Coronavirus Quarantine Facilities in Israeli ultra-Orthodox City Reach Full Capacity

Police say easing restrictions makes enforcement harder ■ 13,654 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, 309 in West Bank and 15 in Gaza ■ Cabinet approves fine for not wearing a mask in public ■ No Ramadan prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque

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A woman wearing a mask walks by the beach in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2020.
A woman wearing a mask walks by the beach in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
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Haaretz

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Bibi's got the perfect exit strategy - just not for the coronavirusCredit: Haaretz

As the highly contagious coronavirus spreads around the world, Israel and the Palestinians struggle to contain a local outbreak that has virtually halted daily life and led to tens of thousands of people entering quarantine.

■ 13,654 Israelis have so far tested positive for the coronavirus; 173 people have died. In the West Bank, 307 cases have been diagnosed so far. Two have died. In Gaza, 15 cases have been diagnosed. Coronavirus tracker: Live statistics of cases and deaths in Israel and worldwide

■ The Israeli government approved a series of steps to ease the lockdown restrictions, including allowing group prayer, partial reopening of the economy and certain stores, and fines for not wearing masks in public. Read the full guidelines

■ The government has approved a partial lockdown on the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, a coronavirus hotspot, as well as a curfew on Jerusalem neighborhoods with a high infection rate. 

UPDATES

9:22 A.M. Israel Health Ministry releases updated figures, 13,654 confirmed cases, 173 dead

The newest figures released by the ministry confirmed 163 more cases of coronavirus infection, up to 13,654. One more person died since the last update, released on Sunday night, bringing the total death toll to 173.

150 patients are in serious condition and 114 on respirators, while 3,872 have recovered. 

7:45 A.M. Two more people test positive for coronavirus in Gaza

A couple who returned to the Gaza Strip on April 15 through the Rafah Crossing with Egypt and were since kept in quarantine were diagnosed with COVID-19.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 15, out of which 8 have recovered. There are major concerns over the possibility of an outbreak in the coastal enclave. (Jack Khoury)

SUNDAY

10:38 P.M. Ministerial committe to recommend expanding role of Shin Bet

The ministerial committe examining the role played by the police and Shin Bet in containing the coronavirus outbreak will likely recommend expanding the authority of the Shin bet security service.

The committe, comprised of four ministers from Netanyahu's Likud party, will recommend the prime minister to task the Shin Bet with increased monitoring of areas of infection.

In addition, the committee will recommend ordering all citizens to download a Helath Ministry mobile app that crosses users' location data with routes of confirmed patients. (Noa Landau) 

9:41 P.M. Police not enforcing regulations on wearing masks 

The police have yet to enforce the order on wearing face masks as it is having trouble formulating a clear protocol. According to regulations, people must wear a mask outdoors and in public transportation but the 200 shekels fine will be levied after a one-time warning. Additionally, people doing sports are not required to wear a mask.

The Public Security Minister noted that the new regulations are difficult to enforce - particularly the limitation on venturing more than 100 meters from one's home. The public is allowed to venture further than 100 meters if doing sports or shopping for essentials, an exception that Minister Gilad Erdan said creates a loophole in enforcement. 

9:35 P.M. ICU doctor infected with coronavirus

A doctor in the Intensive Care Unit at HaEmek Medical Center in the Galilee tested positive for COVID-19. The ward's staff will be tested for the virus and an epidemiological investigation will locate others who were in contact with the doctor, according to a statement by the hospital. (Noa Shpigel) 

9:17 P.M. Coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 13,491

Israel's number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by less than 2 percent in 24 hours to 13,491. The number of deaths stands at 172 while the number of patients in serious condition and those intubated decreased. A total of 3,754 people have recovered.  

7:22 P.M. Turkey has most coronavirus cases outside Europe and U.S.

Turkey's confirmed coronavirus cases have risen to 86,306, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Sunday. An increase of 3,977 cases in the last 24 hours lifted Turkey's confirmed tally above that of China.

Koca said 127 more people have died, taking the death toll to 2,017 and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours came to 35,344, the minister said.

Turkey only reported its first coronavirus patient on March 10, but has seen the number of confirmed cases rise sharply since then. It now has the seventh-highest total in the world. So far it has tested more than 634,000 people. (Reuters)

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5:55 P.M. Quarantine facilities in Israeli ultra-Orthodox city at full capacity

A source in the Bnei Brak municipality said there is no more room in the city's quarantine facilities for patients ill with coronavirus. Some 680 patients out of 2,300 diagnosed in the city were transferred to such facilities in past weeks. (Bar Peleg)

5:29 P.M. False positives detected in repeat tests

Twenty-nine people from a nursing home in Ashkelon were found to be negative for coronavirus after initially testing positive. The group had to be tested again because the positive results were borderline, and have been in isolation in the nursing home since. Last week, over a dozen elderly people were hospitalized in coronavirus wards and then found to have received false positives. 

The false positives were diagnosed in Poriya Hospital, which continues processing tests and has ruled out the possibility that lab equipment was contaminated. (Almog Ben Zikri)

4:39 P.M. A third of testing in Israel to be conducted in nursing homes

One third of coronavirus tests in Israel will be allocated to nursing homes, according to Health Ministry official Ronny Gamzo, who said he will resign after submitting to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his plan for tackling the health crisis in old age homes.

The proposed plan recommends increasing testing in nursing homes, establishing separate coronavirus wards for the elderly and raising wages for nursing staff, in addition to government support for assisted living institutions so they will not collapse financially. 

Gamzo added that he will likely recommend allowing family visits in nursing homes if residents experience distress. (Bar Peleg)

2:48 P.M. Israel police say over 900 people violating quarantine located through cellphone tracking

The police have so far located 920 individuals who violated quarantine by tracking their cellphones, data presented by the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee shows.

According to the data, 43 percent of those who violated self-isolation returned home after being cautioned by the police, 24 percent said their current home address wasn't updated with the Health Ministry, nine percent claimed that they ended their required two-week period of quarantine and eight percent were diagnosed as coronavirus patients and were sent for treatment. (Haaretz)     

2:27 P.M. EU mission to Israel to provide hundreds of food stamps amid coronavirus crisis

The European Union delegation to Israel and the Tel Aviv Municipality said they would provide hundreds of families with food stamps to help them deal with the economic duress inflicted by the coronavirus crisis.

The EU and the Tel Aviv Municipality will invest 20,000 Euros each in implementing the initiative.    

The move will support elderly people, Holocaust survivors, at-risk women, including domestic violence victims and women working in prostitution, at-risk populations, asylum-seekers and Jaffa’s Arab community. (Bar Peleg)

2:14 P.M. Health Ministry source says false-positive coronavirus tests performed at Poriya Hospital

A Health Ministry source told Haaretz that the coronavirus tests given to residents of the Zahavit assisted living facility were performed at a laboratory at Poriya Hospital in Tiberias. The source said that it remains unclear why the tests produced false-positive results, and that the lab responsible for them has been temporarily shut. (Almog Ben Zikri )

12:43 P.M. Top Health Ministry official rules out sports tournaments in next six months

Health Ministry Deputy Director General Prof. Itamar Grotto said that his “Personal stance is that sports tournaments should be banned for at least six months,” as Israel battles to contain the coronavirus.

