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Two months into its mass coronavirus vaccination campaign, Israel sees a drop in COVID infections and in the number of serious cases. Israel exited its third nationwide lockdown, but some restrictions remain on inbound and outbound flights. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 5,988 Israelis have died of the virus.
Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have received 30,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by Israel. It may take a while still for a mass vaccination campaign to get under way in the Palestinian territories. A total of 1,933 people have died of COVID in the West Bank, while 565 have died in Gaza.
5:02 P.M. Palestinian Authority announces five-day lockdown in the West Bank
The Palestinian Authority announced a lockdown in all parts of the West Bank starting Monday, due to a rise in coronavirus-related deaths and infection rates.
The lockdown will be in place for five days, and during it most schools will be closed and universities and colleges will move to online learning. Palestinians will be banned from leaving their city or district, and all gatherings, including weddings and funerals, will be banned. (Jack Khoury)
2:24 P.M. More than 1,500 new cases diagnosed in the West Bank on Friday
The Palestinian Health Ministry said that 1,587 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 27 have died from the virus over the past 24 hours. Some 6,000 COVID tests were conducted on Friday.
In addition, the number of seriously ill patients in the West Bank has climbed to 170, of whom 48 are on ventilators. (Jack Khoury)
1:05 A.M. U.S. senators to Blinken: Push Israel to 'do more to help Palestinians' with COVID vaccines
Five Democratic senators on Friday asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to urge the Israeli government to do more to help Palestinians living in the West Bank to receive adequate supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The senators – Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Carper, Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkely – wrote Blinken that "the urgency of the moment, as both Israelis and Palestinians face the threat of COVID, demands immediate action."
Sanders, to date, has been the most vocal critic of Israel's failure to distribute COVID vaccines to the Palestinians, slamming the Israeli government for agreeing to first provide vaccines to countries with which it has bolstered relations in recent years. The plan has since been halted by Israel's attorney general due to concerns over its legality. (Ben Samuels)
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9:05 P.M. Israel approves entry of 700 Jordanian workers
The cabinet approved on Friday the entry of some 700 Jordanians to work in the hotel industry in the city of Eilat, a joint statement from the Health Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office said.
The workers will be allowed to arrive via the Wadi Araba crossing at a date that will be decided upon by the interior minister, and each will be required to be tested for the coronavirus upon entry. They will then be required to enter quarantine, for which the hotels will be responsible, the statement said.
Also Friday, the cabinet approved allowing diplomatic officials to use the Jordan River crossing between Israel and Jordan and the Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt. Those leaving Israel through the Taba crossing for humanitarian reasons will be allowed to use it to return as well. (Noa Shpigel)
10:20 A.M. Israel sees continued decline in number of seriously ill and hospitalized COVID patients
There are currently 997 hospitalized COVID patients, of whom 613 are in serious condition, with 212 people on ventilators, according to figures released by the Health Ministry on Friday morning.
Some 2,509 new cases were diagnosed on Thursday.
So far, 5,110,698 Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine and 5,975 have died from the virus. (Haaretz)
7:47 P.M. Pfizer CEO says younger teens may receive vaccine in fall
Younger teens may be able to receive the coronavirus vaccine in fall, and elementary schoolchildren may be able to get the jab by the end of the year, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said.
Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE will exceed their original global target for COVID-19 vaccines by as much as 20 percent this year, producing 2.3 billion to 2.4 billion doses, Bourla said on Thursday.
"We will exceed clearly, this year, the 2 billion doses," Bourla said in an interview.
By the fourth quarter, the companies will be at a 3 billion dose a year run rate, and should be able to produce that much next year, he added.
Bourla said the company expects to be able to meet its commitment of supplying 120 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. government by the end of March. That would require them to deliver another 60 million doses over the next three weeks.
"Those have already been manufactured" and are currently being tested for quality, he said.
"Unless a batch (of vaccine) fails, we will be able to provide them. Our track record is that our batches don't fail." (Reuters)
7:00 P.M. Palestinians receive 40,000 COVID-19 vaccines from UAE
Palestinians received 40,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine on Thursday, a donation by the United Arab Emirates that could boost a long-time rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of an election.
Mohammad Dahlan, who fell out with Abbas and was dismissed from the president's Fatah party more than a decade ago, took credit for securing the shipment to Gaza from the UAE, where he lives in exile.
In a potential challenge to Abbas, Dahlan has announced plans to field a list of candidates he dubs "Fatah reformists" in a parliamentary election scheduled for May.
