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Coronavirus in Israel: Suspected Patients Get Wrong Test Results Due to Typing Error

Test results to be delayed after error ■ Twelve Israelis have died from COVID-19 out of a total of 3,619 confirmed cases ■ In West Bank, 95 test positive

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A member of medical staff holds a sample collected from a Palestinian worker returning from Israel, at a coronavirus testing site outside the Israeli-controlled Tarqumiya checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank, March 24, 2020.
A member of Palestinian medical staff holds a sample collected from a Palestinian worker returning from Israel, at Tarqumiya checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank, March 24, 2020.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS
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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.

■ 3,619 Israelis have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, with the vast majority of cases mild and 89 recoveries. Twelve patients have died and 54 are in serious condition. One Israeli tourist died in Italy. 

■ In the West Bank, 95 cases have been diagnosed so far. One woman in her 60s died. The Palestinian prime minister ordered a lockdown as of Sunday night. In Gaza, nine cases were diagnosed, the first two after returning from Pakistan, while seven came down with the virus after coming in contact with them. 

■ Israel's government approved emergency measures to limit movement of citizens and trade, shuttering cultural and recreational establishments as well as schools and universities and banning gatherings. Read the complete guide to the lockdown

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 71: A tale of two crises: Coronavirus vs. Constitution

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■ For information on the Health Ministry's app that tracks contact with confirmed coronavirus patients, click here. For more information on the Health Ministry's official website on the corovavirus outbreak, click here.

LIVE UPDATES

7:42 A.M. Palestinians fear workers in Israel, settlements spreading virus 

The Palestinian Authority has warned it will be short of equipment to handle the coronavirus pandemic in the West Bank if the spread of the illness is not curbed.

Palestinian and Israeli medical sources told Haaretz that West Bank hospitals have 205 ventilating machines at their disposal to serve a population of 2.5 million people, and that as of Friday they had done corona tests on only 5,562 people due to a shortage of diagnostic kits.

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that most of the patients diagnosed in recent days are workers returning from jobs in Israel or in settlements. They expressed concern about seeing a possible outbreak in villages in zones B and C where PA operations are limited.

>> Read the full report here 

7:20 A.M. Eight new cases diagnosed in the West Bank

Eight more Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19, raising the total number of cases in the West Bank to 95. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, new infections are mostly among family members of previously confirmed patients. (Jack Khoury)

12:30 A.M. Police disperse 200 people at ultra-Orthodox funeral in Bnei Brak that violates coronavirus regulations (Bar Peleg)

SATURDAY

9:53 European health systems straining under virus

More than 10,000 people have died in Italy since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Italian Civil Protection Agency confirmed the grim landmark on Saturday, reporting 889 new deaths. The death toll now stands at 10,023.

French health authorities reported 319 new deaths from the coronavirus, up 16% on the previous day and taking the total to 2,314, as the government scrambled to increase the number of intensive care beds nationwide.The number of known cases of infection rose to 37,575 on Saturday from 32,964 a day earlier, the health authority said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed for patience from citizens. Germany has fewer deaths than some neighboring countries but still closed nonessential shops and banned public gatherings of more than two people, and Merkel's chief of staff said the restrictions won't be relaxed before April 20.

Spain, where stay-at-home restrictions have been in place for nearly two weeks, reported 832 more deaths Saturday, its highest daily count yet, bringing its total to 5,690. Another 8,000 confirmed infections pushed that count above 72,000. But Spain's director of emergencies, Fernando Simón, saw hope in that the rate of infection is slowing and figures “indicate that the outbreak is stabilizing and may be reaching its peak in some areas.” (Reuters)

9:12 P.M. Gulf states combat rising infection numbers  

The United Arab Emirates extende-to April 5 a nightly curfew to sterilise public places to combat the coronavirus as neighbouring Qatar reported its first death from the disease.

Qatar became the latest Gulf state to report its first death from the virus, a Bangladeshi resident. The majority of the 590 cases in Qatar are among migrant labourers in the country, where foreigners make up most of the work force.

