Coronavirus Israel Live: Merchants in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market Reopen Against Regulations

Nablus introduces night curfew and Gaza goes into lockdown ■ Israel approves plan to reopen hotels in Eilat and Dead Sea

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Inspectors handing out fines in the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, November 17, 2020
Inspectors handing out fines in the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, November 17, 2020Credit: Moti Milrod
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Haaretz

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.

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Israel currently has 8,150 active cases; 2,736 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 5,790 active cases and 608 deaths, and in Gaza 3,545 active cases and 50 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

7:45 P.M. Court seeks clarifications on tracking by Israel’s security service

The High Court of Justice issued a show cause order on Tuesday, ordering the state to explain why Shin Bet contact tracking of coronavirus patients is not limited to cases in which patients are uncooperative with epidemiological investigators. The court also ordered the state to explain why, as is required by law, it is not promoting civilian technology as an alternative to the use of contact tracing. (Netael Bandel)

1:30 P.M. Merchants in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market reopen in protest of coronavirus regulations 

Tens of stall-owners in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market reopened on Tuesday, defying government restrictions on open-air markets.

Since the second lockdown was implemented in September, the bulk of the merchants in the market have been shut, with the exception of grocers and stalls selling takeaway food. This is in contrast to markets in other areas, which have opened in agreement with local authorities. 

In response to the protest, Tel Aviv Municipality fined one merchant and issued several warnings to others.

One merchant, Attilia Dwek, told Haaretz that she strictly observes the guidelines on masks and social distancing, and that she felt obliged to reopen: “I am living on cents anyway. They have shut down our lives,” she said. (Bar Peleg)

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10:45 A.M. Health Minister visits Eilat amid tourism restart

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has begun his official visit to Eilat, following the government's decision to open up "green islands" of tourism. 

"This is great news for the residents of Eilat, but also for each and every citizen of Israel. It will finally be possible to go on holiday in Israel," he said at the coronavirus testing facilities at the entrance to the resort city.

However, he also warned the public "not to come here without a negative coronavirus test," and said that people flouting the rules will mean the project of restarting tourism "will be very short." 

"We have to be careful that nobody brings the virus with them to Eilat," he added.

He is being joined by the mayor of the city, Meir Yitzhak Halevi, the deputy director-general of the health ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto, and the head of the public health services at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Elrai Price.(Haaretz)

MONDAY

9:50 P.M. Number of new daily cases highest in three weeks

There have been 903 new coronavirus cases diagnosed in the country since Sunday, according to Health Ministry figures – the highest daily rise since the last week of October. Two more people have died, raising the death toll to 2,734. There are 320 people hospitalized in serious condition, including 128 on ventilators. The proportion of positive tests stands at 2 percent. (Ido Efrati)

7:05 P.M. Netanyahu says he spoke with Putin about purchasing Russian COVID vaccine

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the possibility of purchasing Russia's COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed Sputnik V.  

Speaking at a press conference, Netanyahu also referenced news of effective vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, saying: "All this won't happen overnight, but we are not talking about years – we're talking about months. So we are already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

Earlier this month, Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center said it had ordered 1.5 million doses of the Russian vaccine. (Noa Landau) 

6:35 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet approves return to in-person classes in low-infection towns

The coronavirus cabinet approved on Monday the resumption of in-person classes for some grades in "green" and "yellow" towns, as defined according to the country's  of classifying which locations have high infection rates. According to the plan agreed upon by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the fifth and sixth grades will resume in-person classes on Tuesday of next week, and the eleventh and twelfth grades the following week. The ministers also approved placing a nighttime curfew on "red" and "orange." Health Ministry officials opposed further loosening of restrictions.

The coronavirus cabinet also decided to expand the use of the authority to declare towns as "restricted zones;" to increase fines for violating restrictions, particularly in cases involving unapproved gatherings; and conditioning work in certain fields on regular testing.(Noa Landau)

4:30 P.M. Dozens of fines handed out to schools for violating regulations expected to be withdrawn

Dozens of fines given to schools that opened in violation of regulations last months are expected to be canceled. The 65 fines of 5,000 shekels (nearly $1,500) each were mostly handed out to ultra-Orthodox institutions and are expected to be withdrawn because the Knesset Education Committee did not approve the regulations permitting authorities to order the fines. The mistake was discovered by legal advisers at the Knesset on Thursday and was first reported on Channel 12 News. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

2:58 P.M. Israeli army, police monitor social media to prevent gatherings

The Alon Command, the Israel Defense Forces program for breaking chains of coronavirus infections, tracks social media to identify planned events with the potential to spread the virus. Current coronavirus regulations in Israel prohibit large indoor or outdoor gatherings.

The monitoring is carried out by around 2,800 soldiers, some of whom serve in Military Intelligence and specialize in tracking social media. The intelligence they gather is forwarded to the police so they can scuttle the planned events. The soldiers’ work has helped prevent a number of outdoor rave parties as well as several large weddings. In a few cases, social media posts tipped off the monitors to individuals who were breaking quarantine. These cases were also referred to the police.

The army says these methods are effective and have reduced the potential for transmission of the disease. But monitoring social media is a violation of privacy, part of the “slippery slope” many have warned about when the state introduces invasive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Amos Harel, Yaniv Kubovich)

2:25 P.M. Moderna says its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective

Moderna Inc said on Monday its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on interim data from a late-stage clinical trial, becoming the second U.S. company in a week to report results that far exceed expectations.

Together with , also shown to be more than 90% effective, and pending more safety data and regulatory review, the United States could have two vaccines authorized for emergency use in December with as many as 60 million doses of vaccine available by the year's end.

Israel has already signed a deal for one million vaccine doses from , valued at $238 million. It also signed  and .

