Coronavirus Israel: Pandemic Czar Announces Free Testing Without Referrals

Ultra-orthodox locales removed from list of restricted areas ■ Education Ministry says hands tied over Haredi school violations ■ Pandemic czar says quarantine to be shortened to 12 days ■ Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat in critical condition

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Israel's coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, at the Knesset, October 20, 2020
Israel's coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, at the Knesset, October 20, 2020Credit: Shmulik Grossman / Knesset Spokesperson's Unit
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Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are dealing with a renewed coronavirus outbreak, leading to proposals and measures intended to curb its spread and mitigate the economic ramifications of the crisis by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

Israel currently has 22,856 active cases; 2,278 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 5,238 active cases and 453 deaths, and in Gaza 1,921 active cases and 28 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

11:38 P.M. Number of serious patients keeps declining

The Health Ministry said Israel currently has 614 serious patients, a decline of 20 since Monday evening, while 15 more Israelis have died, bringing the country's COVID death toll to 2,278.

In addition, 1,286 people were diagnosed with the virus since Monday night. As of Tuesday night, 234 people are on ventilators, a decline of 12 since Monday night.

The ministry added that 41,757 coronavirus tests were conducted on Monday, and 33,206 on Tuesday. (Haaretz)

6:20 P.M. Ultra-orthodox locales removed from list of restricted areas

A ministerial committee approved a Health Ministry proposal to remove Bnei Brak, Elad, Beitar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit from the list of restricted areas amid a decline in the rate of infections.

Restrictions will also be lifted from the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhoods of Mettersdorf, Ma'alot Dafna and Ramat Eshkol. Only the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo remains on the list of restricted areas, or "red" zones. (Ido Efrati)

5:20 P.M. Coronavirus czar announces free coronavirus testing without referrals

Prof. Roni Gamzu, said that it will soon be possible to be tested at local clinics without the need for a referral.

"We made a decision that free tests will be available throughout Israel, without the need for a referral," Gamzu said. "It will be done within Health Maintenance Organizations," he added. (Ido Efrati, Noa Landau)

5:00 P.M. Constitutional committee approves first phase of lockdown easing, requests reconsideration in one week

The Knesset's Constitutional Committee ratified the first exit phase of the lockdown, but shortened its validity by four days, to October 27.

It called on government to then revisit the plan to allow weddings, as well as the operation of bed and breakfasts, beauty and hair salons, athletes' training and complementary medicine providers. (Jonathan Lis)

1:45 P.M. Coronavirus czar to recommend end of lockdown for all but one 'red' areas

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu is expected to recommend the end of lockdown measures for all remaining 'red' areas, with the exception of the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem. 

In light of the steady decline of infection rates, Gamzu has openly advocated for the lifting of restrictions on these areas, but has urged the population to keep following guidelines. 

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The lockdown was eased nationally on Sunday, barring localities classified as 'red' under the traffic light system. (Ido Efrati)

12:00 P.M. Twice as many Israelis return to work than file for unemployment after economy reopens

Following the re-opening of the economy, the daily number of people returning to work is double the number of those registering for unemployment, the Israeli Employment Service has reported Tuesday.

Between the last report on Monday and Tuesday morning, 5,915 Israelis returned to work, outstripping the 2,883 who registered for unemployment in the same period.

Since September 17, the day before the start of the second lockdown, 268,014 people registered with the Israeli Employment Service, with 231,869 of them on unpaid leave

There are currently 975,778 jobseekers registered with the Israeli Employment Service, of which 628,514 are on unpaid leave. (Sivan Klingbail

10:18 A.M. Education Ministry shirks responsibility for ultra-Orthodox school violations

The Education Ministry is not monitoring ultra-Orthodox institutions that violate coronavirus restrictions, claiming that it has no authority to enforce it. 

"Here and there there are violations, and it is being handled by the police," Aryeh Moore, head of the emergency department at the Education Ministry said. Adding that "the Education Ministry has no supervisory powers" over institutions that have opened in violation of restrictions. This is despite the fact that Israeli law has allowed the ministry to revoke budgets from such institutions since August if they break the rules.

