Coronavirus Live: Netanyahu Proposes Stopping All Flights in and Out of Israel

Russia and Israel discussing joint production of vaccine ■ Education Ministry estimates a third of high schoolers not participating in remote learning

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Travelers at the departures hall of Ben Gurion International Airport, January 18, 2020.
Travelers at the departures hall of Ben Gurion International Airport, January 18, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
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Haaretz

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After weeks of a steady rise in coronavirus cases, infection rates in Israel are showing positive signs amid a third national lockdown, while an ambitious vaccination campaign is underway.

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Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip await vaccines, which could take at least a few more months to get to a big enough part of society. Infection rates in both territories, however, are being kept relatively low.

Israel currently has 76,688 active cases; 4,341 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 4,779 active cases and 1,428 deaths, and in Gaza 5,603 active cases and 497 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

10:45 P.M. Netanyahu to propose stopping all flights to and from Israel to slow spread of virus variants

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that he would bring forth a proposal Sunday to stop all flights in and out of Israel for two weeks to slow the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.

In debates over the weekend, Netanyahu and senior officials in the Health Ministry, Transportation Ministry and National Security Council had agreed upon several restrictions which would be brought to the government for approval.

These restrictions include: Banning entrance or exit of Israeli and foreign travellers, limiting operations at Ben Gurion International airport, and forming a set of regulations for special humanitarian circumstances.

The restrictions would be in place for 14 days and will take effect following the approval of the government. (Judy Maltz)

9:07 P.M. Israel to consider limiting operations at Ben-Gurion International Airport

Officials are set to discuss restricting operations at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Sunday in light of the pandemic. The government  approved regulations last week requiring all arrivals to present a negative coronavirus test conducted no more than 72 hours prior to landing.

Restrictions barring Israelis from leaving the country have not been approved because of legal issues.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet with top officials in the National Security Council, Health Ministry and Transportation Ministry on Sunday to discuss additional limitations on travel into and out of the country.

Last week, Haaretz reported that the government was considering implementing strict limitations on international travel. Among the options being weighed are restrictions that would only allow Israelis to leave the country for diplomatic or business trips, humanitarian needs and extraordinary cases to be reviewed by an exemptions committee. Officials have also discussed putting a mechanism in place to compensate travelers who were kept from flying. (Judy Maltz)

8:15 P.M. Rebbe of Vizhnitz Hasidic community orders reopening of schools

The rebbe of the Vizhnitz Hasidic community called on Saturday for Hasidic schools to be reopened despite the national coronavirus lockdown, giving instructions to open all religious elementary schools in the community and to publish these instructions in the community’s official newspaper. The rebbe told followers that they should not clash with police arriving to enforce the lockdown, and that they should refer officers to him. As the leader of the third-largest Hasidic community in the country, the rebbe oversees the education of thousands. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

7:10 P.M. British variant found in six out of seven samples taken from seriously ill pregnant women

Israel’s Health Ministry said Saturday that the British variant of the coronavirus is liable to cause serious illness in pregnant women.

The Health Ministry said that in light of the sharp increase in serious coronavirus cases amongst pregnant women, it had taken samples for the purpose of genetic sequencing. Ten samples were taken from pregnant women who are in serious condition with the coronavirus.

Of the seven samples that have been sequenced so far, six have been identified as the British variant. (Haaretz)

7:00 P.M. Leading rabbi approves reopening ultra-Orthodox schools despite lockdown

The leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, has approved the reopening of religious elementary schools, beginning Sunday despite a spike in COVID-19 infections and nationwide lockdown.

In recent days, sources close to Kanievsky told the Health Ministry that if a plan for opening the Talmud Torah schools is not agreed upon, the rabbi would approve their reopening.

In recent days, Israel Police have entered areas where extremist Haredi sect members live, after months of steering clear, even as many have openly defied lockdown restrictions to hold religious gatherings, weddings and funerals, as well as opening schools. (Aaron Rabinowitz)

Click here to read the full story

6:30 P.M. Health clinics start vaccinating 11th and 12th graders

Israel's health clinics said on Saturday that it began vaccinating teenagers born in 2003 and 2004, or 11th and 12th graders, over the weekend.

A source from Israel's Vaccine Priorities Board told Haaretz that it's important to vaccinate 16 to 18 year olds to ensure examns can be held but also to to "give them back their lives" as much as possible. (Ido Efrati)

5:30 P.M. Wolfson hospital won’t take any new COVID patients due to overflow

Wolfson Medical Center in Holon said on Friday that it won’t admit any new COVID-19 patients. This comes as the hospital has seen a sharp increase in patients, with 75 people currently hospitalized, of whom 40 are in serious condition.