Grotto spoke before the Knesset coronavirus committee in charge of monitoring the coronavirus crisis, which discussed Sunday ways to rehabilitate Israeli sports. After sparking harsh criticism, Grotto restricted his comments to contact sports.

Ofer Shelah, chairman of the Knesset coronavirus committee, opposed the move, saying: “These measures are too extreme and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the mental and physical damages caused by the lack of physical activity.” (Itamar Katzir)

11:40 29-year-old woman with underlying condition dies of coronavirus

A 29-year-old woman who suffered from a terminal illness passed away after contracting the coronavirus, Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem said in a statement.(Aaron Rabinowitz)  

11:23 A.M. Six more cases diagnosed in West Bank

A woman who lives near Ramallah and five of her family members tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. This raises the total number of cases in the Palestinian Authority to 307. (Jack Khoury)

10:08 A.M. Israeli Interior Minister meets Arab representatives ahead of Holy month of Ramadan

Interior Minister Arye Dery has met representatives from Israel's Arab community to discuss ways to manage the upcoming holy month of Ramadan in ways that limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The holy month will begin on the evening of April 23 and normally entails large gatherings of people in mosques and houses. Dery emphasized the need for more effective enforcement of Health Ministry regulations in Arab communities and suggested moving those ill with the coronavirus to facilities run by Israel’s Home Front Command.

“We should strive to remove as many patients as possible to protect families and surroundings,” Dery said at the meeting, which also included Knesset members and Interior Ministry officials.

“We are at the eve of Ramadan, a month when it is crucial to apply regulations more vigorously,” he concluded. (Jack Khoury)

10:08 A.M. Israel's confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 579 in Israel’s Arab community

The number of coronavirus confirmed cases in Israel’s Arab community reached 579, not including communities with a mixed Jewish-Arab population and East Jerusalem, data shoes. (Jack Khoury)

9:09 A.M. Coronavirus death toll in Israel reaches 171

Israel’s Health Ministry said that 171 people have died from the coronavirus, as the number of cases climbing to 13,361. Of those, 109 are on ventilators, and 3,564 have recovered so far. (Haaretz)

8:34 A.M. One nursing home sees 18th fatality 

An 85-year-old woman with severe underlying conditions died from the coronavirus, bringing the death toll in one nursing home to 18. (Noa Spiegel)

7:15 A.M. Israeli government approves easing coronavirus regulations

The government approved Sunday morning a series of easements in coronavirus restrictions, including raising the workforce in the private sector to 30 percent from 15 and partially reopening stores.

In addition, as of Sunday people will be allowed to pray in groups of 19 in an open space, and not in groups of 10, as was announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday. The move was initiated by Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich.   

Furthermore, prayers are allowed to be held in a 500-meter radius of the worshippers’ home or workplace. Physical activity is also permitted up to 500 meters from home for couples residing in the same household. Leaving the house for other purposes is still restricted to a 100-meter radius from home.

Moreover, people not wearing a protective mask in open spaces will be handed a 200-shekel fine, down from 500 shekels as was suggested on Saturday. Public Security Gilad Erdan initiated the reduction of the penalty.

Erdan also suggested to limit the number of people allowed to participate in a protest, but Netanyahu objected to the proposal, saying it would like infringement on the right to demonstrate.

All cabinet ministers voted in favor of the new regulations, excluding Zeev Elkin who opposed after his proposal to financially compensate parents of small children who are forced to stay at home since the education system hasn’t yet resumed full activity was rejected.

Weddings and circumcision ceremonies will be held in open spaces with the attendee of up to 10 people and while maintaining a two-meter distance between each participant.

Special educations students will go back to school in groups of up to three children.      

A joint team including a Finance Ministry official and the director general of the Prime Minister's Office will examine the implementation of the easements in the public sector, so that public servants could gradually return to work. the new regulations will be in effect until May 3. (Noa Landau)

SUNDAY

11:45 P.M. Police: Easing restrictions makes it harder to enforce ban on leaving to public spaces 

Israel Police say the easing that the government is expected to approve soon renders the ban on going to public places "unenforceable" - according to a legal advice document for the force reached by Haaretz. In the document, the police commented on the regulations, including the intention to allow shopping and sports activity without area limitation, which will make it harder to limit public activity. 

11:30 P.M. Health Ministry deletes presentation it sent listing easements of measures 

The Health Ministry deleted the presentation it distributed earlier on its Telegram channel, which listed the easing on coronavirus measures expected to be approved by the government. The presentation was disseminated after the press conference by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, although the easement has not yet been approved at the government. (Haaretz)

11:30 P.M. Turkey's coronavirus cases overtake Iran, highest in Middle East

Turkey's confirmed coronavirus cases have risen to 82,329, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Saturday, overtaking neighbouring Iran for the first time to register the highest total in the Middle East.

An increase of 3,783 cases in the last 24 hours also pushed Turkey's confirmed tally within a few hundred of China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged.

Koca said 121 more people have died, taking the death toll to 1,890. A total of 1,822 people have recovered from coronavirus so far, and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours came to 40,520, the minister said.

The Interior Ministry also said it was extending restrictions on travel between 31 cities for a further 15 days starting at midnight on Saturday. (Reuters)

11:00 P.M. Interior minister urges removal of Arab coronavirus patients from their homes 

Interior Minister Arye Dery urged the immediate removal of coronvirus patients and those in isolation in the Arab community from their homes and place them in hotels under the supervision of the Home Front Command, his office said. According to the announcement, Dery said this during a Zoom conversation with Arab MKs and leaders, including Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, and Interior Ministry officials, in order to prepare for Ramadan during the crisis. (Aaron Rabinowitz) 

10:50 P.M. Ministers demand voting on easing restrictions by clause

In light of disgreement on certain regulations, such as limiting the public to 500 meters from the home when stores are open and issuing a 500 shekel fine for not weaing a mask in public, ministers demanded that voting to approve new regulations would be done one clause at a time.

As of Saturday evening, a time for the cabinet to deliberate and vote on approving the new regulations has yet to be set. (Noa Landau)

9:15 P.M. Netanyahu announces easing of restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Saturday a series of easements in coronavirus restrictions as of Sunday, including raising the workforce in the private sector to 30 percent from 15 and allowing the high-tech sector to extend its activity, so long as businesses can follow Health Ministry directives.

However, these have yet to have been approved by the government.

Netanyahu said that stores that operate in an open space, as opposed to shopping centers, would also be allowed to open.

People would be allowed to pray in groups of ten in an open space, and physical activity of up to 500 meters outside the home is permitted for couples residing in the same household.