SUNDAY

10:45 P.M. Education minister says 'high level of support' for return of older students to school

Israel’s Education Minister Yoav Gallant has said that he is close to securing approval for the reopening of schools for sixth to eleventh grade.

“I presented the clear fact to the coronavirus cabinet that opening up schools did not lead to an increase in the infection rate in the last month, both within the education system and among the public at large,” said the Likud lawmaker. 

He also said there is a “high level of support” for the bill to allow children from sixth to eleventh grade to return to school among the government. “This is a national priority,” he added, and said that a decision could be reached on Monday. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

9:45 P.M. Netanyahu instructs senior civil servants to formulate further restrictions

During Sunday's coronavirus cabinet session, the prime minister instructed the head of the National Security Council and other professional ministerial staff to come up with additional proposals for restrictions in order to continue to reopen the economy and education. 

Netanyahu said he expected the plans by Monday. (Noa Landau)

9:10 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet meeting ends without decision

The meeting of the coronavirus cabinet ended Sunday night after seven hours without coming to any decisions.

The cabinet was debating reopening additional grades in schools, the possibility of imposing lockdowns on cities with high infection rates, and the possibility of a nightly curfew in cities with moderately high infection rates. (Noa Landau)

8:05 P.M. Acting police commissioner goes into quarantine

Moti Cohen, the acting Israel Police chief, is in isolation after coming into contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient, a statement from the police said. 

Cohen will keep carrying out his duties during the quarantine period, which will end on November 21. (Haaretz)

8:00 P.M. Netanyahu says no decisions reached yet in coronavirus cabinet, debate will continue

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the coronavirus cabinet is continuing to debate the new regulations.

"I want to be sure that we will continue making the right decisions, with as much consensus as possible, in order to allow us to reopen the economy and education system without risking the health and the lives of Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said. 

"We've lowered the infection rate to one of the lowest in the Western world and I don't intend to wantonly give it up," Netanyahu said, asking Israeli citizens for their cooperation. (Noa Landau)

5:25 P.M. Arab cities go 'red' with high infection rates

Forty percent of new cases and 35 percent of active cases in Israel are in Arab cities, towns and villages, according to data published by the Arab Emergency Committee.

In the past week,1,750 new cases were diagnosed in Arab locales. This figure underestimates the true number of cases in the Arab population, as it does not include data from cities with a mixed Arab-Jewish population or places with less than 15 cases.

According to the committee, some 350 Arabs have died in Israel from COVID-19, representing 12.8 percent of the total deaths, although Arabs make up over 20 percent of the country's population.

Nazareth, Qalansawe and Iksal are now designated "red" coronavirus hotspots, followed by Rahat, Taibeh, and Kafr Qasem, which also have high rates of infection. (Jack Khoury)

5:00 P.M. Netanyahu says Pfizer deal is confidential

After Israel's Health Minister slammed the publication of partial details of the deal to procure vaccines from Pfizer and BioNtech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented that he was confident the deal was "very good."

“We are bound by confidentiality agreements and there are clauses that cannot be made public,” said Netanyahu. “If Pfizer delivers its vaccines to other countries, it will deliver it to us with the exact same thing.” 

Netanyahu called it a “very good” deal and investment, noting that “the price of an option is about a thousandth of the general expenses we’ve incurred from the coronavirus pandemic so far.”

, the deal is more of a statement of intent than a legally binding document. Failure to supply is possible in a case of an unexpected force majeure, or if Pfizer sells vaccines to a higher bidder. (Noa Landau)

4:00 P.M. National Security Council recommends nighttime curfew but opposition persists 

Israel's National Security Council is recommending a nighttime curfew from 8 P.M. until the following morning. This would mean businesses would be forced to close at 7 P.M.

Kahol Lavan remain opposed to the measure, along with the Health Ministry, which has argued that imposing nighttime curfews won’t help lower the number of new cases. The cabinet discussion on Sunday comes amid the sharpest increase in infection rates since September. (Noa Landau)

3.40 P.M. Nablus to introduce night curfew; Gaza goes into lockdown 

Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan has declared a full night curfew from 7 P.M. to 6 A.M. in the district from Monday to Saturday due to an alarming increase in the rate of infection and growing strain on hospital capacity.

The curfew will cover the city and the surrounding village for a total of 300,000 residents.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 144 of the 458 new cases in the West Bank in the last two days were concentrated in the city of Nablus. These numbers exclude East Jerusalem, which recorded 112 new cases. 

Before these statistics were released, 39 people were in a critical condition in the Palestinian territories, with 10 of them on ventilators. The PA is growing increasingly concerned they are losing control over the chain of infection and may not have the tools to curb the spread of the virus. 

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry in Gaza reported 406 new cases over the weekend, with the Interior Ministry announcing a lockdown beginning Sunday until further notice. The enforcement will be emphasized during the evening and will involve the closure of all government ministries and commercial businesses. (Jack Khoury)

2:38 P.M. Health minister slams leak of Pfizer deal details as 'serious crime'

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein slammed as "a serious crime" the leaking of details on the government's deal with Pfizer to buy its coronavirus vaccine. Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Edelstein said: "Someone passed on the details of the agreement with Pfizer, which is confidential. I have no doubt that this will make it more difficult for us to reach understandings with other companies" because they will be aware of what the deal with Pfizer contains.