On Sunday, some ultra-Orthodox elementary and middle schools reopened for tens of thousands of students despite lockdown regulations, which only allowed preschools to open. Israel's Justice Ministry has drafted a plan to strip funding from schools that reopen in violation of the emergency coronavirus regulations. (Aaron Rabinowitz and Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

9:00 A.M. Bnei Brak no longer a 'red' city, municipality says

The Bnei Brak municipality has announced that the city is no longer considered “red” in the “traffic light” system, meaning that its rate of coronavirus infection has declined. As of Tuesday morning, the city’s infection rate fell to 7.17 on the government’s coronavirus metric, and is now classified as bright orange. 

The lockdown was eased on Sunday, including the reopening of preschools and canceling movement restrictions, except for cities that have been designated as red according to the traffic light system.

Local authorities thanked residents for observing the guidelines, and encouraged them to continue to do so, and has submitted a request to lift the restrictions on the city. (Bar Peleg)

MONDAY

10:30 P.M. Coronavirus cabinet to convene on Tuesday to discuss reopening shops or resuming studies for first- through fourth-grade students

The coronavirus cabinet will convene on Tuesday to discuss further easing of lockdown restrictions. Two items are on the agenda and the cabinet is expected to decide with respect to at least one of these: a return to school for first- to fourth-grade students, or the  reopening of stores to the public.

Such easing of the lockdown would begin no earlier than November 1, two weeks after the first phase of the lockdown exit, and will depend on the infection rate. The cabinet is considering reopening shops before reopening schools for first to fourth grades because the Education Ministry has clarified that schools will need a month to prepare for the proposed resumption of studies in the capsule format. (Ido Efrati)

7:45 P.M. Active cases in Israel continue to decline

The Health Ministry reported that there are 29,597 active cases in Israel as of Sunday evening, reflecting a decline of 3,208 since Sunday night. 

Currently, 1,129 coronavirus patients are hospitalized, out of which 632 are in serious condition and 246 are on ventilators. 2,260 people have died. (Haaretz)

7:05 P.M. Coronavirus czar recommends restrictions be lifted on three 'red cities,' one neighborhood of Jerusalem

Prof. Ronni Gamzu recommended to lift restrictions on the town of Rechasim, near Haifa, and the West Bank settlements of Betar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit, as well as the neighborhood of Kiryat Mattersdorf in northern Jerusalem, in light of a decline in infection rates.

The ministerial committee responsible for the lockdown is expected to discuss lifting restrictions on Rechasim tonight, while the status of the others will be debated tomorrow, after more data is made available.

Residents of all four areas are predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jews. The lockdown was extended until Wednesday in so-called "red cities" in order to assess the full extent of the infection situation following the Simhat Torah holiday, which took place on October 10. 

Despite his recommendation, Gamzu cautioned against any kind of laxity, saying there was "a fear of latent rise in infection according to the rate of positive tests and the amount of tests."

"Precisely because of this, it is of paramount importance to continue to adhere to the guidelines and restrictions," he added, "and especially to prevent the opening of the education system without approval, and to continue to be tested. Failure [to follow these protocols] in any city will lead to infection rates that will return it to red status." (Ido Efrati)

6:30 P.M. Netanyahu calls on opposition not 'to divide the people as Israel fights coronavirus'

Speaking at the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the opposition not to use the coronavirus crisis to "divide the people just to get some Knesset seats in the polls."

"In most countries in the world, the opposition helps the government fight the coronavirus," Netanyahu said. "Unfortunately not in Israel. They waste time in the Knesset instead of working. In times of emergency, everyone needs to make some sacrifices."  Netanyahu added that Israel can overcome the coronavirus crisis only if "we stay united." 

Netanyahu also addressed the opening of many ultra-Orthodox schools this week, in violation of regulations, and urged "everyone to respect the rules."  He praised those that abide by the rules, and said that he is happy about the decline in cases among the Haredi public and the possibility that red cities will be exiting lockdown. 

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, spoke after Netanyahu and accused the prime minister of having been subsumed by politics and that this is why he "failed to handle the coronavirus, run the education system, even the most basic test of leadership - setting a personal example."