A sharp increase in younger patients has also been detected with 10 people under the age of 45 currently hospitalized. (Haaretz)

FRIDAY

10:45 P.M. Israel to start vaccinating 11th and 12th graders

Israel's main health maintenance organizations announced Friday night that they will begin vaccinating teenagers born in 2003 and 2004, or 11th and 12th graders, against the coronavirus as early as Saturday.

The Clalit HMO will allow teens born in 2003-2004 to begin receiving vaccinations at their designated centers on Saturday if accompanied by a parent; Maccabi will allow teens to receive the vaccine if accompanied by a parent and after presenting their identification card. Teens who cannot be accompanied will need to present a written and signed approval by one of the parents while stating the parent's ID number; Leumit is allowing them to receive the vaccine by appointment beginning Sunday. Meuhedet specified that it is opening inoculation appointments to 11th and 12th graders beginning Sunday, in accordance with their supply of doses. (Ido Efrati)   

12:25 P.M. Russia and Israel discussing joint production of vaccine, Russian ambassador in Israel tells Sputnik

Russia and Israel have been discussing cooperating to jointly produce vaccines, Russian news outlet Sputnik News cited Russia's ambassador in Israel as saying on Friday.

Ambassador Antoly Viktorov told Sputnik in an interview that "possible joint production of a vaccine is being discussed bilaterally … Many other options are possible there, for example, the cooperation with AstraZeneca. Russia has contacts with this company registered in the U.K., and Israel has contacts, and other options are possible there, but now it would be inappropriate for me to make predictions about such cooperation." (Haaretz)

11:43 A.M. Police reject accusations of overly strict enforcement, say seven officers hurt in Bnei Brak clashes

The police said on Friday that they totally reject accusations of overly strict enforcement of lockdown restrictions following overnight clashes in the city of Bnei Brak. Seven officers were hurt in clashes with residents protesting lockdown restrictions, police said. Six suspects were arrested. Police said police officers had stones thrown at them and were physically assaulted.  (Bar Peleg)

9:39 A.M. Minister warns against attacking police enforcing lockdown

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana took to Twitter after several incidents overnight and on Friday morning of clashes between police forces and ultra-Orthodox groups over enforcement of the current restrictions, which bar schools and synagogues from opening.

"Whether you like the coronavirus regulations or not – the police's job is enforcement," he said, adding that "assaulting officers can't go unanswered."

Referring to clashes in the central city of Bnei Brak, Ohana said: "The majority of the Haredi public... is law-abiding, and unfortunately suffered tonight for no reason. We're in a joint fight to save lives. The enemy is the virus, not anyone else." (Bar Peleg)

9:15 A.M. Denmark halts all flight from Dubai for five days over potential problems with fake tests

Denmark has halted all arriving flights from Dubai for five days due to potential problems with fake coronavirus tests in Dubai, the country's transport ministry said on Friday. (Reuters)

9:10 A.M. Police force closure of religious elementary school in Ashdod

Police blocked entry to a religious elementary school in Ashdod on Friday, forcing it to stay closed after its administrators refused to obey lockdown orders and keep it closed. (Almog Ben Zikri)

8:50 A.M. At least a third of high schoolers not participating regularly in remote learning, Education Ministry estimates

A significant proportion of high school students – about a third of Jewish students and half of Arab students – are not regularly participating in remote classes, according to an Education Ministry estimate. "There's no denying that the number of students who are disappearing is enormous," said an official in the ministry. "The bottom line is that we did not manage to propose real solutions to this problem."

The estimate includes students who completely drop out, as well as "hidden dropouts" – a more difficult concept to measure that usually means frequent absences or a passive lack of class participation. The ministry plans to open a command center in the coming weeks to locate absent students. Sources who participated in ministry discussions on the matter said that absences are thought to be particularly common among Bedouin students, and that the estimate does not include students in the ultra-Orthodox school system. Others in the ministry argued that the problem was being overestimated. (Or Kashti)

8:25 A.M. Netanyahu's optimism about vaccines gives way to concern

Toward the end of the week, the coronavirus numbers in Israel finally began to level off. After two weeks of a declared but partial lockdown, and two more weeks of a tighter lockdown, a clear trend toward reduction is discernible in the spread of COVID-19.

The curbing of infection rates appears to reflect a combination of the effect of the lockdowns and the more important (and successful) vaccination project. According to the results of the initial studies, after the second inoculation good protection ensues against the virus. The hope is that the creation of the layer of protection around the older public will be reflected in a gradual decline in the number of the seriously ill.

It’s all happening, as is known, in close competition with the spread of the coronavirus, particularly the new variants from Britain and elsewhere. According to various estimates, the British variant is responsible for between 20 and 50 percent of the new infections. Infection by the British strain was accelerated by mass violations of the lockdown, especially among sections of the Haredi public, who continued with crowding, schooling and weddings. (Amos Harel)

>> Click here to read the full report

2:57 A.M. Standard of living plummets to 20-year low

The standard of living in Israel fell to a 20-year low in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the annual poverty report of the National Insurance Institute, which was released Thursday.