Edelstein and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that the government had struck a deal with Pfizer. TheMarker subsequently reported that the deal contains dates and quantities, but does not include sanctions in case Pfizer does not deliver the goods. The agreement is more of a statement of intent than a legally binding document. Non-delivery could happen in case of an unexpected force majeure, or if Pfizer sells vaccines to a higher bidder. (Haaretz)

1:15 P.M. Eleven more die, bringing death toll to 2,732

According to Health Ministry figures released on Sunday morning, there were 164 new confirmed cases since Saturday evening and the number of active cases stood at 7,947. Eleven more people died, bringing the death toll to 2,732. There were 298 hospitalized in serious condition, including 129 on ventilators. Sunday saw 12,890 tests being conducted, with the proporition of positive tests being 2.3 percent. (Haaretz)

11:00 A.M. Rate of virus' spread climbs above 1 in first in almost two months

While the Israeli government discusses further steps to loosen restrictions, data show that the R-number, denoting the rate of the disease's spread, is continuing to climb and is now at 1.04 - the highest it has been since a large second wave swept Israel in September.

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to weigh the option of night curfews on Sunday, as it becomes apparent that further restrictions are needed to reign in the disease's spread. The Health Ministry, however, opposes a night curfew, arguing that it will not bring about a decline in new cases. (Ido Efrati)

SATURDAY

6:00 P.M. Four died of virus since Friday

According to Health Ministry figures, four people have died of the coronavirus since Friday, bringing the death toll of the disease to 2,720. Since Saturday, 573 people have tested positive for COVID-19, with 7,975 active cases in all. There are currently 294 patients in serious condition; 130 are on ventilators. 

FRIDAY

6:45 P.M. Israel to increase tests five-fold in attempt to curb 'concerning' rate of infection in Arab city of Kafr Qasem  

Israel wants to quintuple the number of coronavirus tests performed in the Arab city of Kafr Qasem, in order to stem rising morbidity in the community. 

Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash instructed local authorities to do their utmost to implement the policy as fast as possible.

Ayman Saif, the person responsible for the coronavirus response in the country's Arab community, who joined the Prof. Nachman Ash on a visit to the city on Saturday, said all must be done to prevent another lockdown in Arab towns. He expressed deep concern that the Arab community currently accounts for almost 50 percent of all new infections in the country. (Haaretz)

4:00 P.M. Active cases drop as hospitalizations and deaths rise 

The number of active cases in Israel continues to drop and stands at 7,848, according to figures released by the Health Ministry. Additionally, 549 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized, 303 of them in serious condition and 133 are on ventilators, a slight increase in all since Friday morning. 

Ten more coronavirus patients have died since Thursday, bringing the total death toll since the pandemic began to 2,716.

So far Friday, 324 new COVID cases were diagnosed. (Haaretz)

1:26 P.M. Netanyahu announces agreement with Pfizer on vaccine supply

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel has signed an agreement with Pfizer Inc. to supply its coronavirus vaccine as early as Januray 2021. “This is a great day for the State of Israel on our way to victory against the coronavirus,” he said at a press briefing at the Israeli army’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.

According to Netanyahu’s statement, should Pfizer’s vaccine pass all stages to trial and be approved, the U.S. company will provide 8 million doses. The vaccine requires two doses per person, and so 4 million Israelis should be able to get vaccinated.

The prime minister stressed that Israel has “more agreements with other companies… The aim is to allow all Israelis get vaccinated.”

He also called on people to remain cautious and diligent. “It will be a few months before we get the vaccine,” Netanyahu said. “We’re in this together, and we’ll come out of this together.” Health Minister Yuli Edelstain also urged Israelis “not to be complacent” and keep abiding by the government’s regulations, intended to curb the spread of the disease. (Ido Efrati)

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9 A.M. Number of active cases drops below 8,000

The number of active cases in Israel stands at 7,997, according to figures released by the Health Ministry, down slightly from Thursday. 508 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized, 293 of them in serious condition and 127 are on ventilators. 

Six coronavirus patients have died on Thursday, bringing the total death toll since the pandemic began to 2,706.

On Thursday, 833 new COVID cases were diagnosed and 40,031 tests were conducted, reflecting a positive rate of 2.1%. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

11:25 P.M. Health minister: Deal for millions of Pfizer vaccine doses to be signed Friday

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Thursday that the government would sign a deal the next day with Pfizer to buy enough doses of the company’s coronavirus vaccine for 4 million citizens. Use of the vaccine will only be possible following approval by the Health Ministry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer will begin supplying Israel with the vaccine in January. 

“Acquiring the vaccine is huge, wonderful news for the citizens of Israel,” Edelstein said. “The Health Ministry is making every effort to acquire different vaccines, so that every citizen can be vaccinated. But until that happens, we must follow the regulations.” (Ido Efrati)

11:18 P.M. Israel registers more than 700 new cases since Wednesday

The Health Ministry said that 742 new COVID cases have been diagnosed since Wednesday and that six more people have died of the virus.

As of Thursday evening, 298 patients are hospitalized in serious condition, out of which 133 are on ventilators.

The ministry added that that 26,146 coronavirus tests were conducted on Wednesday, and the rate of positive tests stood at two percent. (Haaretz)

7:20 P.M. Netanyahu: ‘Final obstacle’ removed for Israeli deal to buy Pfizer vaccine

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that “the final obstacle” to a deal with Pfizer to sell its coronavirus vaccine to Israel had been removed, adding that the country would begin receiving vaccine doses in January. The prime minister said the government was also working to get vaccines from other sources, as well. Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said he had spoken with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla in an attempt to work out a deal for purchasing the company’s vaccine. 

Pfizer announced earlier this week that its vaccine was effective in at least 90 percent of cases in its third stage of clinical trials. The trials are continuing, and the vaccine has not been approved for general use. Each vaccination will require two doses. According to Pfizer, its production ability for 2021 will be about 1.3 billion doses. (Noa Landau)

7:00 P.M. Labs begin pooling to increase testing capacity

Labs at Israeli health maintenance organizations began using a pooling strategy this week to conserve resources and increase testing capacity, three months after the Health Ministry granted approval to do so. 