In response to Netanyahu's claim minutes before that "Lapid calls on [the public] to ignore the Health Ministry guidelines," Lapid said "I never called for violating the guidelines, you yourself violated them. At the height of the crisis, you asked the Finance Committee for a tax refund. All day, you dealt with your trial, Mendelblit, the media. Everything that is irrelevant to the lives of Israelis." 

Lapid painted a grim picture of the current state of affairs in Israel, in which “every fifth business… is closed, every fourth young adult lives on overdraft, every third unemployed person is young.” Things are “very difficult” for “real people,” he said, lambasting Netanyahu. “The reality is that the coronavirus crisis cannot be handled worse than you are handling it….businesses and people are dying. This failure is registered in your name.” 

Monday’s Knesset session was initiated by opposition leaders in the wake of recent polls, which indicate that the gap between Likud and opposition parties, Yamina and Yesh Atid, is continuing to close. The plenum session was entitled, “The prime minister’s disgraceful failure in managing the economic and health crisis.” (Jonathan Lis)

3:45 P.M. Health Ministry formulating a return to school framework for first through fourth grades

The Health Ministry is formulating a framework that would allow first- to fourth-grade students to return to school five days a week, beginning November 1. According to the director general of the Education Ministry, Amit Edri, implementing the plan with respect to even just the first and second grades would cost about NIS 1.6 billion and require an additional 13,000 jobs.

Under the terms of the plan, studies will be conducted in capsules of 18 students, and students will be required to remain in their respective capsules during breaks and meals, which are preferably to be held outdoors in the open air and in a staggered manner. Classroom windows are to remain open during class, teachers will be required to undergo testing before returning to the classroom, and will be required to maintain a distance from students. Each class will be accompanied by one teacher who will not teach other classes. Professional teachers – that is, those who teach physical education, art or music – would be able to switch between capsules, provided that their lessons are held outside or in a large space.

2:30 P.M. Quarantined Israelis to be prevented from going abroad

Those ordered to self-isolate due to proximity to coronavirus carriers or presenting symptoms will be prevented from leaving Israel, due to a new information-sharing initiative by the Population and Immigration Authority, the Ministry of Health and Israel Police.

The purpose of the new policy, which will allow the respective parties to share information, is to ensure that those ordered to go into isolation do not attempt to circumvent the 14-day quarantine by going abroad, as has often been done in past months.

In light of the announcement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said "Much of our ability to guarantee public health depends on strict enforcement. Those who violate quarantine endanger hundreds and thousands of other people. This must not be allowed." (Ido Efrati)

2:00 P.M. Police clash with yeshiva students in Bnei Brak over violation of coronavirus regulations

The police faced violent resistance as they closed down a yeshiva in Bnei Brak which was operating in defiance of coronavirus restrictions, a police spokesman has said. 

The incident occurred after the police inspected a yeshiva which was supposed to be closed and found dozens of gathered, in violation of the guidelines.

When the police ordered the gathering to disperse, the crowd threw stones at police vehicles and blocked roads with garbage cans. 

The police eventually dispersed the crowd and the person in charge of the yeshiva received a fine for a total of NIS 5,000 ($1,478). (Bar Peleg)

11:40 A.M. AG decides not to open investigation into minister who violated lockdown, computer bug responsible for inconsistencies in story

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decided Monday not to open an investigation into Likud minister Gila Gamliel, who purposely misled the Health Ministry during her contact tracing after she violated the coronavirus lockdown.

Environmental Protection Minister Gamliel, who was told two weeks ago that she tested positive for the coronavirus, evaded the Health Ministry's epidemiological investigation for hours, and tried to mislead investigators by telling them that her driver infected her.

During the attorney general's investigation, they found that a Health Ministry computer bug caused inconsistencies in her story, making it appear as if she hid the fact that she visited Tiberius, when she had told investigators that she was there. 

Mendelblit noted that although the reports about Gamliel are true, findings show that "she fully complied," and that the issue can be dropped.

Gamliel, who lives in Tel Aviv, violated the one kilometer distance restriction by visiting a synagogue in the northern city of Tiberius during Yom Kippur. She also drove to her in-laws' home, also against restrictions. After the incident was reported in the press, she said, "I may have erred in my judgement and there was room for me to have behaved differently. I apologize for that to the public, and vow to pay the requested fine."  (Netael Bandel)

11:04 A.M. Quarantine to be shortened to 12 days, coronavirus czar says

Ronni Gamzu, who manages Israel's coronavirus response, told the Knesset Health Committee that the mandatory quarantine period will soon be shortened from two weeks to 12 days.

