase of return to normal includes reopening schools for the lower grades and reopening non-essential businesses under certain restrictions.

Gamzu noted that Arab communities, where the R number is closer to 1, are still at risk of becoming coronavirus hotspots. He urged residents to get tested for the virus.

Mandatory quarantine will be shortened to 10 days from the current 14 days, pending approval. According to Gamzu, quarantine could be cut short on condition of two negative tests – one taken on days 3-5 of the quarantine period and another on days 9-10.   

12:00 P.M. Education committee shoots down outdoor learning plan

The Knesset Education Committee decided not to approve a proposal that would allow students to study outdoors, asking that the regulations be relaxed.

The committee insisted that the Education Ministry bring forward a proposal that allows students to study in groups of 20, as opposed to 15, as is written in the current proposal. The committee also requested that the Education Ministry allow groups of students to work 50 meters apart, as opposed to the 100 meters written in the current plan. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

TUESDAY

6:44 P.M. Israel sees further decline in active cases

The Health Ministry said Israel currently has 311,622 confirmed cases, out of which 12,586 are active – a decline of 789 since Tuesday morning.

As of Tuesday evening, 196 COVID patients are on ventilators and 2,463 have died from the virus.

The ministry added that 40,464 coronavirus tests were conducted on Monday. (Haaretz)

1:08 P.M. High Court hears petition against reopening religious schools operating as boarding schools

The High Court of Justice is hearing a petition filed by the Israel Hofsheet movement that seeks to reverse a government decision to reopen religious schools, as long as students are taught in small groups, and that the schools provide boarding facilities. The petitioners argue that it favors the religious school system over its secular counterpart, which remains closed, and that the plan was formulated for political rather than professional or health reasons. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

11:52 A.M. PM, health minister decide on new coronavirus czar

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein have decided to appoint Professor Nachman Ash as the new coronavirus czar, replacing Ronni Gamzu, a joint statement by the Prime Minister's Office and Health Ministry said Tuesday.

Ash, until now the director of the division of medicine for the Maccabi HMO and a member of the department of health systems management at Ariel University, will begin training for the new position on Wednesday.

Ash, 59, specializes in internal medicine, and has had a long career as a military doctor, and served as the head doctor of the IDF from 2007 to 2011. (Ido Efrati)

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11:30 P.M. Military Intelligence Report: Coronavirus cases continuing to fall, but at a slower pace 

The rate of coronavirus infection is continuing to decline, although progress has been sluggish in recent days, a military intelligence report said on Tuesday.

On a weekly average, the number of new deaths and the rate of positive tests are continuing to fall, according to the report. In addition, the weekly average of patients in critical condition has decreased.

The Health Ministry reported that 2.1 percent of tests – 780 out of 36,605 – came back positive on Monday.

The death total stands at 2,452 after 21 more people died of the virus yesterday. There are 467 patients in serious condition, while 193 are on ventilators.

11:00 A.M. Bnei Brak now a 'green' city, municipality says

Bnei Brak's coronavirus infection rate has fallen to a point that it has been designated a 'green' city on Israel's traffic light system, the municipality announced Tuesday.

Only 35 new cases were discovered in the last two days, and only three percent of tests came out positive. The municipality attributed the success to stronger enforcement and instructions to the public, extensive testing for the residents (70 percent of the city's population, it said, was tested), and cooperation with rabbis to ensure that residents adhered to the guidelines.

In the last two months, the municipality has tried to strike a balance between fighting coronavirus "while accommodating the unique lifestyle of the residents," it said in the statement.

Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein hailed the milestone, but said the city must turn its attention to "help business owners and parents in the city who are still affected by the virus." (Bar Peleg)

MONDAY

8:15 P.M. Cabinet amends decision on reopening schools, announces salons to open Sunday

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet amended its Sunday decision on reopening schools, so that first through fourth graders will return to school as of Sunday divided into “capsules,” or smaller groups, for five days a week. A previous decision called for capsules for third and fourth graders only, with first and second graders attending school for only three days.

Ministers also approved a plan to open after-school activities for first and second graders.

Hair and beauty salons will also be allowed to reopen starting Sunday.

The cabinet was expected to decide on reopening small businesses, but the meeting ended with no decision. (Noa Landau)

8:00 P.M. Netanyahu not required to quarantine despite secretary testing positive

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be required to enter quarantine, announced the Health Ministry after conducting an epidemiological investigation following the diagnoses of a secretary in the Prime Minister's Office who was found positive with COVID on Monday morning. (Haaretz)

7:45 P.M. Active cases in Israel continue to decline while deaths rise

According to Health Ministry data, there are 13,375 active cases as of Monday night, reflecting a decrease of 1,063 active cases since Sunday evening. 