The pooling strategy involves mixing eight test samples together in a batch. If a pooled test result is negative, then all the samples can be presumed negative. If positive, then all the specimens in the pool need to be retested individually. (Ido Efrati)

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1:45 P.M. Complaint against Supreme Court justice for large crowd at daughter's wedding thrown out

The Judicial Complaints Commissioner dismissed a complaint brought by right-wing activist Shai Glick against Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer on Thursday. 

Glick alleged that Melcer should be sanctioned for inviting seventy guests to his daughter's wedding, in contravention of coronavirus rules, which only allow for twenty indoors and thirty outdoors. Melcer defended himself, saying all been paying guests of the hotel and should therefore have been under the 35 percent attendance ratio of the establishment. He also said everything had been done in coordination with the Health Ministry hotline. 

Although the judge, Uri Shoham, said coronavirus regulations should be respected, especially by public officials, and that rules regarding weddings superseded rules regarding hotel attendance, he argued that Melcer's argument "could not be rejected." (Netael Bandel)

1:03 P.M. Netanyahu announces special committee on vaccines

The Israeli prime minister announced a special ministerial committee would be formed to deal with the provision and distribution of vaccines against COVID-19. 

The statement came as the interministerial committee to deal with the coronavirus - the so-called coronavirus cabinet - was about to meet. It follows an announcement earlier on Thursday that Netanyahu had brokered a deal with pharma giant Pfizer to access their vaccine, which is at the most promising stage of development. (Noa Landau

12:49 P.M. Gantz says his party will oppose night curfew

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said his party would oppose a proposal for a night curfew, meaning the chances of it being approved are close to nil.

Health Ministry officials also opposed the move, saying they saw no logic or benefit to the policy. A short-lived night curfew was imposed prior to the last lockdown, in an attempt to prevent a full closure in ultra-Orthodox cities.

Gantz was speaking to ministers from his faction while in Cyprus for a trilateral meeting with Greek and Cyrpiot defense ministers. The Kahol Lavan leader also said they would support reopening grades 5 and 6 in schools, as well as stores outside of malls in green cities.

He argued for the threshold to be reduced for lockdown in 'red' zones, where the rate of infection is high, while promising more support from the military. He also said the agreed hike in fines for not respecting regulations should be implemented as soon as possible. (Yaniv Kubovich, Noa Landau and Ido Efrati)

12:48 P.M. Israel weighs allowing short trips abroad, even to 'red' destinations

The Health Ministry is considering allowing Israelis who go on a short trip to countries classified as 'red,' where the rate of coronavirus infection is high, to be quarantined for five instead of 12 upon their return, sources told TheMarker.

According to the proposal, the trips would have to be for less than four days, and the shortened isolation period would be conditional on the traveller taking two tests upon their return – one at the airport, and one during qurantine – and both coming back negative.

As many countries also require testing prior to travel, this would mean three tests in less than 10 days.

The policy proposal has the support of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, as well as the ministry’s Director-General Chezy Levy and his deputy, Itamar Grotto. But other health officials are pushing back, and its fate is therefore still uncertain. (Hadar Kane)

12:44 P.M. Death toll hits 2,700 as active cases stabilize

The number of active cases stood at 8,105 on Thursday morning, up slightly since the last update. There were 564 coronavirus patients in hospital, 312 of them in serious condition, and 138 on ventilators. 

One person was registered as deceased since the last update - in all, 2,700 have died in Israel since the beginning of the outbreak, out of 321,684 who tested positive for COVID-19. (Haaretz)

12:22 P.M. Israel reduces quarantine period to 12 days

The quarantine period for people who have come into contact with known coronavirus patient, or who are returning from abroad, will be reduced to 12 days, down from a full two weeks, a Health Ministry statement said.

The policy will be applied retroactively to people currently in isolation, the statement added. 

People entering the isolation period will be required to register with health authorities, and perform two sanctioned coronavirus tests, one as soon as possible after entering isolation, and one ten days after entering the country or after the last contact with a known patient.

Only if both tests are negative will they then be issued with a certificate allowing them to come out of isolation after 12 days. (Ido Efrati

10:18 A.M. Eight lawmakers go into quarantine

Seven lawmakers joined Joint List Knesset Member Ofer Cassif into isolation, after coming into contact with Yamina's Matan Kahana, the Knesset spokesperson announced on Thursday. 

The list includes Naftali Bennet, a former defense minister who heads the far-right Yamina alliance, and has made recent gains in the polls. (Jonathan Lis)

8:45 A.M. Netanyahu hails significant progress in talks with Pfizer to obtain vaccine

A statement released by Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Thursday morning said that talks with pharma giant Pfizer, which announced it was in advanced stages of developing a vaccine for COVID-19, would result in a deal being signed in the coming days. 

The prime minister and Deputy Attorney General Roy Schöndorf, an international law expert, talked with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and the company's legal adviser overnight, "to remove all barriers and bureaucratic difficulties and sign an agreement," the statement said.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE are the first drugmakers to show successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine. Although the companies expect to seek U.S. emergency use authorization later this month, the vaccine itself is unlikely to be available before late 2021. (Noa Landau)

WEDNESDAY

11:30 P.M. Joint List lawmaker Ofer Cassif goes into quarantine

MK Ofer Cassif from the Arab-majority Joint List has gone into quarantine after coming into contact with another lawmaker, Yamina's Matan Kahana, during a committee meeting at the Knesset. 