Special education will resume activity in groups of up to three children, and groups of three families would be permitted to operate a joint daycare. 

All new regulations are pending government approval, and will be voted on Saturday overnight. (Noa Landau)

8:08 P.M. Netanyahu, Health Ministry director to give statement at 9:00 P.M.

Prime minister is expected to announce some easement in restrictions on the public and the economy.

On Thursday, Netanyahu outlined the regulations that will be brought before the government for approval. Businesses will be gradually allowed to open, according to Health Ministry guidelines. Israelis will also be able to venture 500 meters away from their homes, up from 100 meters, while pupils in special education that benefit from private classes will be able to resume school.

Kindergartens, schools and retail stores will likely not be allowed to reopen at this time.

The prime minister said changes to the plan might occur as officials from various ministries prepare detailed procedures for business operations, and which sectors of activity are included in the pilot. (Noa Landau)

8:02 P.M. Coronavirus cases reach 13,265, death toll rises to 164

Of those sick, 113 are breathing with the aid of ventilators. So far, 3,456 people have recovered.

7:13 P.M. Weizmann Institute of Science accuses Health Ministry of misreading tests

Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science issued a statement saying it did not make mistakes in coronavirus testing procedures as was previously claimed. Referring to the 50 people who received false positive results, the Institute said this was due to misreading of the tests on the part of the Health Ministry. 

Testing was suspended at Weizmann after at least sixteen of those given wrong test results were hospitalized in coronavirus wards, dangerously exposing them to the virus for several days. But the Institute now calls on the ministry to resume cooperation in testing. 

According to the statement, only a part of the controversial tests came from the Weizmann Institute and they were interpreted as positive by the Health Ministry, which errs on the side of caution and marks borderline test results as positive. 

The ministry responded to the statement by saying it continues to work in coordination and cooperation with the Weizmann Institute “in order to succeed in their joint national mission.” (Ido Efrati)

6:50 P.M. Health Ministry says it carried out 9,950 on Friday

Israel's Health Ministry said it carried out 9,950 tests for the coronavirus on Friday. This week, for the first time, the ministry fulfilled its target to test 10,000 people a day. (Ido Efrati) 

05:13 P.M. Israeli man dies in Tel Aviv, raising death toll to 159

A 82-year-old Israeli man has passed away at Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. The total death toll in Israel now stands at 159. The man is yet another patient to die after being transferred to hospital from a nursing home. About a third of the fatalities in Israel originate from elderly care facilities. Specifically, the man is the fourth person from the Bayit Balev facility in Bat Yam to die of the coronavirus. (Bar Peleg and Ido Efrati)

02:22 P.M. Christian Orthodox Easter ceremony takes place in Jerusalem

The Holy Fire ceremony, which symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection, took place in a deserted Jerusalem on Saturday. It is usually attended by crowds of Orthodox Christian pilgrims. Ten empty planes landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Saturday in preparation for the ceremony. The sacred fire was taken out of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and brought to the airport in a police convoy to be flown out to Orthodox worshippers across the world. (Nir Hasson)

12:22 P.M. Number cases in Israeli Arab towns increases to 566

A committee that deals with emergencies in the Arab community, and monitors health data in these communities, said that so far 546 cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed in these communities, not including mixed cities and East Jerusalem. This is an increase of 41 from the previous day. The committee noted that the cumulative increase in virus cases in the Israeli Arab community over the past week was 75%.

According to the data, there are 72 cases of the virus in Deir al-Assad, while in Umm al-Fahm, there number of cases stands at 58. In Jisr a-Zarqa there are 38 cases of the virus, in the Bedouin city of Rahat there are 36 and 28 in the village of Daburia. (Jack Khoury)

12:04 P.M. 300 people diagnosed with virus in West Bank

The number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus in the West Bank has increased to 300 patients, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The death toll stands at 13. Of the 300 residents of the West Bank diagnosed, 52 who have already recovered.

In Gaza, 8 of the 13 people diagnosed with the virus have recovered. (Jack Khoury)

11:26 A.M. First East Jerusalem resident dies of virus

A 78-year-old resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah died overnight Saturday of the coronavirus at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. The woman, who had prexisting conditions, is the first resident of East Jerusalem to pass away from the virus. 

According to Munir al-Aul, a member of Isawiyah's emergency committee, five people hav been diagnosed with the virus in the village, with 118 cases being diagnosed and 118 being diagnosed across all East Jerusalem neighborhoods. (Jack Khoury)

10:50 A.M. Iran lets some Tehran businesses reopen after virus lockdown

Iran allowed some businesses in the capital and nearby towns to re-open Saturday after weeks of lockdown aimed at containing the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.

Iran was slow to respond to the pandemic and held off on imposing widespread restrictions even after other countries in the region with far fewer cases forced most businesses to close. Iran has reported more than 80,000 confirmed cases and over 5,000 deaths.

Gyms, restaurants, shopping malls and Tehran's grand bazaar will remain closed. Shrines and mosques are also shuttered, and a ban on public gatherings remains in place. Government offices have reopened with a third of employees working from home, and schools and universities are still closed. (The Associated Press)

10:14 A.M. Virus patients at one Israeli hospital are not dying alone

Elisheva Stern's father, Simha Benshai, 75, died at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center, which offers the next of kin of dying coronavirus patients the rare opportunity to say goodbye in person.

“None of us want to say bye to the people who we love. But I’m actually happy that they gave me the opportunity to say bye to my father,” said Stern. “I was able to see him and to tell him I’m sorry and I love him."

The practice is in contrast to many hospitals around the world that don't allow final family visits as a precaution against spreading the highly contagious virus. That leaves patients to die alone and forces families to grieve from afar.

Recognizing this peculiar tragedy wrought by the virus, Sourasky Medical Center officials opted to spare much-needed protective gear, take careful measures to ward off infection and offer grieving families a chance to say goodbye. (The Associated Press)

9:48 A.M. Number of Israelis diagnosed with virus 13,107; death toll at 158

The number of Israelis who have the coronavirus is 13,107, with 167 of those in a severe condition and 118 on ventilators, according to figures realsed by the Health Ministry. 158 people have died from the virus.

9:11 A.M. Police set up roadblocks to enforce closure of Arab towns

In order to enforce traffic restrictions in the Arab towns of Deir al-Asad and Beineh, eight roadblocks manned by police have been set up in these towns, according to a police statement.

The police said in a statement that they, along with Magen David Adom emergency services, are encouraging residents of these towns diagnosed with the coronavirus to go to designated coronavirus hotels.

8:31 A.M. Two more Israelis die of virus 

An 89-year-old woman and a 77-year-old man, both with preexisting conditions, have passed away from the coronavirus. (Ido Efrati, Noa Shpigel)

8:13 A.M. Closure of Arab towns begins to curb virus' spread

The closure of two Arab Israeli towns in the Galilee began at 8:00 A.M. Saturday. Police have been deployed in Deir al-Asad and Beineh. The police are in contact with the Home Front Command about the enforcement of the closure, saying that no soldiers are present beyond the Home Front Command.