Currently, 903 coronavirus patients are hospitalized, out of which 486 are in serious condition and 196 are on ventilators. Nine more patients have died, bringing the total death toll to 2,440. (Haaretz)

3:40 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet to discuss reopening businesses, after-school activities

The coronavirus cabinet will meet Monday afternoon to discuss the issues surrounding reopening businesses in the near future, as well as the restarting of after-school activities for young children and school transportation. This comes after the coronavirus cabinet approved reopening schools for first through fourth grades starting on Sunday, November 1.

Third and fourth graders will attend school every day in pods, while first and second graders will return to school only three days a week, with classes split in half and each group attending school separately on alternate days.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu told the cabinet Sunday that it would be impossible to continue easing the lockdown if the number of COVID-19 tests is less than 50,000 a day. This is because a lower number of tests cannot provide a reliable enough picture of the spread of the infection.

The data that Health Ministry officials will present to the cabinet will also relate to the spilling over of COVID-19 infection from the Palestinian Authority. Health Ministry data show that some 100,000 Palestinian workers move every day between the PA and Israel, as well as many Israelis who frequently visit in the PA for business purposes, events and entertainment.  The potential measures to deal with this problem include issuing a travel advisory about visiting cities with high levels of infection in the Palestinian territories, isolation for those who return from red areas there, and sample testing of Palestinian workers, which would be the responsibility of employers, the Home Front Command, Health Ministry and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. (Noa Landau and Ido Efrati)

10:53 A.M. Israel may produce vaccine within less than a year, expert says

Prof. Shmuel Shapira, the director of the Institute for Biological Research, said that Israel may conclude its clinical trials on a coronavirus vaccine within less than a year, adding it will be ready to use by the end of summer 2021.

In a radio interview with Israel's Kan public broadcaster, Shapira said that the government institute had started working on a vaccine back in February, following the order of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Sunday, the researchers at the institute said that so far, they have produced over 25,000 doses of the experimental vaccine, which has now been approved for human trials, for the first two stages of the clinical tests. The institute has just finished manufacturing enough of the material for the vaccine for another one million doses. (Haaretz)

10:15 A.M. Staffer at Netanyahu's office tests positive for coronavirus

A secretary at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office tested positive for coronavirus during routine screenings, the office said in a statement. Staffers and the prime minister will be tested in the coming hours. (Noa Landau)

1:10 A.M. Active cases in Israel continue to decline

According to Health Ministry data, there are 14,438 active cases as of Sunday night, reflecting a decrease of 1,438 active cases since Saturday evening. 

Currently, 980 coronavirus patients are hospitalized, out of which 510 are in serious condition and 206 are on ventilators. 2,397 people have died. (Haaretz)

SUNDAY

10:45 P.M. Majdal Shams declared 'red,' under lockdown

Following a Health Ministry recommendation, the council of ministers declared that the northern town of Majdal Shams a restricted zone. It will be locked down for five days, from 6:00 P.M. Monday through 6:00 P.M. Saturday. 

The town has seen increased rates of coronavirus infection over the past week. Movement in and out of the town will be limited, and non-essential businesses will close. (Ido Efrati)

9:40 P.M. Elementary schools to reopen on Sunday

Israel's coronavirus cabinet approved reopening elementary schools as of next Sunday for first through fourth grades.

First and second graders will attend school for only half a week, as the government says it can't afford extra staff to divide them into smaller groups. The Education Ministry has been tasked with planning the logistics of their return to school.

Third and fourth graders will study in "capsules," meaning they will attend school for five days a week, divided into smaller groups.

The cabinet has yet to decide on a reopening plan for fifth graders and up. (Noa Landau)

>> Click here to read the full report

9:00 P.M. Cabinet approves ‘green’ tourism zones in Eilat, Dead Sea

The Tourism Ministry's initiative to mark Eilat and the Dead Sea area as "green" tourist zones was approved on Sunday at the Coronavirus Cabinet meeting. According to the outline, the cabinet will be allowed to declare the city of Eilat and the Dead Sea hotel complex as a "special tourist area."

