Coronavirus in Israel: Knesset Advances Shin Bet Monitoring Bill

Cabinet approves new restricted zones ■ Two West Bank refugee camps closed off after sharp increase in coronavirus cases

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Haaretz
An Israeli police officer enforcing coronavirus measures in Jerusalem, June 25, 2020.
An Israeli police officer enforcing coronavirus measures in Jerusalem, June 25, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman
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Haaretz

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Israel has seen a spike in coronavirus cases as schools, businesses, restaurants, bars, tourist attractions and other establishments reopen. Many schools throughout the country have closed after cases tied to students and staff members continue to climb. 

■ 22,400 people in Israel have so far tested positive for the coronavirus; 309 people have died. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 1,268 people tested positive; two people have died. In the Gaza Strip, 72 people were diagnosed and one person has died. 

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UPDATES

11:50 P.M. Bat Yam to close beaches during peak hours

The city of Bat Yam has announced that its beaches will be closed between the hours of 10 A.M. and 5 P.M. The municipality said that the director-general of the Health Ministry had written to the mayor to inform him that the government had decided to give him the authority to make decisions regarding the beaches, and that he was requesting that the mayor shut the beaches. The mayor’s plan is meant to slow the coronavirus’ spread while permitting normal economic activity. (Bar Peleg)

8:36 P.M. Cabinet declares more restricted zones as cases spike

The government has announced that it is declaring several locations as restricted zones amid the spike in cases. In Ashdod, three neighborhoods will be put under restrictions, educational institutions will be closed, and gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned. 

In Bat Yam, educational institutions will be closed for fifth grade and up,gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned, and enforcement will be stepped up.

Restrictions will be removed from the neighborhood of Ajami in Jaffa, where enforcement will be increased. The same will be the case in the southern city of Rahat. (Noa Landau)

7:26 P.M. 356 new cases diagnosed Thursday, one person dies

The Health Ministry said that 356 more people were diagnosed with the coronavirus, bringing total to 22,400. Out of these, 6,084 cases are active, with 47 in serious condition, and 29 on ventilators. One person has died, raising death toll to 309. (Haaretz)

7:05 P.M. Israeli hospital reopens coronavirus ICU after weeks of closure

The Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer hospital, in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, has reopened a dedicated coronavirus intensive care unit.

Sheba was the first medical facility to treat coronavirus patients in Israel. By early May, , as the number of active cases dropped.  

Five patients in serious condition are currently receiving care at Sheba. (Ido Efrati

6:50 P.M. Netanyahu announces closer links with UAE on fighting coronavirus

Speaking at the graduation ceremony for Israel's Air Force academy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said an upcoming announcement would outline the ways in which the United Arab Emirates and Israel would join forces to fight COVID-19. 

The collaboration will focus on "research and development... in areas that will improve health care provision throughout the region."

Hailing it as the result "of prolonged and intensive contacts in recent months," Netanyahu praised this as an advancement for all in the Middle East.

"The stronger we are, the more powerful we are at deterring our enemies and bringing our friends closer," he said. (Noa Landau)

6:10 P.M. 873 cases in educational institutions, 230 schools shuttered

The Education Ministry said 873 cases have been identified in schools, out of israel's 2.3 million students and 200,000 staff members. Another 22,850 have entered quarantine. 

In order to stem the outbreak, the Israeli government has ordered shuttering 230 schools since the country resumed its routine activities. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia

5:30 P.M. Coastal city of Bat Yam imposing revised regulations

The city of Bat Yam, directly south of Tel Aviv, is changing its coronavirus rules in order to stem the rise in infections. Aimed at keeping the city running, this will include daytime closures of beaches and the shutting of some grades in school. (Bar Peleg)

5:27 P.M. Knesset committee head considering temporary arrangement to allow Shin Bet to continue coronavirus tracking

Zvi Hauser, a Kahol Lavan lawmaker who heads the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said he was mulling a temporary order to allow Israel's Shin Bet security service agency to continue monitoring the spread of coronavirus until the legislature had the time to properly examine a bill to legislate on the matter. (Jonathan Lis

2:48 P.M. Palestinian workers entering Israel will be required to stay in the country for three weeks

Palestinians entering Israel to work will be required to stay until July 17, according to new regulations aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus.

Employers will be responsible for the rights of Palestinian workers and their accommodation. Those who return to the West Bank during this period will not be allowed to return to work in Israel.

The new arrangements exclude Palestinians working in the health sector and in Atarot, an Israeli industrial zone north of Jerusalem in the West Bank.

There are currently 947 active coronavirus cases in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. (Hagar Shezaf)

1:23 P.M. Two West Bank refugee camps closed off after cases discovered

Palestinian security agencies and local activists blocked the entrances to the Aida and Azza refugee camps near Bethlehem after several residents tested positive for the coronavirus. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 32 cases were confirmed in the Bethlehem District of the West Bank, 16 of them in Azza Refugee Camp, two in Aida and the rest in other neighborhoods and villages in the area.