People can leave quarantine two days early so long as they take a coronavirus test 10 days into the isolation period, Gamzu explained. 

The committee chairman, Likud MK Haim Katz, told Gamzu that "every day in quarantine has a direct effect on the economy." He continued, "Health comes first and foremost, but if we can save quarantine days, that would help the economy." 

Gamzu also discussed reopening the education system, saying "The driving force of the pandemic is children and teenagers, whose rate of serious symptoms is low. They get infected, carry the virus into an uninfected majority and drive forward the infections among older people."

He added, "There is no floodgate that can hold back this flow, and avoiding infection in this population is very important. We must wait to open the education system for elementary and high schools, and do so cautiously. Because in the end, the same children and teenagers are interacting with adults and the elderly, even if it is not as often." (Jonathan Lis)  

10:10 A.M. Kindergarten staff test positive for COVID in Ramat Gan, city opens free testing

Eight kindergarten teachers and assistants in Ramat Gan have tested positive for the coronavirus Monday morning, the municipality said. A day earlier, preschools and kindergartens reopened under the relaxed lockdown. 

The city opened a coronavirus testing complex free of charge for residents, and mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen called on residents to get tested even if they have no symptoms. (Bar Peleg)

9:30 A.M.  Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat in critical condition, Israeli hospital says

The health of Dr. Saeb Erekat, the Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, has deterioriated Monday morning and he is now a critical condition, says Hadassah Medical Center.

Dr. Erekat was transferred to an intensive care unit at the Israeli hospital Sunday night and is anesthetized and on a ventilator. 

His treatment, the hospital said, is a "huge challenge" because he underwent a lung transplant three years ago and has a "weakened immune system and bacterial infection in addition to coronavirus." (Jack Khoury)

Read the full report here.

SUNDAY

10:00 P.M. Health official: 'It seems we will be forced to live from lockdown to lockdown for many months'

A senior health official said Sunday, following the refusal of ultra-Orthodox education systems to comply with coronavirus restrictions, "It seems we will be forced to live from lockdown to lockdown for many months. It will take a very heavy toll mentally, socially, health-wise and economically."

Regarding the opening of the ultra-Orthodox schools, the official said, "The reopening means that the 'traffic light' plan, which was meant to dictate regulations for municipalities regardless of what sector of society they represent, is dead on arrival."

Speaking to Haaretz, the official warned, "We will continue to count our dead, to devotedly care for the sick, and watch inordinate human tragedies take place. Maybe that will shake this small portion of the population out of their denial and stubborness."

Then, the official added, "individual responsibility will increase and there will be grassroots social pressure to behave properly, to avoid excessive gatherings and protect the elderly. It may bring an end to the culture of not wearing a mask, not maintaining social distancing or violating orders  – the types of behaviors that signal to others that they should act that way too." (Ido Efrati)

8:30 P.M. Saeb Erkat in 'serious but stable' condition

The spokesperson for Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem near Jerusalem, issued a statement on Sunday night regarding the status of Saeb Erekat who was admitted to the hospital's intensive care unit earlier in the day.

According to the statement, as of "the past few hours, he is in serious but stable condition." He is said to have arrived to the hospital "in critical condition" and in need of "high-flow oxygen."

In its statement, the hospital emphasized that Erekat is receiving the same degree of "high level of professional care" afforded to all severe coronavirus patients, and that the hospital "will continue to provide advanced medicine to all who come through its gates." (Jack Khoury)

8:00 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox lawmaker tells Netanyahu studies will continue, but open to compromises to maintain social distancing

Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday, saying that studies would continue in ultra-Orthodox schools but that they are open to compromise in order to preserve social distancing guidelines.

Gafni said that the community would work to find a compromise, which could include limiting the number of students per classroom, studying in larger halls or making use of extra classrooms in the girls' schools, which are currently not in use, while maintaining social distancing.