Entry into the green tourist areas will be conditional on the presentation of an up-to-date negative COVID test result. The outline will allow the opening of hotels in the said areas while adhering to Health Ministry guidelines. At a later stage and gradually, the law that will be enacted will even allow the opening of more businesses in these areas, which will serve the hotel guests. (TheMarker)

7:25 P.M. Israel's Institute for Biological Research to start clinical vaccine trials next week

The Institute for Biological Research, the Defense Ministry and the Health Ministry announced the institute is ready to start clinial trials on a potential coroanvirus vaccine. The three-phase trials are set to start on November 1 and last several months. 

The researchers at the governmental institute said they so far have 25,000 doses of the experimental vaccine, which has been approved for human trials.

The institute's director, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, said "Our final target is 15 million doses to help the residents of Israel and our close neighbors."

Defense Minister Benny Gantz hailed the breakthough as "a day of hope for the citizens of Israel." (Yaniv Kubovich)

>> Click here to read the full report

6:54 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet extends current restrictions

The coronavirus cabinet has decided to extend the current lockdown measures through Sunday, and did not decide to reopen schools as expected. 

First and second grades were expected to resume partial in-class learning so long as they were confined to groups of up to 18, as per Health Ministry recommendations. Netanyahu said during the meeting that the cabinet members agreed that there was insufficient funding for the plan. (Noa Landau)

4:10 P.M. Netanyahu: No funding for resuming classes in small groups 

Benjamin Netanyahu said in the coronavirus cabinet that the cabinet's members have agreed that there is no way to fund the capsule program for first and second grades.

The Health Ministry had requested that these grades resume in-class studies for a few days a week, in groups of up to 18 students. 

Coronavirus Czar Ronni Gamzu said that in any event, Israel cannot continue lifting additional lockdown restrictions until it reaches 50,000 tests a day, to provide a more clear picture of infection rates. Last week, the highest number of daily coronavirus tests peaked at just over 43,000; its lowest was about 27,000. (Ido Efrati)

3:15 P.M. Gamzu says reopening elementary school, non-medical procedures dependent on testing rate

Coronavirus Czar Ronni Gamzu is recommending in today's coronavirus cabinet meeting that the next phase of Israel's reopening should be the resumption of first through fourth grades, non-medical (including aesthetic) procedures and complementary medicine, such as acupuncture.

In order to do so, Gamzu said, Israel must carry out 50,000 coronavirus tests a day. If it does not meet and maintain that standard, the country will not continue its gradual exit from the lockdown. (Ido Efrati)

9:40 A.M. Cabinet to discuss reopening 

Israel's coronavirus cabinet will discuss reopening first and second grades in schools across the country, following a demand from the Health Ministry to split classes into groups of no more than 18 students.

If the proposal is accepted, the week will be split into two, with each group studying separately at different times.

In talks held at the end of the week between the ministries of health, education and finance, the Health Ministry said it would not retract its demand to split first and second grades into “capsules” of up to 18 children.

The Finance Ministry does not want to fully fund the capsules, which carries a 6 billion-shekel ($1.77 billion) price tag. According to the Education Ministry, division into capsules requires not only a huge budget, but also time – about five weeks to hire more teachers from the lower grades.

Local government, backed by the treasury, wants to give local communities the autonomy to deal with the division into capsules as they see fit, without additional funding. For example, a community with a small number of children per class can return to full opening, while other communities will find creative solutions, such as studying fewer days per week or inside and outside the classroom intermittently. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia, Ido Efrati)

SATURDAY

9:00 P.M. Netanyahu says Israel's infection rate declined 'more than any other European country'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government had to make difficult decisions regarding the restrictions imposed on Israeli citizens, but claimed "we have declined in infection rate more than any other European country."

Netanyahu also said that the cabinet will discuss education and business at its meeting on Sunday. "We may open up education gradually and we may open up businesses gradually. I want this process to be accompanied by strict adherence to the steps. We stick to the plan." He also said that he wil propose imposing a "dramatic increase in fines on institutions."

"I know it is difficult and that there are difficulties for the self-employed and the small business. We have helped you and we will help you more." The prime minister added: "What is needed at the moment is simply the ability to put politics aside and put the State of Israel on top. To all my political opponents I say we will have enough time for politics. Leave it." (Haaretz)

8:40 P.M. Coronavirus Cabinet to meet Sunday, discuss shortening lockdown exit strategy

Israel's coronavirus cabinet will convene on Sunday to discuss, among other things, shortening the country's lockdown exit strategy from nine to five or six steps.

The cabinet will also discuss what the second and next stage will entail, including whether or not to reopen primary schools and under which conditions to do so. 