Qatar and the UAE confirmed more infections on Saturday to take the total in the six Gulf Arab states to over 3,000, with 11 deaths. The UAE has reported two deaths from the pandemic and 468 confirmed infections.

9:05 P.M. Israeli tourist succumbs to coronavirus in Italy

An 82-year-old Israeli man from Haifa died from coronavirus. He was on a cruise with his wife in the province of Savona and died in hospital.   

8:52 P.M. Number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel climbs to 3,619

The Health Ministry said a total of 3,619 people in Israel were diagnosed with COVID-19. The great majority of cases are mild, 54 are in serious condition, 12 people have died and 89 recovered. (Haaretz)

8:30 P.M. Israel sets up Jewish mortuaries for coronavirus fatalities

A monk at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City dons a face mask, March 26, 2020.
A monk at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City dons a face mask, March 26, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The government ordered the creation of several mortuaries to prepare and transport the bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients for burial. An agreement was signed with the Kadisha burial society for the duration of three months. (Yaniv Kubovich)

5:30 P.M. Police: Backup army forces will not enter Arab towns

Senior police officials said the 500 armed soldiers who will be deployed alongside the police to help enforce new restrictions will not be stationed inside Arab cities and villages in Israel.

The clarification was made following a letter by the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, warning  that the Arab citizens' relationship with the army is loaded and may lead to unnecessary clashes. (Jack Khoury)

5:14 Police ramps up enforcement

The Israel Police gave over 1,200 fines to people who flouted social distancing regulations, indicating an increase in enforcement compared to previous days. The great majority of fines were given to people who were outside their homes for no good reason, 105 fines were given to business owners who operated against regulations and just two fines were handed to places of worship that held prayer in a closed space. 

In addition, the police made over 2,000 home visits to ensure confirmed and suspected patients were not breaching mandatory self-isolation orders. (Josh Breiner)

4:23 P.M. Gaza cancels annual March of Return 

Palestinian groups in Gaza cancelled mass rallies planned for next week along the border with Israel amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the densely-populated territory.

The rallies were called for March 30 to mark the second anniversary of the so-called "Great March of Return" which had prompted weekly protests by Palestinians seeking to regain access to land, now in Israel, from which their ancestors were forced to flee during the country's creation in 1948. (Reuters)

A sanitation worker and resident in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, March 28, 2020.
A sanitation worker and resident in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, March 28, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

1:11 P.M. Six more Palestinians test positive in the West Bank, bringing total to 88

The Palestinian government in the West Bank said six more people were diagnosed with the coronavirus in the Bethlehem and Jerusalem areas in the West Bank, raising tally to 88. (Jack Khoury)

12:35 P.M. Suspected coronavirus patients get wrong test result due to typing error

Israeli HMOs received incorrect results for coronavirus tests run by the Health Ministry, caused by a typing error in the ministry's laboratories. As a result, some of those tested received other people’s results.

Contrary to previous reports, the confusion was caused due to human error and not a computer glitch.The Health Ministry, for the time being, has put a temporary freeze on passing on any more test results to HMOs. It later clarified that only eight test results out of thousands were misreported. 

The ministry stressed that it only instructed to halt the passing on of the results that were carried out on Friday, predicting the confusion will be sorted out "within several hours." (Ido Efrati)

10:57 A.M. Health Ministry says coronavirus test results to be delayed amid technical difficulties

Further coronavirus test results will be delayed due to a computer glitch detected overnight Friday, the Health Ministry said Saturday morning.

Nevertheless, the ministry added, the laboratories running the tests are operating and blood samples are being taken from suspected patients by Magen David Adom paramedics.

In addition, vocational Health ministry teams and representatives from the Prime Minister offices are working to solve the glitch. (Haaretz)

10:16 A.M. Number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel climbs to 3,460

The Health Ministry said Saturday morning that 425 more Israelis tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing toll to 3,460, with 50 in serious condition. The ministry added that 73 patients are in moderate condition and 89 have recovered. (Haaretz)

2:47 A.M.  N.Y.C. mayor tells synagogues to stop violating lockdown rules

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio warned synagogues still holding services in the city and violating lockdown rules, that they may be shut down permanently.