Gafni added that “we don’t believe that a mistake can be made under the guidance of the generation’s greatest leader,” referring to the Rabbi Kanievsky, who ordered schools to open. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

7:45 P.M. Netanyahu calls for increased enforcement of regulations, after ultra-Orthodox reopen schools

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference Sunday evening alongside Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, calling for increased enforcement of coronavirus regulations after ultra-Orthodox cities, including those with high infection rates, fully reopened schools.

"First off, we must prevent infections from seeping out from the red cities. There aren't many left, numbers have dropped, and this is because people have actually been observing the regulations," Netanyahu said.

"Now I'm calling on all public leaders, to the Haredi community, to abide by the regulations, to see to it that they are respected. In any case we must enforce them as well. Upping enforcement includes ensuring that the lockdowns [on red cities] are tightly sealed, and inside the cities we will hand out fines as necessary," Netanyahu said. "I would be glad if this were done voluntarily, with mutual understanding, because our goal is to care for every Israeli citizen, without exception. For that, we need both enforcement and outreach, discipline and the important work that police are doing under difficult circumstances," Netanyahu added. (Noa Landau)

7:15 P.M. Active cases in Israel continue to decline

The Health Ministry reported that there are 32,805 active cases in Israel as of Sunday evening, reflecting a decline of 2,407 since Saturday night. 

Currently, 1,199 coronavirus patients are hospitalized, out of which 669 are in serious condition and 234 are on ventilators. 2,209 people have died. (Haaretz)

3:38 P.M. Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat transferred to Israeli hospital

Dr. Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, has been transferred to an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem "in light of his infection with the coronavirus and his pre-existing health conditions," a statement from his office said Sunday.

Earlier this month, the Secretariat of the PLO Executive Committee announced via Twitter that Erekat had tested positive for COVID-19. The statement said that since contracting the virus, Erekat has been under the care of his family, particularly his daughter, who is a doctor, at his home. However, his condition worsened, and so it was decided to transfer him to an Israeli hospital. (Jack Khoury)

9:29 A.M. 60,000 Haredi students return to religious junior schools against restrictions

Some 60,000 ultra-Orthodox students returned to religious junior schools on Sunday, in violation of Israel's coronavirus restrictions.

Many of the schools that were opened on Sunday are found in "red" cities, which suffer from a high COVID-19 infection rate.

On Saturday, Lituanian ultra-Orthodox community leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, ordered the directors of Talmud Torah (religious schools) to fully reopen on Sunday, contrary to Health Ministry regulations and despite disagreement from his co-leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

(Read the full report here…)

7:34 A.M. Preschools reopen, movement restrictions canceled as Israel eases nationwide lockdown

Israel reopened preschools and daycare centers and removed movement restrictions on Sunday, as the country entered the first stage of exiting a nationwide lockdown that started on September 25.

Businesses that do not provide in-person services will also reopen and in-person takeaways from restaurants will be permitted. Nature reserves, public parks and beaches will resume activity and worshipers will be allowed to pray at the Western Wall in small groups.

Public transportation will resume normal activity at 50 percent capacity. Restrictions against visiting another person in their home have been removed, but restrictions against gatherings remain. 

People will be allowed to gather in groups of 10 indoors and 20 outdoors. (Haaretz)

SATURDAY

9:45 P.M. Netanyahu addresses Israeli public on eve of first stage of Israel’s lockdown exit strategy, which goes into effect Sunday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Israeli public on Saturday night, on the eve of the first stage of Israel’s lockdown exit strategy, which goes into effect Sunday. 

When asked whether he condemned Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky’s instruction to directors of religious schools that they fully reopen on Sunday, contrary to Health Ministry regulations, Netanyahu said: “I call on the Haredi community not to do this… Our torah sanctifies live, it is a bible of life.”

When asked if he would send police to keep religious schools from opening: "We can't send police to every street corner or every city.” He also said that regulations would be enforced “to the best of our ability”, and that the most important thing was to keep a tight seal on ‘red’ cities.

While warning that the “second wave is far more massive than the first,” Netanyahu affirmed the lockdown, saying that “The decision to implement a lockdown was a good one, and I stand by it. The lockdown worked…This time, we are exiting the lockdown carefully, according to the model laid out by experts."