Exit and entry will not be permitted to the towns, except for permit holders, for urgent and humanitarian cases and for those holding special permits. Further, only essential workers will be permitted into the town, while foreign residents will not be permitted to enter.

Police said the decision to close the towns was made a week just before the beginning of Ramadan, giving rise to concerns about food shortages, and that many people will want to buy food. Police will therefore also be present at supermarkets and food stores, mainly at entrances. (Jack Khoury)

SATURDAY

11:20 P.M. Government approves closure on Arab town following spike in coronavirus cases

Israel approved a week-long curfew for the town of Deir al-Asad in the Galilee, after the number of confirmed coronavirus cases doubled in 24 hours. On Sunday, the town had only one confirmed case of the coronavirus. On Friday, the total had risen to 62. (Noa Landau)

10:21 P.M. Israel debates closure on Arab town in Galilee

The cabinet is set to debate imposing a full closure on Deir al-Asad in the Galilee, to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Deir al-Asad has 62 coronavirus cases. Yesterday, there were 31 confirmed cases in the town. According to a draft of the proposal, the rate of illness over the past three days has increased 589 percent. Relative to the population of the town, Deir al-Asad has 504 cases per hundred thousand residents.

The draft said that during the proposed closure, Homefront Command would distribute food and goods to the population.

According to the proposal, the government's criteria for imposing a closure on a town is at least 50 cases of COVID-19, a high rate of new infections, and a high rate of illness relative to the general population – which currently stands at 159 per hundred thousand.

The closure would be similar to the closures imposed on ultra-Orthodox coronavirus hot spots in Bnei Brak and specific neighborhoods in Jerusalem. 

The cabinet is set discuss the matter at 10:30 P.M..

9:01 P.M. 70-year-old woman dies from coronavirus in Tel Aviv hospital (Bar Peleg)

8:32 P.M. Israel mulls allowing group prayer

As a result of public pressure, the Israeli government is considering allowing groups of up to 10 people to pray in an open space if maintaining a two meter distance from one another.

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined an exit strategy to be approved by government on Saturday night,

Under the proposal, some businesses will be gradually allowed to reopen in keeping with health guidelines. Israelis will be able to venture 500 meters away from their homes. Kindergartens, schools and retail stores will not reopen at this stage. (Noa Landau)

8:08 P.M. Number of confirmed cases in Israel rises to 12,982

12,982 people tested positive for coronavirus in Israel and 151 have died, according to data released by the Health Ministry. The number of cases rose by less than 2 percent in 24 hours. However, the number of deaths rose by more than 6 percent. 

7:56 P.M. Israel purchases serological tests

Israel purchased 2.4 million serological tests, valued at 110 million shekels ($30 million). The tests, manufactured by Abbott and Diasorin, were purchased prior to FDA approval.

7:50 P.M. Testing suspended in lab that gave false positives

The Health Ministry suspended testing in the Weizmann Institute of Science after the lab misdiagnosed thirteen people in a geriatric hospital who were then hospitalized and wrongfully exposed to the virus.  A source in the Health Ministry said the samples were contaminated in the lab. The institute stated that the results were borderline and thus determined to be positive according to protocol. (Ido Efrati)

7:34 P.M. Cardiology ward was exposed to coronavirus

The cardiac surgery ward in Haifa's Rambam Hospital will be quarantined after it was discovered that a confirmed coronavirus patient had stayed there last week. (Noa Shpigel)

7:30 P.M. Israeli defense official: Palestinian leaders are blaming Israel for spreading coronavirus

Israel's liaison to the Palestinians condemned claims by West Bank officials that Israeli soldiers are "spreading the virus by spitting on car windshields." The head of the Government Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said the claims "are racist against Israel and the Jewish people." He threatened the Palestinian leadership that there will be consequences if they don't renege on the statements. (Yaniv Kubovich and Hagar Shezaf)   

7:13 P.M. Israel reports increase in coronavirus testing

Nearly 12,000 coronavirus tests were conducted in Israel Thursday, according to the Health Ministry.  

5:36 P.M. Minister presents plan to reopen yeshivas

Interior Minister Arye Dery presented the government with a plan Thursday to reopen large yehsivas with dormitories if these can committ to closing their doors for two months. (Aaron Rabinowitz) 

5:00 P.M. 90-year-old woman dies from coronavirus in Tel Aviv hospital (Bar Peleg)

4:30 P.M. Israel imports Chinese testing lab

A coronavirus testing lab by the Beijing Genomics Institute will be brought to Israel by the end of next week, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced.

According to the ministry statement, it was Israel's ambassador in China Nir Hefetz who came to the agreement with BGI. The lab will be capable of processing 12,000 samples a day. (Noa Landau)

2:30 P.M. Fourteen Israeli elders falsely test positive for virus, hospitalized at coronavirus units

Fourteen elderly Israelis were falsely tested positive for coronavirus and placed at several hospitals, directly exposing them to the virus for several days and prompting them to enter isolation. The elders initially tested positive for the virus while presenting no symptoms, and were tested again and found to be negative following suspicion of false results, only after they had been placed in coronavirus units at several hospitals. (Ronny Linder)

1:33 P.M. Death toll from coronavirus rises to 149

A 93-year-old woman from Jerusalem died in Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on Friday. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

1:30 P.M. ultra-Orthodox, Arab cities lead in infection rate within households

Ultra-Orthodox and Arab cities have the highest rate of coronavirus infections within family households, according to Health Ministry data released Friday, which reiterates Haaretz data reported this week.

According to the data, correct as of April 13, about 65% of patients in the ultra-Orthodox city Elad come from households with two or more sick people. In Bnei Brak and Beitar Illit, about 55% of patients come from households with two or more cases. Jerusalem and Modi'in Illit with about 45% household infection. In some Arab communities, the percentage of infections in families with two patients and above crossed 70%.

According to the data, when examining homes with five patients or more, the differences between Arab and ultra-Orthodox cities and other cities are even more pronounced. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

12:00 P.M. Ministers discuss making Health Ministry app mandatory

Israel's coronavirus emergency committee ministers discussed Thursday making downloading the Health Ministry's phone application mandatory for all citizens during the crisis. The application alerts citizens if they come in contact with a confirmed patient. No decision has been made on the matter yet, and it will be subject to the approval of the attorney general. (Noa Landau)

11:30 A.M. Six Israelis die overnight, bringing coronavirus death toll to 148

A 76-year-old and 84-year-old both with underlying medical conditions, as well as a 96-year-old Jerusalem resident, a 66-year-old Haifa resident and a 91-year-old died Friday overnight after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, bringing Israel's total death toll to 148. (Bar Peleg, Aaron Rabinowitz and Noa Shpigel)

11:00 A.M. Israel mass-producing reusable masks to fit kids and beards

Israel is heading off shortages of disposable surgical masks during the coronavirus crisis by mass-producing washable versions sized to fit everyone from children to bearded men who shun shaving due to their religion.