Authorities called on residents to avoid traveling between different areas of the district, warning of further restrictions should infection rate rise.

The Health Ministry reported a total of 932 active coronavirus cases in the West Bank, most of them in the Hebron District and some in Bethlehem and Nablus. (Jack Khoury)

12:30 P.M. City of Elad petitions High Court againts coronavirus closure

The city of Elad, in the central part of Israel, petitioned the High Court on Thursday to order the state to remove the closure imposed on the city due to the coronavirus oubreak there earlier this week. 

In the petition filed, among others, against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, the municipality is seeking an urgent hearing on the matter.

The municipality claims that confirmed patients "could be referred to 'corona hotels'," instead of closing the city, which would cause less harm to the rest of the residents. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

11:30 A.M. Egypt's Rameda gets requests to export COVID-19 drug

Egypt's Rameda Pharmaceutical has received requests to export Anviziram tablets, which are used to treat patients with the new coronavirus, to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Yemen, but needs a government approval first, its CEO told Reuters.

The company said earlier this month it had started manufacturing Anviziram, the generic equivalent of the Japanese antiviral Avigan, and had also received an approval from the Egyptian Drug Authority to manufacture Remedsivir, a Gilead Sciences Inc antiviral used for treating COVID-19. (Reuters)

11:00 A.M. Number of cases in Israel rises to 22,139

The number of coronavirus cases in Israel has risen to 22,139 as of Thursday morning, bringing the number of active cases to 5,870 with 49 in serious condition and 29 on ventilators. The death toll remains at 308, with 19,533 tests being conducted throughout the country on Tuesday. (Haaretz)

5:15 A.M. Israel diagnoses over 500 new cases in a day

Israel diagnosed 532 new coronavirus patients on Wednesday, according to Health Ministry data. The number of active patients stands at 5,796 - of which 189 are hospitalized. Forty-six of the patients are in serious condition, of which 28 are on ventilators, and the death toll remains 308. In total, 15,940 people recovered in Israel, a 46-day increase. (Ido Efrati)

WEDNESDAY 

9:30 P.M. Knesset approves bill on digital tracking in first of three votes

The Knesset has approved the bill authorizing the Shin Bet security service to track coronavirus cases and those in contact with them in the first of three votes. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz presented the bill to the Knesset on behalf of the government, saying that anyone denying the seriousness of the virus "is nothing but a charlatan … It would be foolish not to use this ability." (Jonathan Lis)

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9:10 P.M. 159 new cases diagnosed in West Bank on Wednesday

There were 159 new coronavirus diagnoses in the West Bank on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 898. (Jack Khoury)

8:30 P.M. Gantz orders preparations to again convert hotels into quarantine facilities

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has ordered preparations to again convert hotels into state-run coronavirus quarantine facilities for patients and those without the ability to self-isolate, the Defense Ministry has announced. There are currently six hotels already used for this purpose, the ministry's statement said. (Yaniv Kubovich)

7:30 P.M. Number of cases in Israel rises by 220 to 21,732

The number of coronavirus cases in Israel has risen by 220 to 21,732, bringing the number of active cases to 5,520. The death toll remains at 308, with 19,533 tests being conducted throughout the country on Tuesday. (Haaretz)

6:20 P.M. Gantz: Legislation to allow Shin Bet electronic tracking includes important balances

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says that unlike the previous period in which the Shin Bet tracked coronavirus cases and those in contact with them, the legislation approved by the cabinet on Wednesday permits comprehensive electronic tracking includes important balances, like the requirement that tracking be approved by both Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Noa Landau)

3:39 P.M. Cabinet approves law for comprehensive digital tracking by security service

The cabinet has approved a bill allowing the Shin Bet security service to track coronavirus cases and those in contact with them for the purpose of contact tracing, which will now be brought before the Knesset. (Noa Landau)

3:30 P.M. Health Ministry to begin testing people exposed to confirmed cases within 48 hours

The Health Ministry has announced a protocol by which people exposed to a confirmed coronavirus case must be tested within 48 hours of beginning self-isolation, rather than the existing protocol of conducting testing four to seven days after the most recent contact with a confirmed case.

Recent weeks have seen disagreements between Sigal Sadetzki, the Health Ministry's director of public health services, and panels of professionals advising authorities after announcing on June 8 that people in isolation should only be tested after four to seven days. A panel advising the Health Ministry and another advising the National Security Council argued that effective contact tracing required testing within 48 hours at the most. (Ido Efrati)

2:20 P.M. Palestinians cancel Friday prayers across West Bank as 142 new cases diagnosed in a day

The Palestinian Authority announced on Wednesday the cancellation of upcoming Friday prayers in all mosques across the West Bank due to the increase in coronavirus cases. This order will only apply to the Friday noon prayers, which are usually mass prayers. 