Additionally, the issue of lockdown violation fines will arise again. (Ido Efrati)

7:15 P.M. Number of active cases at 15,876 as Israel diagnoses over 500 new cases

Israel diagnosed 534 new cases on Satuday, bringing the total number of active cases to 15,876, of which 552 are in critical condition and 218 are on ventilators, according to Health Ministry figures. Nine more Israelis have died of the virus, raising the total deathtoll to 2,366. 

309,374 people have contracted the virus since the beginning of the outbreak, of which 291,130 have recovered. 

27,481 tests were conducted on Friday. (Haaretz)

6:30 P.M. Beloved Israeli actor Yehuda Barkan dies of COVID-19

Israeli actor, director, screenwriter and producer Yehuda Barkan died on Saturday at the age of 75 after contracting the coronavirus about three weeks ago. 

Barkan was hospitalized on Yom Kippur at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem following a deterioration of his condition. Last Tuesday he was transferred to the intensive care unit due to persistent shortness of breath.

He is survived by four children, seven grandchildren and countless fans who grew up on his films and easily quote lines from "Charlie Ve'hetzi" (1974), "Hagiga BaSnuker" (1975), "The Skipper" (1987) and others, which became Israeli classics. (Itay Stern)

FRIDAY

2:50 P.M. Education, Health Ministries permit schools to hold outdoor activities 

The Health Ministry and Education Ministry announced that they have amended the regulations prohibiting educational activities in open areas.

In light of this, schools will be able to carry out outdoor activities in permanent groups of up to nine students, with no turnover of staff or students between groups. Students must wear masks at all times, except for eating, drinking and sports activities.

Students and staff will eat their meals separately, and the group will keep a distance of two meters apart at all times. The distance between the different  groups will not be less than 100 meters.

The new regulations will be submitted to the government for approval on Sunday. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

11:15 A.M. Bnei Brak's status changed from 'red' to 'yellow'

Authorities have changed the city of Bnei Brak's rating from red to yellow in the so-called traffic light plan, which rates towns red, yellow, or green based on their coronavirus outbreak. According to a statement from the city, recent weeks have seen "a dramatic drop of 90 percent" in the incidence of disease in Bnei Brak, with 413 new cases being diagnosed over the past week – compared to 4,180 two weeks ago. The city also said it was the most-tested city, with 70% of residents having been tested for the virus. (Haaretz)

8:55 A.M. Police disperse wedding with 300 guests

Police said Friday that they had dispersed a wedding with about 300 guests, held in violation of coronavirus restrictions, on Thursday night. Acccording to police, the event took place at a farm in Ben Shemen Forest and included food tables, a band, and a dance party, with some guests failing to wear masks or social distance. One guest damaged a police car and broke one of its windows, and was arrested and brought in for questioning, police said. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

10:00 P.M. Israel registers 831 new cases 

According to Health Ministry data, 831 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Thursday. The total death toll stands at 2,319, after 28 people died on Thursday. The number of patients in intensive care continues to decline. 

On Thursday, 22,133 tests were taken across Israel. The rate of positives is 2.7 percent. 

3:00 P.M. Hospitals begin closing, scaling back coronavirus wards as cases drop

Hospitals have begun closing and scaling back coronavirus wards following the decrease in confirmed cases, in a step that will allow them to reopen internal medicine wards ahead of the winter.  However, the hospitals, like the Health Ministry, have not come out with official declarations about closing wards, both in order to avoid making overly hasty announcements and because the number of hospitalized cases is still considerable.

As of Thursday morning, there were 1,602 coronavirus patients hospitalized in the country, including 581 in serious condition. There were 231 people on ventilators. By comparison, in late September, as a lockdown was imposed, there were nearly 1,500 hospitalized cases and nearly 800 cases in serious condition. (Ido Efrati)

9:30 A.M. Coronavirus czar: Government should reach final decision on reopening schools by Sunday

Ronni Gamzu, the official overseeing the country's coronavirus response, said Thursday that the government should make a final decision on reopening schools by Sunday and that a week later some grades will resume in-person classes. He also admitted, "Last time, we reopened in a less safe way than was required" and said that the reopening in September was planned in July when officials had less knowledge of the virus and thus thought the plan was sufficient. (Haaretz)

8:15 A.M. Health minister: Data permitting, schools can be reopened in 10 days

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Thursday that schools can be reopened in 10 days, should the data allow it. He also said that weddings including up to 20 people were allowed, and that "I'm not willing to be an Antiochus who forbids weddings." Parties, however, will have to wait, he said. (Haaretz)

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