As part of stepped-up precautions against the virus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Sunday made it compulsory for Israelis to cover their mouths and noses while in public.

But the global crunch on medical kit has made single-use masks scarce or overpriced. After sending Mossad spies to hunt for supplies abroad and permitting Israelis to opt for scarfs or other makeshift masks, the government turned to local expertise.

The result is a mask made of high-density cotton similar to bedsheet material, which can be disinfected with a 60 degree Celsius laundry cycle and reused, potentially for weeks.

Around 10 workshops - including in jails - on around-the-clock shifts have made the first million masks for the emergency services and high-risk groups, said Amit Ben-Kish, a manager of the project sponsored by the health and defence ministries.

While the state covered that initial cost, the plan is to produce further masks for sale in shops at around $2 each. (Reuters)

10:00 A.M. Netanyahu's son tweets he hopes leftists die of coronavirus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son, Yair Netanyahu, wrote on Twitter Thursday following a protest against the premier that he hopes "the elderly people who die following this protest will be from your bloc," referring to left-wing parties. 

Yair's tweet was in reply to a photo posted by Nitzan Horowitz, chairman of the left-wing party Meretz, at the protest with the caption "Very powerful protest tonight at Habima square. Fighting against corruption. Struggling for democracy." 

The prime minister released a statement denouncing his son's tweet, which was later deleted. "In the fight against coronavirus there are no blocs, and there must not be. The prime minister is working around the clock to secure the well-being and safety of all Israeli citizens without exception," read the statement. (Haaretz)

9:30 A.M. Israel's confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 12,855

The Health Ministry said that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel has hit 12,855, of which 182 are in serious condition and 129 on respirators. So far, 148 people have died. (Haaretz)

5:20 A.M. China's GDP plunges for the first time since records began

China's economy shrank by 6.8% in January-March from a year earlier, official data showed on Friday, the first such decline since at least 1992 when quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) records began. (Reuters)

5:05 A.M. Hundreds of thousands of children could die from coronavirus fallout, UN warns

Children have so far largely escaped the most severe symptoms of COVID-19 but the social and economic impact “is potentially catastrophic for millions of children,” according to a UN report launched Thursday, especially the most vulnerable. Those living in slums, refugee and displacement camps, conflict zones, institutions and detention centers and youngsters with disabilities are most at risk.

UN Secretary General urged all to do more to protect children. He said the global recession that is gathering pace as a result of the pandemic and the measures being taken to mitigate it could lead to “hundreds of thousands additional child deaths in 2020,” wiping out years of gain in terms of child mortality. (Reuters)

Read the full story

1:30 A.M. Trump unveils three-stage process for states to end coronavirus shutdown

Speaking at his daily briefing on the coronavirus, which has killed more than 32,600 Americans in a matter of weeks, Trump argued that a prolonged shutdown could be deeply harmful to the U.S. economy and society.

"A prolonged lockdown combined with a forced economic depression would inflict an immense and wide-ranging toll on public health," Trump said, adding it could lead to a sharp rise in drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide, heart disease.

The document says the recommendations are "implementable on a statewide or county-by-county basis at governors' discretion." Trump has tussled with governors over who has the ultimate authority to mandate a re-opening of states' economies. (Reuters)

THURSDAY 

11:47 P.M. Police and Jewish worshippers clash in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, 10 arrested

Police arrested ten people in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, after clashes that took place when security forces attempted to break up collective prayers. 

According to current regulations enacted to curb the coronavirus outbreak, worshippers cannot congregate to pray, a tenet of Judaism.

Police say dozens of residents threw stones and eggs - which have been difficult to find in Israel following a nationwide shortage. Police responded with stun grenades.

11:34 P.M. Netanyahu outlines proposal for gradual reopening of Israeli economy, lifting movement restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined an exit strategy on Thursday night, plotting how Israel will inch back towards normality.

Under the proposal, businesses including in a pilot designed by the Finance Ministry will be gradually allowed to open, according to Ministry of Health guidelines. Israelis will also be able to venture 500 meters away from their homes, up from 100 meters currently, while pupils in special education that benefit from private classes will be able to resume school.

Importantly, this confirms that kindergartens, schools and retail stores will not be allowed to reopen at this time.

The decision will be brought to the government's approval on Saturday night, April 18, although the prime minister said changes to the plan might occur as officials from various ministries prepare detailed procedures for business operations, and which sectors of activity are included in the pilot. (Noa Landau)

Read the full report

10:40 P.M. American envoy to Israel says U.S. to give $5 million to Palestinians amid coronavirus crisis

American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said the United States would provide economic aid to the Palestinians as the world struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“I'm very pleased the USA is providing $5M for Palestinian hospitals and households to meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19. The USA, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people, & others worldwide, in this crisis.” Friedman wrote on Twitter. (Noa Lanadu)

Read the full report

10:19 P.M. Israel's top court rejects petition to order Health Ministry to preform coronavirus tests in all nursing homes

The High Court of Justice rejected a petition to carry out coronavirus tests in all of Israel’s assisted living facilities and nursing homes, even if no resident or staff member there was diagnosed with the virus.  

The petition was filed by 24 nursing homes and the association of assisted living facilities. Justices Uzi Vogelman, Menahem Mazuz, and Alex Stein determined that the nursing homes haven’t yet exhausted all options to handle the matter through deliberations with state institutions, and annulled the petition.    

The justices added that the petitioners could turn to the court again if talks with the state prove futile. (Lee Yaron)

9:32 P.M. Some Israelis may be allowed to go back to work next week, officials agree

The number of employees allowed to go back to work starting Sunday will be increased, officials agree in a meeting led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss a proposal for Israel's coronavirus exit strategy. A formal decision is expected later on Thursday.

However, the officials representing several government ministries and other agencies haven’t reached a final agreement on exactly how many employees will go back to work and which sectors will resume activity. The current point of contention revolves around whether to open small stores as well opening schools. (Noa Landau)

8:54 P.M. Israel’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases rises to 12,758, as death toll hits 142

The Health Ministry said that Israel has 12,758 confirmed coronavirus cases, a two-percent rise since Wednesday. Hundred-and-forty-two people have died from the virus, 181 are in serious condition, 137 of which on respirators. (Haaretz)

8:24 P.M. Egypt to halt public transport on Monday to limit holiday crowds

Egypt will halt all public transportation and coach trips on Monday to keep crowds down during a major public holiday and limit the spread of the coronavirus, the prime minister said on Thursday.

Egyptians mark the start of spring with Sham el-Nessim celebrations on Monday – a day after Coptic Christians celebrate Easter. Both Muslims and Christians traditionally go out in large numbers. (Reuters)

8:14 P.M. Israeli officials disagree on proposed exit strategy

In a meeting led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss a proposal for Israel's coronavirus exit strategy, officials on behalf of different government ministries disagree on the way forward.