9:10 P.M. Leader of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Community orders Talmud Torah to fully reopen on Sunday, contrary to lockdown regulations

Lituanian ultra-Orthodox community leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, ordered the directors of Talmud Torah (religious schools) to fully reopen on Sunday, contrary to Health Ministry regulations and despite disagreement from his co-leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein. Edelstein is of the opinion that conflict with the government should be avoided and that Talmud Torah should only reopen with the government's consent.

It is anticipated that tens of thousands of students will return to religious studies Sunday following Kanievsky's instructions. According to the rabbi's decree, school directors are to enforce social distancing rules and split classes to the greatest extent possible. Masks should also be used and hygiene maintained. An ultra-Orthodox Talmud Torah director who spoke with Haaretz said that some schools would split the students into groups that would study on alternate days.

Although Kanievsky believed that the schools should have reopened as early as last week, following pressure from a number of sources, he ordered the schools' directors to refrain from doing so in the hopes of reaching agreement with the Health Ministry regarding a reopening strategy.

However, last week it became clear that such an agreement could not be reached because the government cannot allow the ultra-Orthodox education system to reopen while the secular one remains closed.

Kanievsky, who contracted the coronavirus about two weeks ago, had ordered Talmud Torah and yeshivas to stay open during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, asserting that the abolition of the Torah was more dangerous from the virus. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

8:30 P.M. Tel Aviv to reopen beaches, restore lifeguard services

The Tel Aviv Municipality announced on Saturday evening that its beaches will open tomorrow for the winter season with lifeguard services. The Municipality asks that visitors comply with the Health Ministry guidelines, noting that "full cooperation is required from the public" and that it is its "responsibility to uphold the rules."

On the occassion of the announcement, Tel Aviv-Yafo Mayor Ron Huldai said: "The people of Israel are currently eager to enter an inviting and safe public space, and no less important - free. We are happy to make such a space accessible to the public, all the more so at this time." (Bar Peleg)

8:20 P.M. Coronavirus czar urges Israelis to remain cautious as restrictions ease

In a press conference Saturday evening, coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu beseeched Israelis to remain cautious as the first stage of the lockdown exit strategy goes into effect Sunday. “This isn’t a return to routine, rather an easing of the restrictions. I’m asking: limit your contacts, even if they are permitted. Hold off, refuse meetings in closed places. Nature parties, weddings and large gatherings are forbidden. There are no compromises, these will return us backwards if we are not careful,” Gamzu said. “Many of us are not working. We still have 700 people in serious condition, 200 more than when the health system raised a red flag.”

Gamzu called on Israelis to get tested more frequently and to cooperate with epidemiological investigations, “What we’re missing the most is cooperation. If you have the slightest suspicion, go get tested. We need to find the hidden cases.” 

Gamzu applauded the reduction in infection rates in ‘red’ cities, specifically congratulating the ultra-Orthodox population for reducing infection rates.

Regarding the reopening of schools, Gamzu warned that opening preschools is not a prelude to opening the rest of the education system. “It is more dangerous to reopen schools for the older age groups. It’s against the law. It could take cities backwards and I am asking to refrain from opening schools for older children.”

Gamzu added that the government’s next goal is to reduce the daily infection rate to 1,000 infections per day, “and we can get there,” he added. 

“We’re on the right path,” Gamzu concluded, “we just need more cooperation.”

8:15 P.M. Positive test rate falls to 3 percent as Israel begins lockdown exit

An additional 834 Israelis were diagnosed with COVID-19 since Friday night, reflecting a positive rate of 3 percent. 

There are 35,212 active cases as of Saturday night. 1,212 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized, out of which 689 are in serious condition and 238 are on ventilators. 2,167 people have died. (Ido Efrati)

6:15 P.M. Restrictions to continue in 'red' cities, despite praise from coronavirus czar

The ministerial committee for restricted areas unanimously authorized the Health Ministry’s recommendations to declare red cities as restricted areas, meaning that the eased restrictions announced earlier Friday will not apply there. The declaration is valid for 4 days, from Sunday October 18 until Wednesday October 21 at midnight. 