This decision does not include the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and it is currently unknown whether the Waqf, the organization in charge of the compound, will make a similar decision.

The Palestinian Health Ministry announced Wednesday that four coronavirus patients are in intensive care and on ventilators, of which three have deteriorated in the last day. 

In the past 24 hours, 142 new cases were found in the Palestinian territories, of which 112 were in the Hebron area and another 13 in Kfar Aqab and 11 in Bethlehem and three in Nablus. This sharp increase prompted some district governors in areas across Hebron, Bethlehem, and Tulkarm to ban weddings. (Jack Khoury)

12:00 P.M. Netanyahu to convene government meeting on cellphone tracking measures amid spike in cases 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to convene the government on Wednesday at 1:30 P.M. for an urgent discussion on the use of Shin Bet tracking to monitor civilians to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, in light of the recent spike in cases. (Noa Landau)

11:15 A.M. Israel reaches 21,666 coronavirus diagnoses 

New Health Ministry figures show that Israel has reached 21,666 confirmed coronavirus cases, an increase of 199 since yesterday. There are currently 5,460 active cases, and 28 patients on ventilators. 

The ministry also reports that 19,288 tests were carried out Tuesday. 

9:40 A.M. Gantz extends call-ups of reservists to assist in coronavirus response 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed an order enabling emergency recruitment of up to 250 reserve personnel, most of them from the Home Front Command, until the end of July. It should be noted that this is an existing order that expires on June 30. Call-ups will be carried out only as needed and in line with developments in the spread of the coronavirus.

The minister yesterday held a tour of the Home Front Command, where he was presented with plans to continue civilian assistance in the fight against coronavirus. (Yaniv Kubovich)

9:10 A.M. Israel's coronavirus antibody testing on hold, many kits to expire in 3 weeks

Many of the kits purchased to test for coronavirus antibodies will expire in another three weeks and be rendered useless, after repeated postponements of the serological testing that was supposed to start in late May. (Ido Efrati)

9:00 A.M. Spike in coronavirus cases in West Bank and north linked to Negev Bedouin outbreak

A coronavirus outbreak among Bedouin in the Negev also sparked outbreaks in both the West Bank and parts of northern Israel, a report by the Health Ministry’s coronavirus information center said.

The report, released on Monday, said that 28 new cases were diagnosed over the weekend in Wadi Ara, an Arab region of northern Israel. This is a rise of 47 percent. Moreover, the rate of tests coming back positive in that area has risen from 3.5 to seven percent.

In the West Bank, the increase occurred in the South Hebron Hills region. (Ido Efrati and Jack Khoury)

8:00 Closure of 'restricted zones' begins in Tiberias, Elad

As the areas prepared for closures of neighborhoods deemed 'restricted zones' after coronavirus spikes, residents and local leadership expressed confusion with the government's decision.

Tiberias Supervisory Council head Shimon Maatouk decried the decision to lock down the city's northern neighborhoods. He told national authorities that he thinks the decision is "wrong."

"The data on cases that we have, and that have been confirmed by the Health Ministry, to my understanding do not support this decision," he said. He added that many of the neighborhoods deemed restricted have no connection to the rising infection rates, and that the decision was not coordinated with the municipality, causing confusion. 

"This is actually a closure of almost the entire northern part of the city, for no reason at all. We will continue working throughout the day to change the decision and make it more accurate."

The closure prohibits crowds of over 50 in the restricted areas, along with the usual social distancing measures and mask wearing orders. Additionally, seven roadblocks will be set up for access to the neighborhoods, which will be manned by police to "prevent unnecessary traffic." Police officers will also work within the neighborhoods to enforce these guidelines.

Residents may leave the neighborhoods only to get to work, receiving medical treatment, taking exams, legal processes, funerals of first degree relatives and other special circumstances that may require a special permit. 

Residents of these 'restricted' areas expressed confusion and dismay over the decision. One Elad resident told Haaretz: "We feel that [the government] imposed a closure here for propaganda purposes only. The Health Ministry wants to show that it is doing something about the increase in the number of patients, so it is closing a weak city. There is only one entrance to the city here. Moreover, it is not really closed because buses and cars still come in and out, and they do not really check each one, so obviously it is closed for media purposes only." (Noa Shpigel, Aaron Rabinowitz)

TUESDAY

8:05 P.M. City of Elad, parts of Tiberias named restricted areas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held a meeting with the coronavirus ministerial committee to discuss defining certain areas as “restricted zones” with limitations on entry and exit. The committee decided to declare the city of Elad, in the central part of the country, and parts of the northern city of Tiberias as such zones. The Health Ministry will soon be notifying the public of the full details. The restrictions are to begin on Wednesday and remain in effect for a week. Netanyahu said that he and the committee would discuss the possibility of declaring other places restricted areas on Wednesday morning. (Noa Landau)

7:38 P.M. 459 new cases diagnosed in past day, highest one-day spike since April

The number of total coronavirus cases in Israel has risen by 459 within the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry has announced. This is the largest 24-hour spike since April 22, when 556 new cases were confirmed.