“We’ve had extraordinary, across the board, rabbinical support from all the different elements of the Jewish community,” he said in a press conference video on Friday.“ A small number of religious communities, specific churches, specific synagogues are unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance even though it’s been so widespread.”

A man wearing a protective mask and waving the Israeli flag while demonstrating in from of the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 25, 2020.
A man wearing a protective mask and waving the Israeli flag while demonstrating in from of the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 25, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

“I want to say to all those who are preparing the potential of religious services this weekend: if you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.”

The Mayor added that the law enforcement has been instructed to disperse services and if met with resistance,“They will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.”

“You have been warned, you need to stop services,” De Blasio said. (Danielle Ziri)

12:41 A.M. Jordan reports first coronavirus death

Jordan reported the first death from coronavirus, a woman in her 80s, state news agency announced on Twitter early on Saturday.

Jordan registered 23 new cases on Friday, bringing the total in the country to 235, the health minister announced. (Reuters)


FRIDAY

6:00 P.M. Netanyahu asks authorities to prepare for tighter restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed authorities to prepare for severely tightening movement restrictions for Israelis, further limiting the amount of people allowed to leave the house at any given moment.

The Finance Ministry is expected to formulate an outline to allow further restrictions on labor in parts of the economy. Netanyahu also ordered more stringent enforcement in the food supply chain to ensure distance, disinfection and adherence to the Health Ministry's instructions.

The Prime Minister noted that if there is no change in the rate at which the number of new patients increases, a full lockdown will become inevitable.

The new plan to tighten traffic restrictions will be presented to the prime minister and cabinet ministers over the next 48 hours. (Noa Landau) 

6:00 P.M. IDF refuses to give clear information on its preparation to combat coronavirus spread

In recent days, the Israeli army has refused to provide clear information on the preparation and readiness of the Home Front Command to combat the spread of the coronavirus, although this information has not been censored.

Among other things, the army has refused to provide information on the number of ventilators it has. The Health Ministry informed the Knesset Thursday that it had ordered 800-900 ventilator machines from the IDF. According to military sources in the IDF, they have been asked not to disclose the real numbers for fear that they would contradict the data presented by the government.

A man walks by a sign hung in Tel Aviv's abandoned Carmel market, that reads 'don't panic', March 26, 2020.
A man walks by a sign hung in Tel Aviv's abandoned Carmel market, that reads 'don't panic', March 26, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

After repeated requests by Haaretz, the IDF revealed on Thursday that it has 1,000 ventilators. However, until 9 P.M. it was unclear in the IDF how many of these machines were functioning. Only two hours later, a military official claimed that the machines were all working, but no official response was received from the military.

According to information revealed on Thursday by the Health Minister at the Knesset, there are 2,173 ventilator machines in Israel, and 1,437 of them are vacant. The minister also revealed that only 70 of the machines were taken from the private medical sector, and almost a thousand were taken from the army. (Yaniv Kubovich)

5:30 P.M. Israel health ministry says to begin testing 20,000 people a day in two weeks 

The Health Ministry, after a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said it was decided that in two weeks, the number of coronavirus tests would rise to 20,000 tests a day. 

The Health Ministry notes that almost 6,000 tests have been done as of Friday, and the number will increase to about 10,000 tests a say by next week. (Haaretz)

5:30 P.M. Ministry data shows sharp increase in coronavirus cases within ultra-Orthodox communities

There has been a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus patients in ultra-Orthodox communities, especially in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, revealed internal Health Ministry data obtained by Haaretz.

According to the data, there is now a significant outbreak within these communities, with hundreds of new patients in just three days, making the spread rate much higher than the national average, which as of Thursday was doubling every three days.

