Coronavirus Israel Live: Netanyahu, Health Minister Seek Tighter Restrictions as Cases Rise

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People walk on one of Jerusalem's main streets during a nationwide lockdown, January 1, 2020.
People walk on one of Jerusalem's main streets during a nationwide lockdown, January 1, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
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Haaretz

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Authorities in Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza, are grappling with the current increase in coronavirus cases, which has prompted directives to curb its spread but also an effort to mitigate the economic consequences of the crisis.

Israel has entered a third nationwide lockdown, and has severely limited the entry of foreigners into the country as cases continue to spike. Israel also announced that anybody arriving from abroad will be required to immediately get a coronavirus test and quarantine at home for two weeks.

Israel currently has 49,506 active cases; 3,392 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 10,108 active cases and 1,186 deaths, and in Gaza 9,816 active cases and 386 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

8 A.M. More than 1,000,000 Israelis received the first dose of the COVID vaccine, says Health Minister

Some 1,090,000 Israelis have received the first of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, 70,689 on Saturday alone, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein wrote on Sunday morning, in a celebratory tweet thanking medical staff for this “extraordinary achievement.” (Haaretz)

SATURDAY

11:20 P.M. Health minister to recommend tighter restrictions for two weeks 

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced on Saturday he will propose that the government tightens restrictions for two weeks during the present lockdown, in light of an increased rate of COVID-19 infection. 

Edelstein pointed to “significant and worrying” rise in serious cases and the detection of the coronavirus mutation in the country.

The Health Ministry also intends to request, among other things, to move the education system online in order to limit the number of people going to their workplaces. (Ido Efrati)

8:23 P.M. Israel's coronavirus czar seeks to shut schools

Israel's coronavirus czar, Prof. Nachman Ash, said that the current lockdown measures in place "aren't effective enough," telling Kan public broadcaster the Health Ministry intends to "demand a complete closure of the education system."

"In order for it to influence [infection rates] as much as possible and last as little time as possible, it has to be effective," Ash said.

The initial proposal for Israel's third lockdown included restrictions on schools, but that changed under political and public pressure, and the education system largely operates as it did before the lockdown started a week ago. (Haaretz)

>> Click here to read the full report

7:36 P.M. Israel confirms over 5,00 new cases

Israel has confirmed 5,289 new cases over the weekend, according to Health Ministry figures, bringing the total number of active cases in the country to 48,701.

1,243 patients are currently hospitalized, with 739 of them in serious condition and 177 on life support.

Israel has registered 3,384 COVID-related deaths since the start of the outbreak. (Haaretz)

6:42 P.M. Palestinian Authority announces West Bank lockdown

The Palestinian government announced a series of new measures to go into effect on Sunday, in a bid to curb to rise in coronavirus cases in the West Bank. 

These include a nighttime curfew starting Sunday, from 7 P.M. to 6 A.M., and a weekend curfew on Friday and Saturday. All gatherings, including weddings and funerals, are banned under the new restrictions.

The Palestinian authorities have also banned Arab Israelis from entering the West Bank, Palestinian laborers from moving between Israel and the West Bank, and all residents from moving between Palestinian cities. (Jack Khoury)

>> Click here to read the full report

6:31 P.M. Netanyahu weighs 'short and tight' lockdown

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he would hold over the coming days "a discussion on a short and tight lockdown, which would enable a quick reopening of the economy."

The statement did not state what specific measures would be included in the proposal. Any new measures would have to be approved by the cabinet.

Israel is currently under lockdown, its third since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, but measures and enforcement are generally more relaxed than previous ones. (Judy Maltz)

>> Click here to read the full report

FRIDAY

2:00 P.M. Eighteen more cases of U.K. coronavirus mutation found in Israel

Genetic testing of 94 samples revealed 18 more cases of the coronavirus mutation first identified in the United Kingdom, the Health Ministry said Friday.