13,915 tests were carried out on Monday, according to official figures.

According to the Health Ministry, Israel now has 5,299 active cases, 40 of them in serious condition and 37 on life support. 308 patients have died so far. (Haaretz)

7:20 P.M. Number of West Bank cases rises by 167

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank has risen by 167, most of them in the Hebron area, the Palestinian Health Ministry says. This raises the number of active cases in the West Bank to 742, out of which 440 are in the Hebron area. The ministry’s official in charge of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak said medical teams are on the verge of collapse, but are continuing to work in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. (Jack Khoury)

4:00 P.M. Antibody study delayed, scaled down 

Israel's antibody survey, which was to sample up to 200,000 people to check if they had contracted the virus, is experiencing delays and has been scaled down. 

Although Israel has acquired a quarter million antibody tests, many kits are expected to expire in the coming three weeks. The survey has been scaled down to only sample 75,000 people.

The serological study, which was supposed to begin last month, will provide important information on the scope of the outbreak in the population, how many people recovered and how many had contracted the illness but did not display symptoms. (Ido Efrati)

3:07 P.M. Health minister says Israel won't reach total lockdown, but a 'breathing lockdown'

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel will not reach a full lockdown but what he termed a "breathing lockdown."

"There are a few red-orange centers, that we may declare as restricted zones," he told reporters. "I ask the residents to accept that this necessary to treat people who live there and break the chain of infection. We're not going to reach a total lockdown, but rather, in military terms, 'a breathing lockdown,'" he said, without elaborating on the term.

"Cooperation from local authorities will bring the same result – slowing the rate of infection, fewer patients, an open economy and life in the shadow of the coronavirus."

Edelstein refused to specify to which areas he referred. "In a big city there is a concerning number of cases, and there's no clear source, so we either lock down the city or give a different solution. It seems like by the end of the day, we will declare as few and as specific areas as possible, perhaps particular neighborhoods within cities." (Bar Peleg)

1:47 P.M. Gov't expected to announce more 'restricted zones' as infection rate rises

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held consultations on Tuesday with the health and public security ministers as well as the head of the National Security Council in light of the rising coronavirus infection rate in the country, a statement from his bureau said.

"During the discussion it was decided to move toward even today declaring restricted zones in areas with high morbidity," the statement said.

It was also agreed upon that should the upward trend persist, resuming the use of "digital means" would be brought for government approval on Sunday, the statement said, likely referring to the use of Shin Bet tracking technology to monitor patients.

Netanyahu has been pushing to renew the use of the technology. A recording of the agency's chief, Nadav Argaman, , was leaked and aired on Sunday. (Noa Landau)

9:54 A.M. Bat Yam mayor asks government to close beaches as cases rise

Tzvika Brot, mayor of the central city of Bat Yam that has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus in past days, has asked the National Security Council to reinstate a temporary order to close the city's beaches. 

"We're working around the clock to bring the city back to a low infection rate," Brot said, "but nothing will work if the public doesn't cooperate. I'm calling on everyone to follow the Health Ministry's rules, and not leave the house without a mask," he said. (Bar Peleg)

8:54 A.M. Coronavirus situation in central city of Bat Yam 'very severe,' report says

A report from the National Center for Information and Knowledge on the Coronavirus determined that the central city of Bat Yam has reached similar infection rates to those it had in March-April.

According to the report's researchers, since June 1, 117 cases were diagnosed in the city alone, and it is host to 137 current patients. Bat Yam now has 10.6 coronavirus patients for every 10,000 people. From the beginning of the month, 2.4 percent of coronavirus tests returned positive, and that number has risen to over five percent in the past few days. Most new cases were spread by carriers within the city, the report says, and mainly within shopping centers and homes.

The infection rate among adults in the city may lead to high mortality, the report says, and the current situation is "very severe" in comparison with other Israeli cities. Bat Yam has an older median population than most locales, which raises fears of a higher death rate. Forty-four percent of the city's patients are 50 years old or older, and 14 percent are over 70 – which may lead to more patients in severe condition in the coming days.

Bat Yam Mayor Tzvika Brot told residents in a Facebook post Monday that they must stop ignoring the coronavirus guidelines, and demanded that they continue wearing masks and practicing good hygiene and social distances. He said he met with the health minister, National Security Council and local businessmen, told the Interior Ministry to deal with the issue of beaches, and coordinated the arrival of Home Front Command soldiers to enforce regulations beginning today.  (Bar Peleg)

9:55 P.M. West Bank sees sharp increase in coronavirus cases

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 168 cases were diagnosed in the West Bank on Monday, the majority of them in the area of Hebron. (Jack Khoury)

9:00 One third of Tel Aviv patients are from Jaffa

According to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, 184 of the city's 550 coronavirus patients live in the Jaffa neighborhoods currently under increased restrictions. The city said it is searching for a hotel to accommodate confirmed patients who are having difficulty quarantining at home.