The restrictions will apply in the following areas:

  • The municipal area of Bnei Brak, from Jabotinsky Street southward
  • The municipal area of Rekhasim
  • The municipal area of El’ad
  • Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem (District 4)
  • Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, Ma’alot Dafna in Jerusalem (District 5)
  • Kiryat Mattersdorf neighborhood in Jerusalem (District 9)
  • The municipality of Beitar Ilit (excluding the industrial zone)
  • The municipality of Modi’in Ilit

The coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, and Maj. Gen. (Res.) Roni Noma also released a statement expressing “great satisfaction” over the significant changes in the behavior of the residents and mayors of red cities. 

“We thought it appropriate to harness the effectiveness of the lockdown in red cities to bring about a further decline in morbidity to the level of orange cities, despite all the difficulties regarding the needs of preschoolers in those cities,” the statement added.  

They also called for the residents and leadership to continue avoiding meetings and gatherings in the coming days, as well as to get tested. (Ido Efrati)

3:30 P.M. Government approves first stage of lockdown exit strategy

The government approved new coronavirus regulations for the first stage of exiting the lockdown, the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry announced Friday. The loosened restrictions will go into effect on Sunday, barring a drastic change in the infection rate. The regulations will be in effect until October 31.

The statement added that if infection rates spike, they will roll back the measures and return to previous regulations.

The ministers will hold a separate debate on so-called “red” cities later on Friday.

According to the decision, the following is the first stage of the exit strategy:

  • The option to open workplaces that do not receive the public
  • In-person takeaways from restaurants
  • The opening of daycare centres and nurseries for children aged 0 to 6
  • The opening of nature reserves, public parks and beaches
  • The opening of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher along guidelines that will be established by the Health Ministry and the NSC, and in capsules
  • Removal of movement restrictions
  • Removal of restrictions against visiting another person in their home, but restrictions against gatherings will remain
  • Gatherings in open areas will be limited to 20 people, and 10 people in closed spaces
  • Training will resume for athletes in the higher leagues

The rest of the restrictions will remain as they were under the lockdown.

The public is requested to observe the guidelines in order to ensure the mortality rate continues to drop in accordance with the aims  set by the Health Ministry. This will ensure that we can proceed onto the next stage of easing the lockdown. 

FRIDAY

12:30 P.M. Coronavirus czar: By next week we may have no more hotspots

The Health Ministry said Friday that coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu recommended extending the lockdown on five "red" cities, those with high infection rates, until Wednesday.

Two towns, Beit Shemes and Kiryat Malakhi, were removed from the list of "red" cities. This leaves only the cities of Bnei Brak, the town of Rekhasim, and the West Bank settlements Modi'in Ilit, Betar Illit, and Elad on the list.

Gamzu added that by next Wednesday, he hopes there will be no more "red" cities, and all virus hot spots will be under control.

Yoaz Hendel, the communications minister and a member of the Derech Eretz party, backed up Gamzu, demanding that the lockdown be lifted according to the level of infection in each location, rather than all at once. (Ido Efrati)

12:00 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox lawmaker demands Netanyahu fire coronavirus czar

Lawmaker Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu on Friday, claiming that efforts to reduce infection rates in ultra-Orthodox cities "led him to crunch numbers in the middle of the night in order to put the ultra-Orthodox under lockdown." (Haaretz)

8:40 A.M. Preschools to reopen Sunday without pods, no requirement for children to wear masks

The Education Ministry announced regulations on Friday for preschools for children aged three to six when they reopen nationwide on Sunday (or Monday, for those unable to do so on Sunday). The preschools will function as usual, six days a week, without dividing children into pods. Teachers and aides will be required to wear masks, but children will not. Children will be required to show a daily signed declaration of health. Towns categorized as having a high infection rate will likely have additional restrictions to be decided upon by a ministerial committee.

The Health Ministry meanwhile issued an announcement urging preschool teachers and aides to get tested for the coronavirus over the weekend ahead of the reopening.  (Haaretz)

8:05 A.M. Former Shin Bet deputy director dies

Itzhak Ilan, formerly deputy chief of the Shin Bet security service, has died of the coronavirus at the age of 64. He served in the Shin Bet in a variety of roles beginning in 1982 and until his retirement in 2011. Ilan suffered from a serious lung condition and received a  lung transplant last year. (Haaretz)

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