The official data, sent to all of Israel's municipalities to update them of the situation, shows that in Bnei Brak the number of patients grew by eight times in just three days, which stands at 244 as of Thursday night. Similarly, in Jerusalem the number grew four times in three days, getting to 314 as of Thursday night. (Aaron Rabinowitz) 

4:20 P.M. Fourth Israeli dies of coronavirus in a day, bringing death toll to 12

An 80-year-old Israeli coronavirus patient died Friday after being on life support for a few days at the hospital, bringing total death toll in Israel on Friday to Four, and 12 so far. (Haaretz)

4:00 P.M. Public security minister asks Netanyahu for additional 1,000 workers to enforce regulations

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to enlist other government ministries to help with the task of enforcing the new regulations. Erdan asked for 1,000 additional workers from the Population Authority, Ministry of Agriculture, and the Nature and Parks Authority to join the effort.

3:30 P.M. Israelis head to nature, violating ministry regulations

Dozens of people visited the Ben Shemen Forest in central Israel on Friday, despite Health Ministry coronavirus regulations, prompting police to carry out enforcement activity in the area, reported the local police department. (Bar Peleg)

3:20 P.M. 73-year-old Israeli dies of coronavirus, bringing death toll to 11 

A 73-year-old Haifa resident died Friday afternoon at the Rambam hospital after having been hospitalized with coronavirus, bringing the total death toll in Israel to 11. 

The man had several pre-existing medical conditions, and his condition began deteriorating four days ago. (Noa Shpigel)

2:30 P.M. Israel to free 500 prisoners in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Israel will release 500 prisoners to ease prison over-crowding in the wake of the coronavirus emergency. The government approved the measure on Friday.

Muslim worshippers pray near a closed gate of the compound housing Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, March 23, 2020.
Muslim worshipers pray near a closed gate of the compound housing Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, March 23, 2020.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Prisoners will be released to house arrest for 30 days, before being released. Only criminal prisoners (as opposed to security prisoners), with sentences under four years, and convicted of crimes other than domestic violence or sexual assault will be eligible for release.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said, "Prisons are a vulnerable and sensitive area for the spread of the epidemic. Therefore, since the beginning of the outbreak, I have taken emergency  measures to minimize overcrowding and minimize the chance of infection." (Josh Breiner)

2:20 P.M. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson diagnosed with coronavirus 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus and is self isolating but will still lead the government's response to the outbreak.

"Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus," Johnson said. "I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus." (Reuters)

>> Read the full report here

12:50 A.M. Palestinian Health Ministry announces new coronavirus cases in West Bank and Gaza

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah said seven more Palestinians have tested positive to coronavirus bringing the total number in the West Bank up to 82, and 9 cases in Gaza.

Five of the new patients in the West Bank are from the village of Bidu, north of Jerusalem, where a woman passed away on Thursday from the illness caused by the coronavirus. All of the village's residents have been put under home quarantine.

The two other cases were diagnosed in Bethlehem, which was the first Palestinian city to be put under lockdown over the coronavirus. A two-year-old girl is among the sick.

A man passes food through a hole in the closed front door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre amid coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem's Old City  March 26, 2020
A man passes food through a hole in the closed front door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre amid coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem's Old City, March 26, 2020 Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

So far, 17 patients in the West Bank have recovered, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Around 5,200 tests have been performed in the West Bank, only 240 in Gaza. (Jack Khoury)

12:20 A.M. Netanyahu to hold discussions on further restricting movement, readiness for cornavirus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting institutional representatives shortly to discuss tightening precautionary rules on civilian movement to contain the spread of coronavirus. Discussions will also include equipment supply as well economic measures, the Prime Minister Office said. (Noa Landau)

9:40 A.M. Israeli soldiers to be deployed alongside police to enforce Health Ministry regulations

The Israel army spokesperson said 500 armed soldiers will be deployed alongside the Israel Police starting Sunday to help enforce Health Ministry regulations. Field units and conscripts from training bases will be assigned to different districts to patrol, isolate areas, and assist police forces. 

9:04 A.M. Confirmed coronavirus cases pass 3,000

Israel has confirmed 3,035 cases of the coronavirus. The large majority of patients are in mild condition. Sixty patients are in moderate condition and 49 are in serious condition. Ten Israelis have passed away, and 79 have recovered.

8:59 A.M. 76-year-old Israeli dies, bringing coronavirus death toll to 10

A 76-year-old woman with pre-existing medical conditions passed away overnight Thrursday after contracting the coronavirus. 