The MK reported that he feels well and will continue working remotely. He also wished a speedy recovery to Kahana and all others who are suffering from the virus. (Jonathan Lis)

11:15 P.M. Active cases continue to drop, death toll rises

The Health Ministry said the COVID death toll rose to 2,699 as of Wednesday evening, and Israel has confirmed 321,326 cases, out of which 7,976 are active, 305 are in serious condition and 132 are on ventilators. (Haaretz)

10:30 P.M. Israel approves plan to reopen hotels in Eilat and Dead Sea

The Knesset plenum passed a law Wednesday that would allow hotels to reopen in the southern resort town of Eilat and near the Dead Sea. 

The law passed despite the revelation earlier Wednesday that fast testing centers that are meant to allow for the hotels to reopen would not be ready in the coming days.

According to the law, tourists will be required to provide proof that they have tested negative for the coronavirus in the 72-hours prior to their arrival in Eilat or at the Dead Sea. The measure is meant to allow for hotels in these area to open, all while abiding by Health Ministry guidelines. (Jonathan Lis)

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7:10 P.M. Netanyahu says 'convinced' Israel will secure COVID vaccine from Pfizer 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that he is negotiating with Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, to secure the coronavirus vaccine, adding that he is "convinced we'll complete the contract" with the company, who made the groundbreaking revelation that its experimental vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 based on initial data.

"I am constantly working to bring vaccines to Israel, and today I have an important message. I just finished a very warm and cordial conversation with Albert Burla, CEO of Pfizer ... We are negotiating with them."

The prime minister continued: "I asked to speak to him, he immediately replied. It turns out that Albert Burla is very proud of his Greek and Jewish origins from Thessaloniki, and he told me that he very much appreciates the cultivation of relations between Greece and Israel, which I have been leading in recent years." (Noa Landau)

7:10 P.M. Israelis barred from entering Area B due to coronavirus, beginning Thursday

The Israeli army announced Wednesday that Israelis will be barred from entering Area B of the West Bank starting Thursday as a precautionary measure to limit the coronavirus infection rate. (Haaretz)

7:00 P.M. Three Golan Heights villages marked 'restricted areas'

The Prime Minister's Office and the Health Ministry announced that three localities in the Golan Heights: Majdal Shams, Mas'ade and Buq'ata, will be marked as "restricted areas" due to the rise in COVID infection rate starting Thursday to Tuesday. (Noa Landau)

6:00 P.M. Plan to reopen some hotels derailed after fast testing stations not ready for action

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee found on Wednesday that the fast COVID testing system is not ready for full operation, which could jeopardize the implementation of a bill approved Tuesday that would allow hotels in Eilat and near the Dead Sea to reopen.

While reading the sections of the bill that require immediate tests for residents of Eilat and the Dead Sea and workers in these areas, Deputy Director of Public Health Services at the Health Ministry, Dr. Udi Kleiner, said that tests are available but will only be ready in a few days.

The idea of the bill is to create two isolated tourism regions, which together account for some 56 percent of Israel’s internal tourism, and to try to turn them into a coronavirus-free bubble – anyone entering the region undergoes a virus test before being permitted to stay at a hotel. Given that each region is accessible by a single road, this is a feasible task. 

The deputy spokesman for the Health Ministry said: "The Health Ministry was willing to take a certain risk and conditions were set that would really create a sterile “green” island. This is for the benefit of the vacationers and the residents of the city."

The committee's chairman, MK Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) said "This is the responsibility of the government, come up with solutions. We are told for three days that we are delaying. Take advantage of the break to find a solution, so that you do not have to stand in the studios to apologize to Eilat residents and committee members." (Jonathan Lis)

5:50 P.M. Right-wing Yamina lawmakers quarantined 

All right-wing Yamina alliance members who were present at a recent party meeting have been instructed to enter mandatory quarantine after MK Matan Kahana tested positive. (Jonathan Lis)

4:56 P.M. Right-wing lawmaker tests positive for coronavirus

Matan Kahana, a lawmaker from the right-wing Yamina alliance, announced he had contracted the virus and entered quarantine.

"I woke up today with a slight fever. After my COVID test came back positive, I entered self-isolation and will later undergo an epidemiological investigation," Kahana wrote on Twitter, adding that all those with whom he came into contact will be notified as required.

"Apart from a slight fever, I feel perfectly fine and will continue working while quarantined," Kahana added. (Haaretz)

4:19 P.M. Gantz slams Netanyahu's 'slow' response to rising incidence of illness

Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of a 'slow' response to the growing incidence of the coronavirus disease. 

"Netanyahu, we must convene the coronavirus cabinet as soon as this week and issue clear instructions for the public," Gantz wrote on Twitter.

"Last week, we decided to speed up the closure of 'red cities' [where infection rates are high] and differentiate them from 'green cities.'

"But this is not happening fast enough. We decided to raise the fines, and that too is yet to be implemented. We won't be able to improve enforcement and deterrence acting like this," Gantz wrote.  

The defense minister added that "This is why I demanded to hold a deliberation as soon as this week, so we could discuss the implementation of our decisions to curb rising infection rates and restore certainty to the public."

Gantz added that "We mustn't wait for next week, we have to take simple, clear and responsible decisions." (Haaretz) 

1:15 P.M. Israel to begin shortening quarantine to 12 days starting Thursday

The Health Ministry will begin a pilot program on Thursday for shortening the quarantine period from 14 days to 12. This trial is expected to last through December.

Those who want to finish quarantine after 12 days will have to test negative for the coronavirus in two separate tests, one at the beginning of isolation and the second towards the end.

The ministry announced its intention to shorten quarantine at the beginning of the month. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that "After a series of consultations with professionals, I have instructed to shorten quarantine to 12 days. Our goal is to allow maximum freedom with minimum risk to public health."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also holding a meeting Wednesday regarding the possibility of enforcing a nightly curfew in order to curb coronavirus infection. (Noa Landau and Ido Efrati)

12:00 P.M. Russia says its vaccine is 92 percent effective

A day after U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer touted the success of its potential coronavirus vaccine, Russia declared that its own Sputnik 5 vaccine is 92 percent effective against the virus.