In the last week, the municipality handed out nearly 80 fines for businesses that did not abide by health regulations (Bar Peleg)

8:00 P.M. Rise in infection rate in Israel continues

The Health Ministry said 142 more people tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday.

Out of the 21,008 total cases, 15,761 people have recovered, while the number of active cases stands at 4,940, of whom 45 people are in severe condition and 29 are on ventilators. The death toll stands at 307.

On Monday, 8,983 coronavirus tests were conducted. The rate of positive test results is 2.4 percent. (Haaretz)

6:00 P.M. Health officials warn against renewed Shin Bet tracking

The use of the Shin Bet security agency to track and monitor coronavirus patients was improper, violates individuals' rights and impairs patients' trust in the health system, senior Health Ministry officials told Haaretz. 

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Public Health Services chief Sigal Sadetsky support the use of the system, but others question its effectiveness, whether the program is run by a state agency or the private sector. On the contrary, they say that it masks the Health Ministry's failing in establishing an effective screening system.

"This is primarily a moral issue. The Shin Bet should deal with counter-terrorism, and not pick up the pieces when the Health Ministry fails in its mission," one official said. (Ido Efrati)

5:02 P.M. Israel's 'Coronavirus Cabinet' delays decision on renewing Shin Bet tracking to Sunday

Israel's inter-ministerial committee in charge of the coronavirus response, known as the Coronavirus Cabinet, decided to delay the decision to renew the use of the country's security service, the Shin Bet, to track coronavirus patients to the next cabinet meeting on Sunday. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, and Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shai, all from Kahol Lavan, and Economy Minister Amir Peretz, from the Labor party, all disagreed on renewing the Shin Bet's mandate before all civilian alternatives are exhausted. 

Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman, who has repeatedly come out against the continued use of his agency's resources to curb the coronavirus outbreak, warned that anchoring the method in law might reveal the security service's technology and methods, to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that "the enemy already knows" the specific system used. (Noa Landau

4:23 P.M. Israel raises fine for not wearing mask

The government raised the fine for not wearing a mask in public from 200 shekels ($60) to 500 ($150).

In addition, the police announced that special police units will operate in districts across the country to enforce regulations. (Noa Landau and Josh Breiner)

4:02 P.M. High school students sit matriculation exam 

Some 10,000 high school students took the first matriculation exam in Israel performed under coronavirus regulations. The Chemistry test was administered under strict conditions, with students wearing masks and sitting two meters apart. Nearly 200,000 students are expected to sit multiple exams by the end of July. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

3:00 P.M. Eighty-two more Palestinians test positive, bringing tally in West Bank to 892

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that 82 more people tested positive for the coronavirus, raising the total of confirmed cases in the West Bank to 892.

Out of the new cases, 73 are from the Hebron area, three from Nablus, four from Bethlehem and two from Ramallah. (Jack Khoury)

1:45 P.M. Shin Bet tracking and a cap on gatherings: Netanyahu weighs 'dramatic' steps

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that due to the spike in coronavirus cases, Israel's coronavirus cabinet is considering "dramatically" increasing enforcement, including more fines and inspectors. After the meeting, Netanyahu added that another option being considered is restricting public gatherings: "A very harsh step that has implications for certain activities we have approved."

According to Netanyahu, the cabinet is considering a return to "digital tools," including tracking patients, after the Shin Bet chief froze his organization's tracking of patients. "We know this issue is problematic," Netanyahu said, "but on the other hand we know it contributed significantly to reining in the pandemic, and we'll see how we can overcome the problems to achieve a decrease in [cases]." Another course of action discussed on Monday was regional lockdowns.

Haaretz reported Saturday that Netanyahu is considering resuming measures to allow the Shin Bet to track confirmed and suspected cases. The proposed legislation would let the government use the security service's geolocation capabilities to identify locations where confirmed patients have been and other people they may have come in contact with, based on their cellphone data.

11:41 A.M. Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in education system nears 750

The Education Ministry said that 749 students and teaching personnel have so far tested positive for the coronavirus.

There are 2,300,000 students in Israel's primary and secondary schools overall, and the system employs some 200,000 teaching staff. Currently, 23,636 staffers and students are in home quarantine, as part of the Education Ministry’s policy to shut down institutions where even one student or staffer has tested positive.