Two of the carriers of the variant had returned from abroad and were quarantined in a designated isolation hotel. The rest were identified from samples taken in the cities and towns of Givat Ze'ev, Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Beitar Ilit, Modiin Ilit, Ramat Gan, Tiberius, Laqiya and Kuseife. The ministry is clarifying whether the carriers were in contact with travelers.

Thus far, there have been 23 cases of the new mutation found in Israel, six of which were confirmed to have originated abroad. There are about 400 more samples being sequenced, as part of the Health Ministry's national effort for genetic sequencing.  

1:20 P.M. Ahead of millionth inoculation, Netanyahu calls on politicians to approve tighter lockdown restrictions

Ahead of the administering of the millionth COVID-19 vaccine in the Arab majority town of Umm-al Fahm, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed "politicians" for blocking a shorter, tighter lockdown that he said would have allowed the economy to reopen more quickly during the inoculation drive.

“It’s our responsibility to deliver on the vaccines and distribute them. Yet it’s irresponsible to simultaneously let the virus spread. And disappointingly, for reasons concerning popularity and politics, some lawmakers refused to allow a full lockdown that we want to save hundreds of lives, and hundreds of Israeli families,” Netanyahu said. 

A few days of a tightened lockdown would keep infection rates low while the vaccination campaign continues, Netanyahu said. “I have a double message - for politicians to act, and for the public to get vaccinated.” He added that the government is looking into tightening certain aspects of the closure, including within the education system.

In response, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that "Enforcing restrictions and prevention in places that need it will prevent lockdowns in places that do not." (Judy Maltz and Chaim Levinson)

6:45 A.M. Some 950,000 Israelis have received first dose of COVID vaccine

Some 950,000 Israelis have received the first of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, 153,430 of them on Thursday alone, the Health Ministry announced on Friday morning. Vaccinations were administered at 325 vaccine centers across the country. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

11:35 P.M. World Health Organization lists Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use

The World Health Organization on Thursday listed the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech for emergency use, saying the move opens the door for countries to expedite their own approvals to import and give the shot.

The WHO's review found that the vaccine met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO, and that the benefits of using the vaccine to address COVID-19 offset potential risks, the WHO said in a statement. (Reuters)

9:43 P.M. Israeli HMOs prepare to expand vaccine campaign

Israeli health officials expect more than a million Israelis to have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine by Friday, and to finish inculcating some 2.3 million Israelis over 60 and those with preexisting medical conditions by mid-January.

Two major HMOs, Clalit and Maccabi, said on Thursday they plan to expand the vaccination campaign to include Israelis aged 55-60. Two other HMOs, Leumit and Meuhedet, plan to gradually vaccinate more age groups. (Ido Efrati)

18:57 P.M. Netanyahu urges Israeli Arabs to vaccinate amid low compliance

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to the Arab city of Tira, as part of his government's campaign to encourage the Arab community to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

This was Netanyahu's first visit to an Arab community since February, when he visited Tamra for an election campaign event.

So far, the rate of Israeli Arabs who have received the vaccine has been low compared to the general population.

Netanyahu called on the Arab community to vaccinate, saying "We brought millions of vaccines, more per capita than any other country in the world. We've brought them for everyone, Jews, Arabs, religious and seculare people."

Ayman Saif, who leads the government's coronavirus response in the Arab community, accompanied Netanyahu and decried "many rumors going around about negative side effects" of the vaccine, but arguing that "a serious and massive campaign" can change that. (Judy Maltz)

6:06 P.M. Government plans to start vaccinating young people in February

Chezy Levy, the director general of the Health Ministry, said on Thursday that the government plans to start vaccinating young people in February. 

In addition to the 257 vaccination stations spread across Israel, another 70 are due to open on Friday, Levy said.