According to a statement from the company that produced the vaccine, its high rate of effectiveness was evidenced by the intermediate findings of the vaccine's third phase of clinical testing.

An analysis of the data calculates that there were 20 cases of COVID-19 infection among trial participants. This means that a decisive majority of those who contracted the virus were part of the control group, who received the placebo rather than the vaccine. (Ido Efrati)  

TUESDAY

10:06 P.M. Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine progress is good news for the world, less so for Israel 

The news that sent stock markets soaring on Monday has two bottom lines for Israel. On the one hand, the vaccine being developed by Pfizer isn’t ready yet, but it certainly seems very promising; on the other hand, Israel needs to hope that it will actually reach a deal with Pfizer in order to actually buy some vaccines, hopefully by the second quarter of 2021.

None of this is certain yet. Pfizer is at the end of its stage 3 trials, the critical stage for receiving approval for its coronavirus vaccine. Stage 3 hasn’t finished yet because the results currently don’t meet the standards for statistical significance. Of the 30,000 people participating, half received the vaccine and half received a placebo injection. To date, 94 of them have caught the coronavirus. (Meirav Arlosoroff)

>> Click for the full analysis 

8 P.M. Knesset approves in first vote bill allowing ‘tourism islands’ after gov't strikes down similar proposal

The Knesset approved in a first vote a bill to reopen tourism in areas where COVID infection rates are low, after the government withdrew a similar bill on Monday.  

The bill, crafted by Kahol Lavan lawmaker Eitan Ginzburg, calls to establish “tourism islands” in Eilat and the Dead Sea, which both leading tourism destinations. The proposal debated by cabinet members was similar, but it was struck down after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein sought to limit it to these two areas alone.

Ginzburg’s bill would allow the government to extend exemptions to other tourist destinations. (Jonathan Lis)

6:56 P.M. One more Israeli dies of COVID, raising death toll to 2,681

The Health Ministry said one more person have died of the coronavirus, bringing Israel's COVID death toll to 2,681.

As of Tuesday evening, Israel has confirmed 320,515 cases, out of which 8,066 are active and 134 are on ventilators.

So far, 309,767 people have recovered from the virus. The ministry added that 35,210 coronavirus tests were conducted on Monday. (Haaretz)

6:06 P.M. Knesset panel votes for ‘tourism islands’ after cabinet strikes down similar proposal

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a bill to reopen tourism in cities and areas with low infection rates, defying the cabinet, which on Monday withdrew a similar bill. The bill will now go to a first of three parliament votes.

The bill, tabled by Kahol Lavan lawmaker Eitan Ginzburg, calls to establish “green islands” in Eilat and the Dead Sea, both leading tourism destinations. The proposal debated by cabinet members was similar, but it was struck down after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein sought to limit it to these two areas alone.

Ginzburg’s bill would allow the government to extend exemptions to other tourist destinations. (Jonathan Lis)

2:16 P.M. Netanyahu strikes optimistic tone on vaccines and ‘safely reconnecting Israel to the world’

In a conference with EU leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Pfizer's Monday announcement on a 90 percent effective vaccine calling it very big news for humanity but said It will take some time for victory over the coronavirus.

“I am working to bring as many vaccines as possible as soon as possible,” Netanyahu said. “There will be fierce competition” for vaccines. “We are a small country working in all channels and I am in front of the leaders of the producing countries to speed up the supply of vaccines to all citizens of Israel.”

The prime minister also welcomed the inauguration of the new coronavirus testing facilities at Ben-Gurion Airport for those departing and entering the country. “We are safely reconnecting Israel to the world,” he said. (Jonathan Lis)

12:30 P.M. Another company announces positive vaccine trials – and Israel has a deal with them

Arcturus Therapeutics, a U.S. biotech company with which Israel has signed an agreement to purchase coronavirus vaccines, announced on Monday preliminary “positive” results in the first and second stages of clinical trials of their coronavirus vaccine.

Some 106 people participated in their recent trial: 78 of them received one or two injections and 28 received a placebo. Preliminary results indicated an increase in antibody levels among the participants and the company reported that there were no serious side effects.

Despite the optimistic announcement, trials are not yet in advanced stages and the deal is contingent on certain interim goals being reached. The company expects to begin delivering the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021. (Sagi Cohen)

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11:15 A.M. Saeb Erekat dies at 65 after contracting COVID

Dr. Saeb Erekat, a prominent Palestinian negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, died Tuesday after contracting the coronavirus last month. He was 65 years old. (Jack Khoury)

11:05 A.M. 710 new cases diagnosed, positive test rate drops by 0.6%

There have been 710 new confirmed coronavirus cases since the last update on Monday night, bringing the number of active cases to 8,082, according to Health Ministry figures released Tuesday morning. There are 560 people are currently hospitalized, with 322 people in serious condition and 134 requiring ventilators. There have been no deaths since the last update. The overall death toll stands at 2,676. 4,304 tests have been performed since Monday night, and 1.3 percent were positive. A drop of 0.6 percent. (Haaretz)

MONDAY

11:15 P.M. Two more deaths in last update of the day

At the end of the day on Monday, the total death toll from coronavirus stood at 2,678. 

There are currently 8,010 active cases, 587 of them hospitalized, 333 in serious condition. Less than half of them, 143, are on ventilators. (Haaretz)

11:01 P.M. Travel: Denmark goes 'red,' China becomes 'green'

The Health Ministry announced on Monday that Denmark had been removed from its list of "green" countries, where the rate of coronavirus infection is considered low enough to allow Israelis to travel without having to quarantine upon their return. Denmark is now considered a "red" country: Returning passengers will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

As of Tuesday, China – where the pandemic began a year ago – will be added to the list of "green" countries. Israelis traveling there would not need to quarantine upon their return. 