The middle class suffered the steepest drop in income. People in the lowest-earning decile actually saw their income rise, due to greater government aid.

The standard of living of families in Israel, as measured by median income, fell 22.7% in 2020. (Lior Dattel, Nati Tucker and Lee Yaron)

>> Click here to read the full report

THURSDAY

9:14 P.M. Haredim attack cops dispersing illegal gathering in COVID hotspot; police arrest three

Several people belonging to extreme ultra-Orthodox factions attacked police officers who arrived in Bnei Brak to disperse a gathering held in violation of COVID restrictions.

Video footage shows the officers being pushed and beaten by the rioters. The officers are also seen getting into their vehicle with dozens of people chasing it and smashing the car windows with sticks and stones. The police said one officer was lightly wounded.

Several hours later, a large police force arrived at the area of the yeshiva attended by those who allegedly attacked the officers. According to police, clashes erupted during which youths set fire to trash cans. Officers responded with tear gas and arrested three individuals who were present. (Bar Peleg)

7:55 P.M. Health Ministry panel recommends vaccinating teens 16-18

The Health Ministry panel in charge of prioritizing vaccinations recommended to start vaccinating teenagers aged 16 to 18. (Ido Efrati)

6:52 P.M. The ‘new Jewish martyrs’ dying to defend Israel’s Haredi autonomy

Six-thirty in the morning in Bnei Brak, as the first glimmers of a wintery sun break through the clouds, a procession of men and boys is walking through the streets of Israel’s largest ultra-Orthodox city - towels slung on their shoulders and tallit and tefilin bags in the hands. 

They were making their way to the dozens of mikvaot (ritual baths) throughout town, to purify themselves before prayer. How do they keep themselves from getting infected from coronavirus? "I close my mouth when I go under the water," one boy giggled.

Israel is at the peak of its third COVID wave, with over 10,000 new cases a day, making Israel a world leader not just in vaccinations, but also in its daily infection rate. The new "English variant" is scything through the Haredi community: nearly 40 percent of Israelis currently carrying the virus are Haredim (they’re only 12 percent of the population). And yet, shuls, mikvaot and yeshivas are all open as usual, despite the lockdown. (Anshel Pfeffer)

>> Click here to read the full report

4:11 P.M. Police shutter synagogue, school operating in violation of lockdown restrictions

The police said they closed Wednesday a synagogue and a school in Bnei Brak which operated in violation of COVID-19 restrictions. (Haaretz)

11:36 A.M. 500 Russia-manufactured vaccines destined for West Bank, Gaza arrive in Israel 

Breaking with its previous stance, Israel intends to allow the passage of vaccines imported from Russia to the West Bank as well as Gaza. 

On Wednesday, Israel announced that 500 vaccines from Russia will be sent to vaccinate healthcare workers in Gaza and the West Bank, irrespective of their age.

This information was sent in a letter addressed to Professor Aviad Cohen, the representative of the Goldin Family at Israel’s High Court, who petitioned the court to disclose details on aid and relief provided to Gaza in a draft statement requested by the state. 

In a message from the government addressed January 6 2021, Israel said that “at this time,” there are no intentions to send vaccines to Gaza from Israel,” yet fell short of mentioning the names of any major vaccine manufacturers. 

A few days later, Israel announced that 200 doses of the vaccine were delivered to the West Bank, and 100 have already  been administered. The remaining 100 are expected to be given to “healthcare workers over 60 that are caring for coronavirus patients in Palestinian hospitals.” (Netael Bandel) 

10:20 A.M. Health Ministry: R number drops below 1 for first time since October

The R number, which measures the rate of the coronavirus spread, dropped below 1 for the first time since October, the Health Ministry said Thursday. It currently stands at 0.99.

According to the data, the coronavirus infection rate has been slowing since the end of December, yet this marks the first time that it has dipped below one.

The R number reflects the average number of people each patient will infect. When the R number drops below one, the number of new infections decreases.

The Health Ministry warned that the infection rate is still high, adding that “the rate of contagion continues to decline, which is reflected in a decrease in the weekly number of new cases.” (Ido Efrati)

8:20 A.M. Health Ministry releases latest numbers of Israel's vaccination drive

205,000 Israelis were vaccinated Monday, Health Minister Yudi Edelstein said.

"134,000 received their first dose, and 71,000 received their second dose," Edelstein said.

"This brings the number of vaccinated Israelis to 2,365,000, and of that total, 692,000 have received their second injection," he added, also thanking medical staff nationwide for administering the vaccinations. (Ido Efrati) 

For previous updates, click here

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