The director general also dismissed rumors about an easing of the lockdown due to the high number of vaccinations, saying the two are "not related." (Haaretz)  

4:23 P.M. Israeli lawmaker contracts COVID 10 days after first vaccine dose

Lawmaker Israel Eichler from United Torah Judaism said on Thursday that he had contracted COVID-19 just 10 days after receiving the first doze of Pfizer's vaccine. 

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it takes Pfizer's vaccine 10 days before a "strong" protection from COVID-19 appears. 

After 10 days, the immune system can identify COVID-19 and develops antibodies to help prevent infection. (Ido Efrati and Jonathan Lis)

10:32 A.M. Israel to see lull in vaccinations in 10 days

Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levy said Israel would see a lull in distributing the first dose of COVID vaccines in 10 days. "There'll be a pause of about two weeks," Levy said in a radio interview Thursday morning.

"We're trying very hard to bring the shipments in sooner, because we've started ahead of schedule and working in a very fast pace."

Earlier on Thursday, the Health Ministry said some 800,000 Israelis have already received the first of two doses of the COVID vaccine. (Haaretz)

10:12 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet approves plan allowing schools to open in areas with lower infection rates

The coronavirus cabinet has approved the Health Ministry's recommendation to update the list of municipalities in accordance with the traffic light plan, a joint statement from the Prime Minister's Office and the Health Ministry said. 

The traffic light plan assigns each city and town with a color, depending on its incidence of coronavirus infection: a red designation means a very high local incidence of infection, and green is the lowest. 

According to this plan, each municipality's color, or rating, will be updated every two weeks in accordance with coronavirus infection data. Cities and towns that are "yellow" or "green" will be able to hold in-person classes for grades five through 12. The decision will go into effect on Sunday, January 3.  

8:30 P.M. Health minister: Other age, risk groups may be vaccinated in February

Israel is expecting to receive another million doses of coronavirus vaccine in the coming two months, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Channel 12 News, and the government will request to receive them earlier.

Almost 800,000 Israelis have already been vaccinated, Edelstein said.

"We will always have enough of the vaccine for the second shot," he said, as the current coronavirus vaccines require two inoculations, 21 days apart. "There will not be a shortage of second vaccine at any point; there might be a short phase where the health maintenance organizations say they won't book an appointment for a first shot, just for a second vaccine."

Young people will be able to be vaccinated "at the moment when we see that a large part of the at-risk population is no longer in danger," Edelstein said. "I believe that in February, we'll start vaccinating other populations."

Edelstein also added that there are currently no political plans to tighten the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

6:58 P.M. Israel will not reduce Shin Bet phone tracking, despite ministerial decision

The state presented the High Court of Justice a response to petitions against the Shin Bet's use of cell phone tracking for contact tracing on Wednesday, saying that the tracing will not be reduced.

According to the statement, the state will not enact a decision made by a ministerial committee two weeks ago, which would have employed phone tracking only on COVID-19 carriers who refuse to cooperate with contact tracers.

In addition, the state said, the law that allows the tracking policy to expire in January will be postponed, due to the fact that the Knesset will be dissolved and the Knesset will become a caretaker government. The policy will automatically be renewed for at least three more months, and will not be able to be changed until after the next government is sworn in after the March elections.  

The state's response to the petitions, which were filed by a range of human rights groups, says that although the human contact tracing system has improved and broadened, it has limitations that can be easily solved by the Shin Bet's phone tracking. (Netael Bandel)

12:15 P.M. Fourteen COVID patients returned to Israel from Dubai

Fourteen citizens who have tested positive for coronavirus arrived in Israel from Dubai on Monday, Senior Health Ministry official Sharon Alroy-Pries said at a meeting of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset.

An epidemiological investigation on the matter commenced on Wednesday morning, after it was discovered that some of those on the organized trip had caught COVID-19.

The travellers self-isolated upon their return in accordance with government regulations. 

With the current case numbers in Israel, she warned, "we don't have the luxury to import cases from abroad."

The United Arab Emirates has shattered its single-day record of new coronavirus infections, with 1,723 cases recorded on Wednesday.