China joins Australia, Uruguay, the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore, Fiji, Finland, Cuba, South Korea, Rwanda and Thailand. (The Marker)

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9:10 P.M. 543 new cases diagnosed, positive test rate stands at 1.9%

There have been 543 new confirmed coronavirus cases since Sunday, bringing the number of active cases to 7,945, according to Health Ministry figures released Monday. There are 586 people who are hospitalized, with 332 people in serious condition and 144 requiring ventilators. Two patients have died since Sunday, raising the overall death toll to 2,676. There have been 20,307 tests conducted since Sunday, and 1.9 percent were positive. (Haaretz)

8:30 P.M. Health minister halts vote for selective tourism reopening at last moment

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein withdrew legislation Monday night that would have declared Eilat and the Dead Sea area "green islands" whose tourism sector can reopen – at the very last moment, at the peak of its Knesset vote.

This came after Knesset members rejected proposed amendments that arose, which were intended to prevent other areas from being recognized as "islands." Eilat and Dead Sea hotels will now remain closed, despite promises from the government of a reopening (Jonathan Lis)   

7:09 P.M.Thousands break through police roadblocks to attend rabbis funeral in Jerusalem

Thousands attended the funeral in Jerusalem Monday of Rabbi David Feinstein, one of the most important Haredi rabbis in the United States, who died at age 91 on Friday.

Police set up roadblocks on the way to the Har Hamenuhot cemetery in an attempt to prevent a large gathering that would violate the coronavirus regulations, but the participants broke through the roadblocks.

A number of people accompanying the rabbi’s body on the way to the cemetery confronted police officers and caused damage to a police vehicle, and two of them were arrested, said police. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

5:30 P.M. Israel in talks with Pfizer on acquiring vaccine

Israel is in advanced stages of negotiations to secure the supply of a coronavirus vaccine with Pfizer Inc., who made the groundbreaking revelation on Monday that its experimental vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, based on initial data. 

Currently, Israel only has agreements with two drug companies developing coronavirus vaccines: Moderna, which is also in stage three testing, and Arcturus, which is still in the first stage.

The government has allocated a billion shekels ($297,604,000) towards acquiring vaccine doses, and already paid Moderna and Arcturus 405 million shekels. (Meirav Arlosoroff and Ronny Linder)

4:51 P.M. National Security Council warns of inadequate action against rising infections

The National Security Council warned the coronavirus cabinet on Monday that "the infection rate has returned and risen, and we are not responding to it at the speed that it demands." In a document sent to the cabinet's ministers, the council members recommended a number of steps that could help curb a renewed outbreak, such as a curfew, a weekend lockdown or localized lockdowns.

The council noted that more testing needs to be done, and that the Defense Ministry must quickly outline a policy for movement between Israel and the West Bank.

The council's warning comes the day after Dr. Sharon Elrai Price, the head of public health services, said that Israel may be headed toward a third lockdown in a month's time if the "unrestrained reopening of the economy" continues. In an interview with Kan Bet public radio, she warned that "If gatherings continue and if the cabinet continues to make decisions that go against the Health Ministry's recommendations, it can definitely lead to a situation where the outbreak gets out of control." (Noa Landau)

4:20 P.M. COVID-19 mink mutation unlikely to reach Israel, Health Ministry says

The coronavirus mutation discovered in mink in Denmark is unlikely to reach Israel, the Health Ministry said Monday. 

“At the moment, the number of cases of new mutation in all of Denmark is very low, and those who have caught it are in isolation,” the ministry said.

The Health Ministry also said it has prepared a list of everybody who has arrived in Israel from Denmark and has contacted them to ensure they are tested for the new mutation. They have been ordered to isolate until the test results are confirmed.

Denmark was also added to the list of ‘red’ countries, meaning that that anybody returning from the country will need to go into isolation.

However, Dr. Adi Stern of Tel Aviv University told Haaretz that information published by Denmark on the mutation “does not make it possible to gauge whether the changes to the virus make a difference to the virus’ ability to infect humans, the degree of danger it poses, or whether it will withstand vaccines in development today.” (Ido Efrati, Jonathan Lis and Asaf Ronel)

2:20 P.M. PM says light at the end of the tunnel is at sight

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is in talk with foreign leaders, including leaders of Arab states, to obtain millions of vaccines for distribution in Israel. "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Netanyahu during a Knesset meeting, "not in years but in months." (Noa Landau)

9:30 A.M. Israel registers 292 new cases Monday morning

According to data published by the Health Ministry, there are currently 8,004 active coronavirus cases in Israel. There are 330 patients in hospitalized serious condition and an additional 143 patients on ventilators. Ten people died on Monday, raising the death toll to 2,674. 

9:15 A.M. Israeli minister contracts COVID

Minister of Regional Cooperation Ofir Akunis said he tested positive for coronavirus on Monday. (Jonathan Lis)

SUNDAY

8:30 P.M. Health Ministry public health chief: Further reopening depends on lowering daily cases to 500

Sharon Elroi-Price, head of the Health Ministry's public health services division, said Sunday that the prospect of reopening more parts of the economy depends on reducing the number of daily confirmed new cases from around 650 to 500. The country's current R number – the average number of people each infected person will go on to infect – is close to one, up from about 0.6, which was expected but serves as a reminder that reopening should be done carefully, she said. (Ido Efrati)

4:55 P.M. Health Ministry deputy director-general resigns

Itamar Grotto, the deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, has submitted his resignation and asked his superiors to end his role at the end of the year, he said in a letter to staff on Sunday.