So far, 217 educational institutions have been shuttered, out of Israel's 5,200 schools and about 20,000 kindergartens. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

11:01 A.M. Israel's confirmed COVID-19 cases reach 20,869

The Health Ministry said 91 more people tested positive for the coronavirus in the last 12 hours, raising the number of national diagnoses to 20,869.

Out of these, the number of active cases currently stands at 4,848, with 15,714 recoveries and 307 deaths.

The ministry added that 8,219 COVID-19 tests were performed on Sunday. (Haaretz)

7:27 A.M. Israel Railways resumes operation despite uptick in cases

Israel Railways resumed its operation on Monday after months of suspended train services amid the coronavirus crisis.

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet decided on the move last week, after several delays and despite the spike in new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks.

Passengers must book train tickets in advance, and obtain a special voucher allowing them to enter the train station. Both can be ordered on the Israel Railways website. Issuing the tickets in advance will enable the Health Ministry to conduct epidemiological investigations if the need arises.

In addition, passengers will be restricted to buying only one voucher within three hours to prevent them from buying tickets for different hours and reserving seats on the train without actually using the service. (Osnat Nir)

SUNDAY

10:30 P.M. Israel confirms 92 new coronavirus cases in a day

The Health Ministry said 92 more people tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, bringing Israel’s total to 20,778.

Out of these, 15,694 people have recovered, while the number of active cases stands at 4,778, of whom 28 people are on ventilators. The total death toll stands at 306.

On Sunday, 6,598 coronavirus tests were conducted. (Haaretz)

9:00 P.M. Health Minister backs Shin Bet tracking of coronavirus patients 

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Sunday that he backs legislation that would allow the Shin Bet security service to track confirmed and suspected coronavirus cases. 

“We’re at a crucial time, and it’s really important to rapidly break infection chains, including by using [Shin Bet] tracking, in order to flatten the curve and keep the economy open,” said the minister.

“It’s best to keep data with the Shin Bet than a private company that who knows what its interests are.”

The proposed legislation would let the government use the security service's geolocation capabilities to identify locations where confirmed patients have been and other people they may have come in contact with, based on their cellphone data. 

7:45 P.M. Health Ministry director general says Israel will not enter another lockdown

Israel's new Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levi told journalists Sunday he does not think the country needs to go into lockdown again, amid a sharp increase of coronavirus cases.

"I don't think we should enter a lockdown, nor does the government talk about one. True, we are living with the disease [COVID-19], it did not go away, but we can exercise caution, care enough to wear masks and keep distance, this is what will keep us safe from another lockdown. None of us want to go back to a closure. If we know how to act appropriately, we can flatten the curve." (Haaretz)

7:00 P.M. Israel confirms 48 new coronavirus cases

The Health Ministry said 48 more patients have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing Israel’s total to 20,734.

Out of these, 15,685 people have recovered, while the number of active cases stands at 4,743, of those 28 people are on ventilators and 306 have died. (Haaretz)

5:00 P.M. Health official who exempt billionaire from mandatory quarantine faces no consequences  

Health Ministry Director General Hezi Levy made do with a critical remark in a letter to his deputy, Prof. Itamar Grotto, concerning Grotto’s exemption from quarantine restrictions for Cypriot-Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi when the latter entered Israel earlier this month.

Sagi attended a party in Tel Aviv after which he returned to Cyprus where he lives with his family. The incident was reported by Channel 12. When it turned out that Sagi had apparently not complied with mandatory Health Ministry isolation requirements for people entering Israel, Sagi presented a document showing that Grotto had officially approved Sagi foregoing isolation.

In a letter to Grotto on Sunday, Levy wrote: “After I heard your version of events, I find it proper to remark on the way you handled this case. Your handling was mistaken. An exceptional request of this type must be thoroughly examined…I choose to accept your apology and to take no further steps against you.” (Ronny Linder)

11:45 A.M. Netanyahu warns of ‘dark forecasts,’ as coronavirus cases climb

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the public must change its ways to avoid further lockdowns, adding that all predications regarding the spread of the coronavirus are 'dark.'

Speaking in the weekly government meeting, Netanyahu said he’s planning to convene the coronavirus cabinet on Monday to discuss measures to stem what he called a renewed outbreak of the virus.

“We have to flatten the curve and examine steps to curb the outbreak,” the prime minister said, adding that “if we don’t change our behavior, while wearing masks and observing social distancing, further lockdowns would be imposed."

Netanyahu said that “We have no choice but to observe a responsible, educated policy, which will allow us to reopen the economy and return to normalcy in the time of coronavirus.” (Noa Landau)

10:59 A.M. Israel confirms 53 new coronavirus cases

The Health Ministry said 53 more patients have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing Israel’s total to 20,686.

Out of these, 15,664 people have recovered, while the number of active cases stands at 4,716.

Twenty-eight people are on ventilators and 305 have died.