The Finance Ministry seeks to see as many employees return to their workplace as soon as possible, while the Health Ministry looks to maintain as many restrictions as possible.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also in the meeting, is pushing for a reopening of the Israeli market almost entirely as early as next week, excluding people over 65, who would be asked to remain at home and receive unemployment benefits. (Noa Landau)

7:53 P.M. Turkey's coronavirus death toll rises by 125 to 1,643

Turkey's confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased by 4,801 in the past 24 hours, and 125 more people have died, taking the death toll to 1,643, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday.

The total number of cases in the country stood at 74,193, he said.

A total of 7,089 people have recovered so far, and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours came to 40,427, the minister said. (Reuters)

7:48 P.M. Number of confirmed coronavirus cases nears 300 in West Bank

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank stands at 282, out of which 52 have recovered, the Palestinian government said.

In East Jerusalem, 81 people tested positive for the virus, and one patient has recovered so far. In Gaza, 13 were diagnosed with the illness, of which eight have recovered. (Jack Khoury)

7:23 P.M. Prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound suspended for Ramadan

Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound will be closed to Muslim worshippers throughout the holy fasting month of Ramadan due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islam's third-holiest site said on Thursday.

The decision extends a ban on Islamic prayers at the holy compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount that has been in effect since March 23.

The council "decided to extend its decision to suspend the gathering of worshippers from all gates of the (compound) during the blessed month of Ramadan", in line with clerical guidance and medical advice, the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs said in a statement. (Reuters)

7:19 P.M. Israeli parliament approves in first reading permitting police to track cellphones of people in quarantine

The Knesset approved in first reading a proposed bill to sanction the Israel Police to track the cellphones of individuals who are in quarantine. (Jonathan Lis)

6:50 P.M. Israel's cabinet begins debating coronavirus exit strategy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cabinet ministers and National Security Council representatives began discussing the country’s coronavirus exit strategy.

Netanyahu said in preliminary discussions that the plan, developed by the National Security council, must be carried out in a responsible and gradual manner. (Noa Landau)

6:32 P.M. Israel’s unemployment rate passes 26 percent amid coronavirus crisis

Israel’s Employment Service said that the number of people filing for unemployment benefit stands at 1,093,465, making up 26.25 percent of the population. (Lee Yaron)

6:15 P.M. Israel Police hand out over 30,000 tickets for violating coronavirus restrictions

The police said that since March they gave about 36,000 fines to people violating the coronavirus emergency regulations, with most of the tickets handed out to people being outside the permitted 100-meter radius from their home.

In addition, the police have launched 195 investigations into people suspected of violating quarantine, and issued 129 closing warrants for businesses violating regulations. Some 49 probes have been launched into individuals suspected of spreading fake news. (Josh Breiner)        

4:48 P.M. Drop in number of coronavirus tests performed on Wednesday, Health Ministry says   

The Health Ministry said that 9,268 coronavirus tests were carried out on Wednesday, a drop from Tuesday and Monday, when the Ministry met its goal for the first time and performed 11,501 and 10,401 tests respectively. (Ido Efrati)  

4:45 Ministerial committee reinstates partial closure on Jerusalem, Bnei Brak neighborhoods

A ministerial committee in charge of handling the coronavirus crisis decided to partially renew the closure on the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which was badly hit by the pandemic.

According to the new restrictions, the prohibition on entering and exiting Bnei Brak is only valid when residents do so by public transportation. Taxis will not be affected by the latest order.

These restrictions will come into effect Thursday at 6 P.M. until Monday. 

In Jerusalem, residents living in restricted areas will be able to go to work. This order will be in effect until Sunday. Israel Police said they are preparing to enforce the new regulations. (Noa Landau) 

To read the full report

Read the full information on Jerusalem’s restricted areas

3:05 P.M. Health Ministry mulls expanding Shin Bet security service's role in coronavirus battle 

Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, head of the Health Ministry's public health services division, said that the ministry is considering whether to have the Shin Bet security service track people in the "second circle" – those who had come into contact with people who were in the proximity of a confirmed coronavirus patient, and not only those who were close to a diagnosed case.

Speaking at a High Court session hearing petitions on the matter, a government representative said that the Shin Bet's tracking measures have helped locate and isolate 4,600 people who were diagnosed with the virus. (Netael Bandel)           

2:54 P.M. IDF produces 100 new respirators

The IDF and Sheba Medical Center finished manufacturing 100 respirators. The army's intelligence service's technology unit, 8-1, along with Sheba Medical Center, have completed the development of respiratory machines under the "Air to Breathe" project. (Yaniv Kubovich)

2:48 P.M. Cabinet to mull only restricting movement via public transport in Bnei Brak

According to draft proposals on restricting access that will be discussed by the cabinet on Thursday, the closure of Bnei Brak and ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem will only be reinstated to a limited extent. If the proposals are accepted, the prohibition on leaving and entering Bnei Brak will only apply to those travelling via public transport. This comes in light of the city's promise to remove 700 coronavirus patients from the city and house them in state-owned hotels and appoint a liaison for each building to help coordinate the assistance of those isolated there. In Jerusalem, the government will allow residents of the areas where the closure is imposed to go to work. (Noa Landau)

1:45 P.M Asylum seekers to be required to pay back coronavirus payment after right-wing pressure

After pressure from right-wing activists and politicians, a revision to a bill that would give asylum seekers access to a monthly payment from a deposit fund during the coronavirus crisis means that they would have to repay the money they withdrew from the fund by January 2021.

The fund is made up of deductions from asylum seekers' wages. In the previous outline of the bill, asylum seekers would not have been required to pay back the sum of 2,700 shekels ($750) per month to cover their expenses during the crisis.

According to said a source with knowledge of the details of the situation, the idea behind the revision was so as not to "hurt their motivation to leave Israel. The logic is that if there is not much money left in the fund, we cannot encourage them to leave like this." (Lee Yaron)

Read the full report

1:12 P.M. Police again impose restrictions on demonstrating without adequate authority

The Tel Aviv Police announced stricter restrictions on demonstrations during the coronavirus crisis, although the move is not supported by actual laws, emergency regulations or Health Ministry orders. Organizers of the "black flags" demonstration, who intend to hold a demonstration at Habima Square this evening, were informed by police that they must stand in groups of ten people, with each group keeping at least ten minutes distance from each other.

Last week, the issue of distances between protest groups was agreed upon by the Justice Ministry and the Health Ministry, in coordination with the police - but this was not determined by any order or regulation. Haaretz reported earlier this week that the Jerusalem Police had tightened its procedures for demonstrations during the coronavirus crisis, when police demanded this same separation between groups of people without authority at a Jerusalem demonstration.

According to organizers of the "black flags" demonstration – who are demonstrating against what they say is the damage caused to democracy by the Israeli government's response to the coronavirus crisis  –  the police restrictions reduce the number of protesters who can demonstrate aqt habima Square to 200, given the additional need to keep two meters between individuals within each group.