Within a matter of months, the top Health Ministry officials dealing with the coronavirus have been replaced. In May, Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov stepped down. In July, Siegal Sadetzki, the director of public health services at the Health Ministry, resigned, citing irreconcilable differences over policy in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Grotto and Sadetzki did not see eye to eye on some coronavirus-related issues, including the importance of the number of tests. Grotto took a more moderate view regarding the steps to be taken during the outbreak. There were more than a few claims that he was sidelined by decision makers for this reason. Grotto was dissatisfied both by his status in the crisis and by disregard for his professional professions. His role in allowing a billionaire to violate quarantine to attend an event took a heavy toll on Grotto and his public image.

Sources in the Health Ministry were not surprised by Grotto's resignation or its timing, and could not point to any specific event that caused it.

"At the end of a difficult and especially demanding year in which I served at the forefront of the battle against the coronavirus and worked tirelessly for the public's health, today I asked to end my role at the end of 2020 in order to rest a little and embark on a new path," Grotto wrote in a letter to ministry staff, adding that he believed in the importance of "injecting new blood into the public system.

"We have known arguments and disagreements, but above all these was everyone's shared, enormous desire to cope and to overcome all the difficulties along the way," he further wrote. "In the last year, the complex dynamic of the coronavirus made it difficult for us on our path, but I believe and know that at every stage, the professionals did their best. The road is still long and not easy, but I am certain that together, we will find the answers and solutions and learn to overcome this virus, just as we overcame its predecessors." (Ido Efrati)

12:29 P.M. Public health chief says 'unrestrained' reopening could lead to new lockdown in a month

Israel is under threat of a third lockdown as early as next month if the economy continues to open up, says Head of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Elrai Price. 

“If the coronavirus cabinet continues to make decisions that go against Health Ministry recommendations, the pandemic will get out of control,” she said in the interview with Kan Ben public radio, in which she criticized the opening of shops as “going against the Health Ministry’s exit strategy.”

Elrai Price said that the rate in which coronavirus carriers infect others "is rising at a very fast pace, and not just in one population or another, but across populations." She noted that among the non-Arab and non-Haredi populations, each patient infects an average of one other person; the coronavirus cabinet last month had decided that the next phase of reopenings would not occur until that number reached below 0.8.

Street shops opened on Sunday morning for this first time in around two months, following a decision by the coronavirus cabinet to loosen restrictions amid a decline in infections. The number of customers in each shop will be limited to four, and shops in coronavirus hotspots will remain closed, as will shops in large malls. (Ido Efrati)

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1:15 A.M. Israel records 547 new cases on Saturday

According to data published by the Health Ministry, as of Saturday night, there are 8,812 active cases, reflecting a daily increase of 547 new cases and a continued decline in the number of active cases over the weekend. Some 576 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized, with 325 of them in serious condition and 143 on life support.

Since the virus reached Israel earlier this year, 318,949 people have been confirmed infected and 2,664 people have died. (Haaretz)

SATURDAY

11:30 P.M. Street shops to open Sunday

Street shops will open Sunday morning, following a decision by the coronavirus cabinet to loosen restrictions amid a decline in infections. The number of customers in each shop will be limited to four, and shops in coronavirus hotspots designated "red" will remain closed, as will shops in large malls.

Regulations will also be relaxed for bed and breakfasts, which will now be allowed to operate up to six rooms or cabins housing no more than one household. (Ido Efrati)

FRIDAY

7:00 P.M. Israel to impose stricter COVID-19 restrictions on two towns

Tighter restrictions will be imposed on the Druze village of Buq'ata and the ultra-Orthodox town of Hatzor HaGlilit, the Prime Minister's Office and Health Ministry announced on Friday. 

In Buq'ata – the third Druze community to be declared as a restricted zone after Majdal Shams and Masadeh – the stricter restrictions will go into place on Saturday at 8:00 A.M. and will last until Thursday at the same time. In Hatzor HaGlilit, the restrictions will span from Sunday at 4 P.M. and continue until Friday at 4 P.M. (Noa Shpigel)

10:25 A.M. Active cases drop below 9,000

Israel has confirmed 584 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number since the outbreak began to 318,111. However, according to the Health Ministry, only 8,958 of them are considered active.

549 patients are currently hospitalized, with 327 of them in serious condition and 147 on life support. 

2,639 COVID-19 patients have died so far. (Haaretz)

10:22 A.M. First- and second-grade classes to merge

The Health Ministry is withdrawing its demand that first and second grade classes be split into capsules in order to enable fifth and sixth graders to return to school, and says the change is contingent upon carefully maintaining the same class groupings in the afternoon programs. On Thursday the Finance Ministry and the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel announced they would fund the plan.

Canceling the division of first and second grade classes into smaller groups will free up classrooms for fifth and sixth graders. The change could go into effect in 10 days depending on the coronavirus infection rate and pending cabinet approval. The Health Ministry did not explain the health-related considerations behind the decision. (Noa Shpigel and Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

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5:31 A.M. Israel sees dramatic rise in suicide attempts during second lockdown

A few days before the second lockdown began being lifted in mid-October, a message appeared on the screen at Eran, Israel’s emotional first aid service.

“I attempted suicide a few minutes ago,” it said. The writer, a man in his 40s, continued sending messages. “I’ve despaired of life,” he wrote, noting that he felt like “such a big failure” that “I can’t even succeed in killing myself.”

The operator supported him for reaching out while alerting police and first aid services. They found the man before another suicide attempt and he is being treated by social services.

During both lockdowns, Eran volunteers received more than 70,000 calls, a total of 40,779 calls, more than 1,500 of them suicidal. (Lee Yaron)

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