8:41 A.M. 93-year-old Israeli dies, bringing coronavirus death toll to nine

A 93-year-old Israeli man with pre-existing medical conditions passed away overnight Thursday. He had been brough to Soroka Medical Center from a nearby nursing home, tested positive for the coronavirus and passed away several hours later.

THURSDAY

10:04 P.M. How #coronavirus conspiracy theories went viral, and the Israeli connection

The coronavirus’ genetic code is very similar to the SARS virus yet there is still a small difference between them. Computer simulations showed that these genetic changes do not make the novel coronavirus more infectious.

The researchers also reason that “if someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness,” which is not true of COVID-19. Nature, it appears, is smarter, as the virus found a way to mutate in a more effective way.

I also contacted an Israeli expert for his opinion. “Do you really think that someone would develop a virus to kill people 70 and older?” said the expert, who asked not to be named. (Yossi Melman)

>> Read the full report here

9:32 P.M. El Al suspends commercial flights

El Al announced Thursday it was temporarily suspending all passenger flights to and from Israel due to the coronavirus, following an “assessment of the current and future situation.”

Flights are set to cease at midnight on March 27. The company’s final flights to Ben-Gurion airport on Thursday evening are set to fly as scheduled from New York, Paris, London and Toronto, along with "rescue flights" from Delhi, India and San Jose, Costa Rica. (Allison Kaplan Sommer)

>> Read the full report here

9:21 P.M. Number of total cases in Israel increases to 2,693

Twenty-seven new cases were reported in Israel, bringing the total to 2,693, a 14 percent increase in the last 24 hours. According to the Health Ministry, 46 patients are in severe condition. 

7:49 P.M. Mossad procures coronavirus test reagents

The Mossad delivered to Israel 400,000 coronavirus test reagents. Last week, it was reported that the Mossad had brought testing kits to Israel but that swabs were missing. (Noa Landau)

7:22 P.M. Security service releases figures on coronavirus tracking

The Shin Bet security service said in a statement that since it began its operation to track confirmed and potential coronavirus patients, more than 500 people tested positive for the virus after they had been ordered into quarantine. There are currently over 60,000 people under mandatory quarantine in Israel. 

"If these residents had not been quickly identified and isolated, they surely would have unwittingly infected many more," the statement read.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued emergency regulations last week allowing digital monitoring of coronavirus patients’ cellphones. The Shin Bet is tracking the routes that patients have taken outside their homes to identify people who they had gotten close to and order them to self-quarantine.

Israel is the only country in the world that is using a secret service agency to track its own population as part of its efforts to curb the virus. Doctors also warned against the method, saying it does not collect relevant or accurate information. (Yaniv Kubovich)

>> Coronavirus surveillance explained: Who's tracking you and what happens with the data

6:58 P.M. One in five Israelis unemployed

Since the beginning of March, 723,028 Israeli citizens and residents have filed for unemployment benefits. Over 90 percent of them are on unpaid leave due to coronavirus. The unemployment rate currently stands at 21.2%. (Lee Yaron)

6:49 P.M. Middle East countries intensify restrictions

Iraq and Lebanon extended government-imposed restrictions on movement for two more weeks.

In Saudi Arabia, authorities announced a total lockdown on the capital, Riyadh, and Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, in addition to a nationwide curfew.

In the United Arab Emirates, authorities announced an overnight weekend lockdown and used drones to tell residents to stay home.

In Iran, which is facing the worst outbreak in the region, the death toll rose to 2,234 on Thursday with 157 new fatalities, according to the health ministry. There are more than 29,000 confirmed cases in Iran, where authorities have advised people to stay home but refrained from imposing nationwide movement restrictions or curfews as seen elsewhere.