The ministry added that 6,021 coronavirus tests were performed on Saturday. (Haaretz)

10:39 A.M. Coronavirus surge imperils Israel's chance to get green light for travel abroad

Israeli officials fear that the recent rise in the number of coronavirus infections in the country will lead foreign countries and groups of states to downgrade its ranking for incoming tourism. 

Cyprus and Montenegro cut Israel’s rank from A to B last week, which will require Israelis to present proof of a negative blood test for the virus as a condition of entry.

The European Union is expected to draw up and issue standards for reopening the borders to citizens of non-Schengen Area countries in the near future. Israel has begun talks with a number of EU member states, including Austria, about easing the entry requirements for Israeli nationals. The recent rise in confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel could thwart these contacts, however, Israel Foreign Ministry officials say. (Noa Landau)

9:35 A.M. Israel orders hospitals to prepare for reopening of coronavirus wards

The Health Ministry sent urgent letters to hospital directors, ordering them to prepare for the reopening of coronavirus wards amid the surge in infection over the past few weeks.

The ministry instructed the directors to immediately make the necessary arrangements for the reopening of wards designated for COVID-19 patients in accordance with the number of confirmed cases in each community.  

The hospitals have recently closed their coronavirus wards after Israel reported a significant decrease in new cases in May. However, the past few weeks have seen a spike in cases, with 294 patients diagnosed on Saturday, while the number of active cases stands at 4,669.

Out of these, 192 are hospitalized, with 40 in serious condition. (Ido Efrati)   

8:59 A.M. Coronavirus infection chances rise in closed spaces, government agency says

The National Center for Information and Knowledge in the Battle Against the Coronavirus issued a document warning that the chance being infected with the coronavirus significantly rises in closed spaces, particularly crowded areas with limited ventilation.

According to the agency, these conditions allow for the accumulation of viruses in high quantities. The document added that wearing masks is a very efficient measure to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, and therefore wearing them in closed spaces is critical.

In addition, a high number of people present at the same closed space allows and even promotes new infections. An analysis of cases of infection around the world shows the vast majority of known mass infections occurred in closed spaces. The document also noted that during the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak in Israel in March, most registered infections took place in closed spaces. (Ido Efrati)

SATURDAY

10:32 P.M. Israel sees 294 new coronavirus cases, one death

The Health Ministry reported that Israel now has 20,633 coronavirus cases, a rise of 294 since Friday evening. Forty are now in severe condition, and 27 are on ventilators. 

There has also been one death from the disease, bringing the total COVID-19 death toll in Israel to 305.

On Friday, 12,765 coronavirus tests were carried out. 

9:00 P.M. Netanyahu weighs renewing Shin Bet tracking of coronavirus patients

As the number of coronavirus cases in Israel grows, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering resuming measures to allow the Shin Bet secret service to track confirmed and suspected cases, sources familiar with the issue told Haaretz.

The proposed legislation would let the government use the security service's geolocation capabilities to identify locations where confirmed patients have been and other people they may have come in contact with, based on their cellphone data.

Legislation on employing Shin Bet tracking has been frozen since early June, and the government is still in the process of seeking civilian alternatives. (Noa Landau)

8:52 P.M. PA says 108 Palestinians tested positive Saturday

The Palestinian Health Ministry reported 24 new cases in the past few hours, 22 in Hebron and two in Nablus. Since Saturday morning, 108 Palestinians have tested positive for the coronavirus.
There are currently 365 active cases in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and another 15 in the Gaza Strip. (Jack Khoury)

8:25 P.M. Municipality seeking to open coronavirus hotel in Jaffa among rise in cases

The Tel Aviv-Yaffo Municipality is working to establish a coronavirus hotel in Jaffa as the city continues to see an outsize rise in cases.
Coronavirus hotels house patients who have tested positive for the virus and must sequester themselves, but do not require hospitalization. Such hotels in Ashkelon, Jerusalem and the north are now at 80 percent capacity, and the Dan Panorama hotel in south Tel Aviv is reserved for those in self-isolation who have not tested positive for the virus.  

The municipality is working to find a 200-room hotel to accommodate Jaffa's patients, who seek a solution closer to home. 

A senior municipality official told Haaretz that on certain days in the past two weeks, the percentage of positive coronavirus tests from the Jaffa neighborhoods of Ajami, Tsahalon and Hisachon have doubled. Infection rates in the city are 15 times what they were at the height of the first wave, the official added. 

Most of Jaffa's cases are young, the official said; 43 confirmed cases were found in one school. Police and municipal forces have been enforcing coronavirus measures. The municipality added that they want to reestablish the testing facility for all HMOs in the city. (Bar Peleg

7:05 P.M. PA announces new West Bank restrictions

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced new restrictions in the West Bank, including a five-day lockdown in the Hebron District and a 48-hour curfew in the Nablus District, following a rise in new coronavirus cases.