The record figure comes after the UAE said it detected its first known cases of the new, fast-spreading variant of the virus in people arriving from abroad. With an economy that runs on aviation and hospitality, the UAE has remained open for tourism and business.

The commercial hub of Dubai prepares to draw thousands of revelers for New Year’s Eve celebrations downtown, where authorities have mandated mask-wearing and social-distancing.

The UAE has a total of 206,092 cases and 665 deaths amid an aggressive testing campaign. (Noa Shpigel, The Associated Press)

10:30 A.M. Over 150,000 Israelis vaccinated in a day as campaign continues

The Health Ministry has reported 5,582 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Of the 40,929 active cases in the country, 609 people are hospitalized in a serious condition, and 154 of them on ventilators. 

Six more deaths have also occured since Tuesday, taking the total deaths from coronavirus to 3,292.

Meanwhile, the ministry said it continues to expand its vaccination campaign. According to the ministry, 151,986 Israelis received the first dose out of two on Tuesday. A total of 646,000 Israelis have received it since Israel began its roll out. (Haaretz)

TUESDAY

3:45 P.M. International arrivals will no longer quarantine in government facilities, health minister says

Israelis returning from abroad will no longer have to quarantine in government-run facilities, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday. Anyone arriving from abroad will be required to immediately get a coronavirus test and quarantine at home for two weeks, or 10 days if another test is taken on the ninth day, he announced. Authorities announced last week that arrivals would have to quarantine in these facilities in light of the new coronavirus strain initially identified in the United Kingdom. (Haaretz)

12:38 P.M. Member of Big Brother Israel produtcion team tests positive for COVID-19, 20 sent into quarantine 

A member of the production team at Israel's edition of the popular reality show Big Brother has tested positive just weeks after the new season began.

Twenty production staff were sent into quarantine following the diagnosis. 

"Before the program aired, the production did consider what would happen if someone on set did test positive with coronavirus. The health of the production team and the contestants is our priority, all the while fulfilling the guidlines of the Health Ministry," Big Brother's production team said in a statement. (Itay Stern) 

8:21 A.M. Health Ministry: 495,000 people vaccinated so far

The Health Ministry said 495,000 Israelis were already administered the first of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine since the start of the inocluation campaign last week. More than 115,000 people were given the vaccination on Monday alone.

At the current rate, officials expect to be able to vaccinate all those considered at a higher risk by the end of January. (Haaretz)

5:59 A.M. Israeli officials concerned over low inoculation rate among Arabs

More than a week after Israel launched is coronavirus vaccine drive, the Health Ministry reports that the response in the country’s Arab communities is below that of the Jewish population.

Several HMO clinics in Arab communities received approval from the ministry to begin vaccinating people under the age of 60, who are otherwise ineligible for the vaccine at this stage of the campaign. (Jack Khoury and Ido Efrati)

>> Click here to read the full report

MONDAY

11:30 P.M. Israel reports 5,800 new cases in 24 hours

Israel has confirmed 5,815 new cases of the coronavirus in 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry, with 5.6% of tests coming back positive.

Since Sunday, 30 people have died, raising the total death toll to 3,256. Of the nearly 13,000 active cases, 592 people are in serious condition and 134 are on life support.

10:18 P.M. Man has severe allergic reaction following COVID-19 vaccination

A 49-year-old man in Jerusalem has suffered from an anaphylactic reaction following his inoculation with the coronavirus vaccine about an hour earlier on Monday.

The man reported that he previously had a serious allergic reaction as a result of a penicillin allergy, but that he had no preexisting health conditions. 

He received medication upon arrival in the emergency medical center and he is in a stable condition. He will remain there for monitoring. (Ido Efrati)

10:12 P.M. New ‘traffic light’ classification of localities won’t go into effect on Tuesday, keeping 640,000 students at school

The Education Ministry said schools will open on Tuesday in accordance with existing classification of areas according to their rate of COVID-19 infection, as an updated classification scheme has not been approved by the cabinet on time.