Jordan, which has recorded 172 infections, announced on Thursday that anyone who flouts its nightly curfew will be fined up to 500 dinars (around $700). Repeat offenders could face up to a year's imprisonment. Only essential shops are allowed to operate in the kingdom. (Reuters)

6:27 P.M. U.S. reports 68,440 coronavirus cases, 994 deaths

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday reported 68,440 coronavirus cases, an increase of 13,987 cases from its previous count, and said the death toll had risen by 257 to 994. (Reuters)

5:48 P.M. Coronavirus is replacing war as the Middle East’s chief misery | Opinion

Economists often use what’s called a misery index to measure how the average citizen is doing economically. Usually it’s calculated based on the rates of unemployment and inflation.

In today’s Middle East the two more relevant variables for a misery index are petroleum prices and coronavirus cases.

Oddly, that index would show that things are not so bad right. The first number is truly a misery: The price of oil is a dismally low $26 per OPEC barrel as of early Thursday. But the second number is cause for relative relief. Not counting two outliers – Israel (a developed economy) and Iran (an acknowledged disaster area that got hit early and hard) – the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is a surprisingly modest 4,460 for the region, or just 39.5 per million people. (David Rosenberg)

>> Read the full opinion here

5:13 P.M. Jerusalem police enforcing new regulations

Police officers in Jerusalem began enforcing stricter social distancing regulations, despite an earlier announcement that the police won't levy fines in the coming days except in cases of organized gatherings or mandatory quarantine violations. 

In addition, officers at roadblocks requested proof that drivers were essential workers, despite guidelines still allowing all workers to commute to work. (Josh Breiner)

4:58 P.M. WHO transfers 1,000 testing kits to Gaza

One thousand coronavirus testing kits donated by the World Health Organization were transferred to the Gaza Strip via the Erez crossing, in coordination with the Israeli military. (Hagar Shezaf)

4:28 P.M. Netanyahu presents doomsday coronavirus scenario, but his ministries don't operate by it

The defense establishment has set up the equivalent of a war room, after the Health Ministry agreed to transfer to it the responsibility for acquiring this material overseas. However, Israel is competing in a wild global market, in which large, spendthrift players such as the U.S. and the Gulf States are beating it, as they are willing to pay any price for the needed equipment. In many cases, Israeli agents have found that deals that were agreed on were broken, with the equipment sold to others.

Israel has 3,000 respirators at its disposal, with half of these currently in use. Now there is a search for more machines everywhere, in the hope that the number of them available grows before the anticipated surge in the number of patients. The defense establishment has several hundred respirators, with efforts now underway to bring these into use. A few more may be collected from unknown sources abroad, but there is no way yet of producing these locally. (Amos Harel and Or Kashti)

>> Read the full story here

4:09 P.M. Petition seeks phone calls for isolated prisoners

Six Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations submitted an urgent petition to the High Court to allow Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to call their family members. The petition was filed in light of the suspension of prison visits as part of efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The appeal raised concerns that complete isolation may enable the violation of prisoners' rights without recourse. It also highlighted the importance of minors having contact with their families.

The petition was joined by the wife of a Palestinian prisoner with a severe illness and the father of a 15-year-old detainee. (Netael Bandel)

3:32 P.M. Israel opens nuclear bunker

The Israeli government has opened up a war bunker in the Jerusalem hills to help coordinate its campaign against the spread of the coronavirus.

The bunker, called the "National Management Centre", was built more than a decade ago because of concern about Iran's nuclear program and missile exchanges with Hezbollah or Hamas.

According to Israeli officials, it includes living quarters and command facilities and can be accessed from the government complex in Jerusalem and the western foothills leading to Tel Aviv.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to play down the move, telling an Israel Radio reporter during a news conference that the bunker "is not so relevant [to the crisis]. We are not under a missile attack that would require us to be underground."

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz had earlier joked in an interview with Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM that the bunker had limited usefulness now as "it protects from bombs, but not from microbes". (Reuters)

2:17 P.M. Eight dead in Israel, cases rise to 2,666

An 83-year-old resident of Bnei Brak died after being hospitalized for 10 days. The total number of cases now stands at 2,666.  According to the Health Ministry, 68 people have recovered so far and 39 patients are in severe condition. 

1:20 P.M. Police announce random checkpoints in cities

Israel Police have announced that as of Thursday morning, thousands of officers have been deployed across the country to enforce the new coronavirus restrictions. According to a police statement, random temporary checkpoints will be set up at the entrances and exits of cities, as well as within the cities themselves. 