Most gatherings will be banned, including weddings, graduation parties and conferences, and funerals will be limited in size.

According to Shtayyeh, cases rose after many restrictions were lifted because people haven’t been abiding by the regulations issued by the government. He also said many new cases originate from Palestinian workers or patients who went into Israel and then returned to the West Bank. “I call all of our brothers within the Green Line not to enter the West Bank at all for 14 days,” he said (Jack Khoury)

3:11 P.M. Coronavirus center warns: Israel entering second wave, could reach thousand cases a day within a month

Israel is entering its second wave of the coronavirus, a report released Saturday by the National Center for Information and Knowledge in the Battle Against the Coronavirus. Experts at the center warn that if immediate measures are not implemented, the national infection rate can reach a thousand new cases a day within a month. The comprehensive death rate may grow by hundreds.

According to the report, new confirmed cases fell to about 16 a day in mid-May. Over the past week, the number has spiked to around 200 daily diagnoses, with Wednesday and Thursday seeing about 300 a day. The report's writers claim that the characteristics of this second wave differ from those of the first, but are no less severe.

The report's writers recommend immediately rolling back new steps that allow for larger gatherings, increasing public awareness, enforcing quarantine and other measures on the part of the government and the public. If these steps are not taken, they warn, "the State of Israel may in another month demand very painful economic and social decisions." (Amos Harel) 

1:50 P.M. Active cases in West Bank rise to 342

The number of active cases in the West Bank has risen from 290 to 342, the Palestinian Health Ministry has said. Most of these, 258, area in the Hebron area. Authorities have placed restrictions on residents in Hebron and Nablus, and plan to do so in Bethlehem on Sunday. (Jack Khoury)

8:50 A.M. 32 new cases diagnosed in Hebron area

Thirty-two new coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in the Hebron area, bringing the total number of active cases in the area to 209. There are 290 active cases in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as 15 in the Gaza Strip. (Jack Khoury)

FRIDAY

8:03 P.M. Cultural events of up to 250 people approved

The Knesset approved emergency measures Friday that allow for cultural events with up to 250 people in attendance and with 75 percent capacity. In exceptional cases, the director general of the Culture Ministry is able to approve events of up to 500 people. 

The measure applies to theaters, cinemas, concerts, musical performances and literary events. The legislation demands that the audience sit in designated seats and does not allow for dancing. Violating the guidelines is a crime that carries a penalty of six months in prison or a fine of up to 14,400 shekels, or about $4,170. (Noa Landau)

6:45 P.M. Palestinians report 858 overall cases

The Palestinian Health Ministry announced Friday that the number of cases in the West Bank and Gaza rose to 858, among which 592 have recovered. 

Out of 261 active cases, 246 are located in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with 170 in Hebron alone, and 15 in the Gaza Strip. (Jack Khoury)

6:04 P.M. Health Ministry reports 20,339 cases

The Health Ministry reported 152 new coronavirus cases since midnight Friday. It marks an increase of 96 cases from Friday morning, bringing the national total to 20,339. Of those, 4,449 are active COVID-19 cases.

2:40 P.M. Health Minister orders boost to number of coronavirus contact tracers

Israel's new Health Minister Yuli Edelstein instructed the ministry to boost the number of contact-tracers responsible for identifying people that were in contact with verified patients and were potentially infected with the coronavirus. The minister made a special budget available to hire 300 more contact-tracers in order to make the interrogations where patients are asked where they were and who they were in contact with faster, thereby intercepting the chain of infections. (Haaretz) 

2:15 P.M. 80 more people tested for the coronavirus in Rahat

Clalit Health Services has tested 80 residents of Rahat, which emerged as one of Israel's coronavirus hotspots, for the coronavirus on Friday. Testing efforts are ongoing in the Bedouin city in southern Israel as most of its neighborhoods have been put under lockdown. More than 500 people were tested over the last week. (Haaretz)

12:15 P.M. 19 new cases confirmed in West Bank

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that 19 new cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed in the last 24-hours in the Hebron area. 

Over the past three days the number of active cases has risen to 194 from 94 in the West Bank, most of them in the Hebron area, the Health Ministry said.

In the Gaza Strip, 11 people have recovered, bringing the number of active cases down from 26 to 15.

11.30 A.M. Israeli army confirms nearly 30 new cases

The Israel army said 280 on-duty officers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The large majority have recovered, with 47 active cases. All patients are in mild condition. On Monday, the number stood at 253, signaling to an increase of nearly 30 patients in the last 5 days. (Yaniv Kubovich)

11:00 A.M. Israel confirms 305 new coronavirus cases

Israel has confirmed 305 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 20,243. This is the highest daily increase in recorded cases in over two months.

One patient has died, bringing the death toll to 304. The vast majority of the 4,372 active cases are in mild condition, with 28 patients on ventilators. 15,567 patients have recovered. (Haaretz)

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