The cabinet only approved the updated scheme on Monday evening, meaning it will only go into effect 24 hours later, on Tuesday evening. Therefore, schools will only be affected when they open on Wednesday.

Under the new “traffic light” plan, localities with some 640,000 students from fifth- to 12th-grade, were to be designated as orange or red, meaning they were supposed to attend classes online instead of in person on Tuesday. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia and Judy Maltz)

5:30 P.M. Health minister: At-risk groups could all be inoculated 'in weeks'

Israel's Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that Israel will receive millions more vaccinations over the next months, as per its agreement with the pharmaceutical companies, and that there is “big hope” that the country’s at-risk populations could all be inoculated in the “coming weeks.”

The minister also added that Israel has vaccinated approximately half a million people since the national rollout began last week. (Ido Efrati)

5:05 P.M. Health Ministry investigating the death following COVID-19 vaccination of elderly man with preexisting condition

The death of a 75-year-old man shortly after he received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine has prompted an investigation from Israel’s Health Ministry. Preliminary findings from an investigation of the case indicate that there was no connection between the vaccination and the death of the man, who had previously suffered from several heart attacks.

Since last week, 380,000 Israelis have received the first of two doses of the vaccine, manufactured by the Pfizer pharmaceutical firm. The man’s death was the first of its kind in the country following vaccination against COVID-19.

In the third and final phase of Pfizer's clinical trials of the vaccine on 38,000 subjects, half of whom received a placebo rather than the real vaccine, six deaths were recorded. Two had received the vaccine — one who suffered from obesity and the other from an arterial condition. The four others had received the placebo. (Noa Shpigel and Ido Efrati)

3:30 P.M. Rate of vaccination high among ultra-Orthodox, lower in Arab community 

The ultra-Orthodox sector has been very responsive to the vaccination drive, largely due to the encouragement of senior rabbis, Health Ministry sources reported. 

"The ultra-Orthodox community has been very receptive, and the demand for the vaccination has even outstripped the supply,” a source added, but also warned against complacency on the heels of mass vaccinations. 

In relation to Israel's population as a whole, the ultra-Orthodox community has a far lower proportion of elderly people.

On the other hand, the Arab sector has been less responsive to the vaccination campaign than the rest of the population, to the extent that younger people who are not yet encouraged to register for inoculation are receiving vaccinations in order for them not to go to waste. (Ido Efrati)

1:20 P.M. Knesset panel ratifies lockdown regulations

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the lockdown regulations that went into effect on Sunday.

Eight lawmakers voted in favor of the approving the regulations, while seven voted against it.

Opposition lawmakers requested a re-vote. (Jonathan Lis)

11:15 A.M. Israel updates its COVID hotspot map, placing half its population in high risk areas

The Health Ministry updated its classification of communities according to its so-called traffic light plan, placing half of Israel's population in "red" and "orange" communities, where infection rates are high.

According to the new classification, in-person classes would not be held for grades five through 12 starting Monday in the red and orange communities.

On Sunday, the Knesset's Education Committee overturned a government decision to have students in the fifth through 10th grades nationwide return to studying remotely during the lockdown that went into effect that evening, deciding instead that classes would continue normally in green and yellow communities. (Ido Efrati)

7:22 A.M. Almost 100,000 Israelis vaccinated against COVID on Sunday

Nearly 100,000 Israelis were vaccinated against the coronavirus on Sunday, bringing the total number of people vaccinated so far to 379,000 as Israel enters the second week of its national vaccination campaign.  

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attributed the achievement to the "amazing work" of the ministry, hospitals, and health maintenance organizations. 

Edelstein also thanked the public for its cooperation, promising that the rapid pace of the vaccination campaign will continue. (Haaretz) 

For previous updates, click here.

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