"The police guidenlines are not clear to anyone,"  said attorney Gonen Ben Yitzhak, who is working with the police to see the demonstration go ahead. "This lack of clarity means that people are afraid to show up even though the public is enraged and the price of this could be bad." (Josh Breiner)

12:34 P.M. High Court hears petitions against Shin Bet's information gathering

The High Court on Thursday heard petitions against the emergency regulations that authorize the Shin Bet security service and the police to track civilians as part of the fight against the coronavirus.

The petitioners, Attorney Shahar Ben Meir, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the The Union of Journalists in Israel claim that the Shin Bet and the police are violating the right to respect under the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

The state, via attorneys Shosh Shmueli and Reuven Idleman, argues that the process is designed to save lives, and that under the circumstances of the outbreak, it is difficult to say that the patient will feel disgraced or humiliated by this information gathering and processing. (Netael Bandel)

12:00 P.M. The Arab city with the most COVID-19 patients knows the worst is yet to come

There was a long line outside the main post office in Umm al-Fahm. A few dozen people stood closer together than social-distancing rules allow. Radha al-Halou was among them, armed with gloves and a face mask. “Making an appointment by phone doesn’t really help, you still have to wait in line,” he complained. “People aren’t keeping their distance at all, but at least most have masks and gloves. I hope they’ll be enough."

Umm al-Fahm had 48 confirmed COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, more than any other Arab community in the country. Second is Jisr al-Zarqa with 46 cases, followed by Rahat with 30. These numbers are expected to change when results arrive from tests conducted in other cities, particularly in Deir al-Asad, where infections have spiked.

The mayor of Umm al-Fahm, Samir Mahamid, says the city, in coordination with the police, has set up an emergency team to monitor developments in the situation. A number of roadblocks have been erected at the main entrance to the city, as well as at major intersections. However, city officials fear that not everyone who has been in contact with patients is in isolation. Only 46 city residents are supposed to be in isolation: Much too low a figure given the number of confirmed cases. (Jack Khoury)

>> Read the full report

9:41 A.M. Death toll reaches 140

According to the Health Ministry, 12,591 cases have been diagnosed so far, including 140 on ventilators and 2,624 recoveries.

8:51 A.M. Government to discuss closing ultra-Orthodox city again after roadblocks removed overnight

The Israeli cabinet is expected to convene in the coming hours to decide whether to re-impose a closure on the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak - hours after the closure was lifted. Last night police removed the checkpoints in the city,  although there has not been any dramatic imporvement in the situation there.

A report published by a research body formed by the Israeli army with assistance from the Health Ministry and National Security Council on Wednesday said: "The situation in the ultra-Orthodox cities – Modi'in Ilit, Elad, Betar Ilit, Kochav Yaakov and Bnei Brak – and in the haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh continue to lead our priorities, in light of the very high infection fate. It is necessary to improve quarantine enforcement and informing the public, as well as increase the number of testing."

However, following pressure by Bnei Brak's mayor, the curfew imposed on Bnei Brak was not renewed. On Thursday, the cabinet will discuss the possibility of another curfew on the city. (Noa Landau)

WEDNESDAY

11:18 P.M. Hundreds of U.S. coronavirus patients arrived in Israel within weeks

One-fifth of the people in Israel who have contracted the coronavirus were infected abroad, arriving in the country after the crisis developed, the Health Ministry said Tuesday.

People in Israel were infected in 67 other countries, but over the last four weeks, hundreds of sick people have come here from the United States, making up 40 percent of the patients infected abroad. (Ido Efrati)

>> Read the full report

10:58 P.M. Roadblocks removed in ultra-Orthodox city hit by coronavirus

Checkpoints set in the wake of the coronavirus crisis in the largely ultra-Orthodox of Bnei Brak have been removed, after an emergency order to put the city on lockdown expired. The government is expected to debate an extension overnight.

Earlier, the city’s headquarters to battle the coronavirus said that  infection rates have dropped in the past two weeks. (Bar Peleg and Noa Landau)

9:45 P.M. Israel’s defense minister to back partial reopening of schools 

Defense Ministry Naftali Bennett is expected to recommend reopening preschools and that children aged 6-10 return to elementary school as soon as Sunday.

Bennett – who will take part in the meeting to discuss the country’s coronavirus exit strategy alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a ministerial committee handling the crisis – will also suggest to reopen almost all businesses, excluding leisure and entertainment industries as well places with large gatherings or crowded events.

Bennett will also recommend against permitting employees older than 65, or those with underlying conditions, to go back to work. (Noa Landau)   

21:24 P.M. Israel registers 12,501 coronavirus cases as death toll reaches 130

The Health Ministry said Israel’s coronavirus confirmed cases currently stand at 12,501, with 180 of them in serious condition and 133 on ventilators. Hundred-and-thirty Israelis diagnosed with the virus have died and 2,563 have recovered. (Haaretz)

8:44 P.M. Foreign Ministry says 16 Israelis stranded in New Zealand will return home on Wednesday

The Foreign Ministry said that the operation to return home the remaining 16 Israelis stranded in New Zealand would be completed on Wednesday.

Thirty-one Israeli nationals stranded in New Zealand have returned to Israel in recent days. (Haaretz)

8:16 P.M. Turkey's coronavirus death toll rises to 1,518

Turkey's confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by 4,281 in the past 24 hours, and 115 more people have died, taking the death toll to 1,518, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday.

The total number of cases in the country stood at 69,392, he said.

A total of 5,674 people have recovered so far, and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours was 34,090, the minister said. (Reuters)

7:54 P.M. Jordan will ease lockdown by allowing more businesses to open

Jordan's Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz said on Wednesday the government would soon ease a tight lockdown imposed to stem the spread of new coronavirus by allowing more businesses and industries to return to work.

However, it will not yet lift a curfew imposed nearly a month ago that restricts the movements of Jordan's 10 million people, Razzaz said.

The prime minister said the new measures could also include allowing people to move more freely in some regions outside the capital, but he warned that they could be rescinded if Jordan sees a further spike in cases of the coronavirus. (Reuters)

7:13 P.M. Israel’s Health Ministry says over 10,000 coronavirus tests performed a day since outbreak began

The Health Ministry said it met its goal of performing over 10,000 coronavirus tests per day for the first time since the outbreak erupted in Israel.

The Ministry said that 11,501 tests were carried on Tuesday and 10,401 on Monday. (Haaretz)

6:26 P.M. Netanyahu to discuss Israel’s coronavirus exit strategy on Thursday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a ministerial committee  handling the coronavirus crisis will convene Thursday to discuss Israel’s proposed exit strategy, developed by the National Security Council.