The vaccine shipment brought to 60,000 the number of Sputnik V doses that Dahlan has obtained for Palestinians since February, outpacing official Palestinian authorities. (Reuters)
6:04 P.M. Israel's top court slams entry limiting policy
High Court justices criticized the state's decision to limit entry of citizens into the country as they heard petitions to revoke this policy.
A representative of the state admitted that Israel does not have data on the number of Israelis requesting to enter the country. In addition, state records show that returning Israelis are avoiding quarantine at state-run facilities as the law stipulates.
Following the hearing, the court issued a conditional order instructing the state to explain why the restrictions have not been lifted.
As of now, the number of Israelis allowed to enter the country per day is capped at 3,000, and the government has drafted a list of airports that are allowed to operate flights into Israel.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, alongside justices Neal Hendel and Isaac Amit, requested to receive the figures of Israelis seeking to return to Israel. “I asked the numbers previously, but it didn’t happen,” Hayut said. (Netael Bandel)
2:56 P.M. France eases travel restrictions for Israelis with French citizenship
France will ease some COVID-19 restrictions on international travel outside Europe, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
The ministry said in a statement that French nationals traveling to or from Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Britain and Singapore would no longer have to need a compelling reason to travel.
All other restrictions, such as a requirement for a negative COVID-19 test less than 72 hours before travel, would remain in place, the ministry said, adding a decree was due to be published on March 12. (Reuters)
2:32 P.M. Despite vaccinations, Health Ministry says no to canceling mask mandate
The Health Ministry has no intention of canceling the mask mandate despite the high vaccination rate, ministry director-general Chezy Levy said Thursday.
At a press conference, Levy said that there is not enough information available regarding the ability of vaccinated people to infect others, and that "inoculated individuals can be a source of infection." Therefore, he said, the directive remains in place.
Earlier this week, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said that masks are not necessary outdoors. The U.S. Center for Disease Control has also said that there is no need for vaccinated people to wear masks indoors. (Noa Shpigel)
1:08 P.M. Israelis returning from abroad should pay for e-bracelet, quarantine hostel, deputy health minister says
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish suggests that Israelis returning from abroad will pay for the usage of digital tracking bracelets and for the lodging in government-run coronavirus hostels used to quarantine arrivals. During a session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Kish estimated that 5,000 electronic bracelets will be available next week.
"The state spent more than half a billion shekels on hostels for self-isolation," Kish said. "Some of them were infected in Israel, in which case state funding is justified. However, an Israeli who chooses to fly abroad – part of the cost of the trip is the bracelet and the hostel." (Jonathan Lis)
12:10 P.M. IDF reports 81 percent of its soldiers vaccinated
Ten weeks after beginning its vaccination campaign, the Israeli military reported Thursday that 81 percent of its soldiers have been vaccinated against or recovered from the coronavirus. Next week, the military said, they expect that rate to rise to 85 percent.
IDF sources said that this constitutes an achievement that will allow the military to return to its operational, training and drill routine, similar to where it was before the pandemic struck. (Yaniv Kubovich)
10:53 A.M. Vaccinated mothers pass on COVID antibodies in breastmilk, research shows
Nursing mothers who were inoculated with an mRNA-based vaccine (such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines) produce and pass on coronavirus antibodies to their babies, without passing on the genetic material of the vaccine, research from Israel and the United States shows.
Results of the studies, which have yet to be seriously reviewed, show that the antibodies formed in breastmilk are better adapted to protecting babies from respiratory viruses such as the coronavirus when compared to the immune reaction created by injecting the vaccine into the bloodstream.
Although the studies are preliminary, they show that the new vaccines can potentially protect infants from the coronavirus similarly to different vaccines that are recommended to women in their third trimester of pregnancy. (Asaf Ronel)
10:15 A.M. High Court hears petitions against limiting entry of Israelis ahead of election
The High Court of Justice is hearing petitions against the government's policy of limiting entry into Israel as part of its efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The petitioners against the government are Israeli citizens who flew abroad before the government decided to close the skies, and were denied entry to Israel by the exceptions committee, which decides who comes back into the country.
The Movement for Quality Government was also among the petitioners, and claimed that the restrictions obstruct the right of Israelis abroad to exercise their democratic right to vote. Israel does not allow for absentee voting, save for diplomats.
In a prior hearing held last week, before the restrictions changed to allow the entry of Israeli citizens into the country ahead of the election, the judges decided to hold another hearing on the petition after new guidelines were issued.
The petitioners said that they stand behind the petition, even after the coronavirus cabinet decided to increase the number of Israelis that can enter the country to 3,000 a day, and disband the exceptions committee. (Netael Bandel)