In addition, police will patrol public parks, beaches and shops in neighborhoods and commercial centers. Police will also continue to conduct random visits to the homes of citizens who are required to stay in home quarantine. 

The police emphasized that questions regarding the new restrictions should be directed to the 110 hotline and not to the emergency line 100. (Josh Breiner)

1:49 P.M. Sixth coronavirus patient in Israel dies

A 91-year-old woman hospitalized in central Israel died after several days of being sedated and intubated, the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon said. (Bar Peleg)

12:30 P.M. Head of National Security Council: Israel has no 'exit strategy' from current crisis

The Head of Israel's National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat said Israel has no "exit strategy" from the current coronavirus crisis forcing the country to a near-complete lockdown.

Speaking before the Knesset committee charged with overseeing the efforts to combat the virus, Ben-Shabbar said: "We haven't put an exit strategy together at this stage, we have to be honest. We are discussing things, thinking about solutions, we have ideas, direction, but no strategy."

Ben-Shabbat also acknowledged criticism from MK Ofer Shelah of an alleged lack of clarity in the communicating coronavirus restrictions to the Israeli public and noted there is no set format for how a government should manage such crises. (Jonathan Lis)

11:03 A.M. Israel prepares to use unapproved medications to treat coronavirus

Israel's Health Ministry is instructing medical teams in hospitals and HMOs to prepare for he possible use of medications that have yet to be approved to treat coronavirus patients.

A directive is calling on hospital directors to stockpile medications that are at the research level and haven't received full approval. (Ido Efrati)

9:30 A.M. Israel prepares to intubate 5,000 patients, but has less than 1,500 respirators left

A report prepared for the Knesset committee charged with overseeing efforts to contain the coronavirus revealed Israel has only 1,437 available respirators as the country faces a constant increase in patients.

With over 700 are already in use, Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov told the committee that another 70 machines have been ordered from the private medical system, as well as 900-800 machines from the IDF. He added that there would eventually be 2,864 machines available, but did not explain where they would come from. 

Israel is preparing to be able to intubate 5,000 patients at the same time, Bar Siman Tov said, adding that so long as a peak of patients requiring the aid of a respirator is delayed, Israel will have the time to prepare accordingly. (Jonathan Lis)

9:20 A.M. West Bank villagers enter isolation after Palestinian woman dies from coronavirus

All residents of the Palestinian village of Bidu in the Jerusalem area have entered home isolation after a Palestinian woman has passed away because of coronavirus. All those who have been in contact with the woman have also been ordered into isolation at the hospital in the village of Turmus Ayya in the central-northern West Bank. So far, the official number of Palestinians who tested positive for coronavirus is 64. (Jack Khoury)

8:40 A.M. Number of Israelis who tested positive for coronavirus nears 2,500

The Israeli Health Ministry has released updated data about the coronavirus situation in Israel. The overall number of cases has topped 2,495 with 41 in a severe condition. Nearly 150,000 have been or remain in home isolation. Nearly 70 are in a medium condition and the rest are mild cases.

Five patients have died since the beginning of the crisis. (Ido Efrati)

6:30 A.M. Thousands of coronavirus testing kits, masks delivered to the West Bank 

More than 3,000 coronavirus testing kits and 50,000 protective masks for doctors and medical staff were donated by the World Health Organization to the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, in coordination with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. (Jack Khoury)

6:15 A.M. Seven more Gazans test positive for coronavirus, bringing total to nine 

The total number of coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip rose to nine after seven security servicemen that were in direct contact with the first two patients who returned from Pakistan tested positive Thursday overnight, according to sources in the Gaza health system. 

The seven new patients are in a light condition, and were in isolation prior to testing positive and will continue to be isolated, as well as the two other patients, say the sources. (Jack Khoury)

Jewish prayer held outside a synagogue in Ofakim, Israel, March 26, 2020.
Jewish prayer held outside a synagogue in Ofakim, Israel, March 26, 2020. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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