NSC, Health Ministry and Finance Ministry representatives will present their stances on the matter. The Health Ministry believes that Israel’s rate infection is not stable enough to significantly lift some of the emergency restrictions imposed by the government, whereas the Finance Ministry says that extending the current restrictions will cause irreversible damage to the country’s economy.

The National Security Council has formulated a plan attempting to balance between the considerations of both ministries.

According to the plan, lifting of the coronavirus closure will be based on the guiding principle that lucrative industries will be first to resume economic activity while recreation, sports and tourism will be last. (Noa Landau)

6:05 P.M. Iraq revokes Reuters license for three months over coronavirus report

Iraq has temporarily revoked the license of the Reuters news agency after it reported the nation's number of confirmed coronavirus cases was higher than stated in the official figures.

Iraq's media regulator banned Reuters from operating in Iraq for three months and fined the agency 25 million dinars ($21,000) for what it said was the violation of the rules of media broadcasting, Reuters said on Wednesday.

Reuters said it stood by its report, which it said was based on multiple, well-placed medical and political sources and fully represented the position of the Iraqi Health Ministry.

In the April 2 report, Reuters cited doctors involved in the testing process, a health ministry official and a senior political official as saying Iraq had thousands of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, many times more than the 772 it had publicly reported at that time. (DPA)

6:03 P.M. Qatar illegally expels workers during coronavirus outbreak, Amnesty says

Qatar detained dozens of migrant workers and expelled them last month after telling them they were being taken to be tested for the new coronavirus, the human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

As coronavirus spreads through the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where over 18,000 cases of the virus have been reported, rights groups are urging governments to protect millions of vulnerable, low-paid migrant workers.

Twenty Nepali men were quoted by Amnesty as saying Qatari police had on March 12 and 13 apprehended hundreds of migrant workers on the street, then held them in detention for several days. They were then flown to Nepal. (Reuters)

5:33 P.M. Israel Police hand out over 2,000 fines for violating Passover curfew

The police handed out more than 2,000 tickets to Israelis violating the curfew imposed by the government to stem the spread of the coronavirus during the Second Passover holiday.

Since Tuesday noon, the police handed out 2,555 tickets to civilians leaving the permitted 100-meter radius from their home, a significant rise since Monday, when 1,977 tickets were handed out to people in public space.    

In addition, 315 fines were handed out to people in parks and playgrounds in the past 24 hours, a rise of 37 tickets from Sunday.

According to a police source, the sharp spike in the number violating emergency measures stems from the loosening of public discipline due to the holiday and the warm weather. (Josh Breiner)

5:27 P.M. Over two million coronavirus cases registered worldwide

The number of cases of COVID-19 reported worldwide passed two million on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally.

The total reached 2,001,548 cases after the United Kingdom reported its latest figures. It took 83 days to reach the first million cases worldwide and just 14 days for the second million.

The most serious pandemic in a century has killed 131,101 people around the world, according to the tally.

The epicenter has moved from China, where the new coronavirus first emerged in December, to the United States, which now has the highest death toll.

Countries vary in how much they test for the respiratory disease, which can cause only mild symptoms, and the actual number of people infected is likely to be much higher than the number of recorded cases. (Reuters) 

4:15 P.M. Iran’s coronavirus death toll nearly double reported figures, parliament says

The death toll in Iran from the coronavirus pandemic is likely nearly double the officially reported figures, due to undercounting and because not everyone with breathing problems has been tested for the virus, a parliament report said.

Iranian health officials offered no comment on the report, released Tuesday, which represents the highest-level charge yet from within the Islamic Republic's government of its figures being questionable, something long suspected by international experts. Iran on Wednesday put the death toll at 4,777, out of 76,389 confirmed cases of the virus — still making it the Mideast's worst outbreak by far. (The Associated Press)

3:40 P.M. Coronavirus crisis expected to ravage battered Middle East economies, IMF says

The Middle East, already wracked by high numbers of unemployed youth, unrest, conflict and large numbers of refugees, will sink into a recession this year sparked by the double shock of the coronavirus outbreak and low oil prices, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday.

The impact of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, threatens to leave in its wake significant economic turmoil across the region, the international lender says. If governments mishandle the outbreak, the IMF warns this will sow the seeds for even more social unrest and instability. (The Associated Press)

>> Read the full report

12:49 P.M. New measures for Arab town with high infection rate

A drive-thru testing facility will operate in Deir al-Asad Wednesday after a spike in coronavirus cases in the town and its neighboring communities. The decision was made in cooperation with Joint List lawmaker Ahmed Tibi and the Magen David Adom emergency services.

In addition, confirmed patients will be transferred from their homes to a "coronavirus hotel" in Nahariya in order to stem community spread, according to the head of the regional council Ahmed Dabbah, who said he will not oppose a curfew on his town if needed.

Government authorities decided that the current nation-wide curfew may indeed be extended for Deir al-Asad and the neighboring town of Bi'ina.

The outbreak was reportedly started by a Kashrut supervisor who came in contact with workers at a slaughterhouse in Deir al-Asad, one of the biggest in the country. (Jack Khoury and Noa Shpigel)

>> Click here to read the full report

10:54 A.M. Government urged to increase testing for Arab citizens

Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has warned that Arab communities in Israel have insufficient access to coronavirus tests, urging the Health Ministry to increase testing for populations in the Galilee, Negev and so-called "triangle" area. The ministry responded that it would operate a mobile testing clinic in the upper Galilee on Wednesday.

Adalah also petitioned the court to provide coronavirus tests to Bedouin villages that are not recognized by the state. The judges in the case said there is no clear policy on the matter, but that the government should indeed consider setting up testing clinics in the area.

"There seems to be a deep malfunction when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic in Arab communities and the state's slow response," said Adalah attorney Sawsan Zaher, who added that she fears the repercussions will be severe. (Noa Shpigel)

10:10 A.M. Death toll in Israel rises to 126

Israel's confirmed number of coronavirus cases increased by 154 overnight Tuesday and three more people have died, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 12,200 and the death toll to 126, according to the Health Ministry. 

176 people are in serious condition and the total number of recovered cases stands at 2,309. 

9:18 A.M. Health Ministry warns of high infection rate in Arab towns

The residents of Deir al-Asad, Nahf, Bi'ina and Majd al-Krum have been asked to stay at home until the Health Ministry concludes contact tracing for newly diagnosed coronavirus patients. 

The area has 31 confirmed patients, the ministry said, and hundreds will likely have to self-isolate.

On Tuesday, Ahmed Dabbah, the head of the Deir al-Asad regional council, said anyone who had come into contact with the Kashrut supervisor at a local slaughterhouse should self-isolate. (Noa Shpigel and Jack Khoury)

9:09 A.M. 82-year-old woman is 14th coronavirus fatality from Be'er Sheva nursing home

An 82-year-old woman with numerous underlying conditions died of the coronavirus at Soroka Medical Center, Be'er Sheva on Tuesday after being hospitalized since March 28. She was the 14th resident of the same nursing home in the city to die of the virus. (Almog Ben Zikri)

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