Coronavirus in Israel: Netanyahu Orders 'Dramatic Increase' in Enforcing Restrictions

Cases in Israel surge past 1,400 ■ Health Ministry pushing for full lockdown ■ Israel's unemployment rate hits all-time record ■ Twenty-four Israeli patients in serious condition ■ Gaza confirms first coronavirus cases

Coronavirus in Israel: A woman wearing a protective mask, standing at a bus stop in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020.
Moti Milrod

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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.

■ 1,442 Israelis have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, with the vast majority of cases mild and 41 recoveries. One patient has died and 29 are in serious condition

■ In the West Bank, 57 cases have been diagnosed so far, and 17 have recovered, the majority of them in Bethlehem. The Palestinian prime minister ordered a lockdown as of Sunday night 

■ In Gaza, two cases were diagnosed in patients who returned from Pakistan

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70Haaretz

■ 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 of over 10 people. Read the complete guide to the lockdown

■ No foreigners are allowed to enter Israel, unless they apply for special permits from the Foreign Ministry in advance and can prove they are able to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival. Read the full guide for tourists and Israelis

■ For informations 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

UPDATES

9:22 P.M. Number or coronavirus cases leaps to 1,442

The numbers published on Monday show an increase of 371 cases in 24 hours. Out of the 1,442 cases, 29 are in severe condition, and 41 have recovered. (Ido Efrati)

9:18 P.M. New government social-distancing measures will not be announced tonight

The government draft of the new, stricter social-distancing measures to manage the coronavirus outbreak is being consolidated by the health and legal officials, and is not expected to be ready in the coming hours. A cabinet meeting on the matter will take place on Tuesday, the exact hour has yet to be announced. (Noa Landau)

8:43 P.M. Latest coronavirus instructions revealed to task force through media

The Health Ministry’s Task Force on Epidemics learned of the latest measures to deal with the coronavirus via the media. The task force, a professional body that advises the ministry, had been slated to hold a discussion on canceling all non-urgent operations and procedures. But shortly before that meeting was supposed to take place, task force members learned that the decision to cancel non-urgent procedures had already been made and announced to the media.

According to senior sources in the health-care system, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made little use of the epidemic task force, while the Health Ministry’s top professionals have played almost no role in the decision making. 

This comes after Haaretz reported Monday that Netanyahu has hijacked management of the fight against the coronavirus from senior Health Ministry officials and other medical professionals. (Ido Efrati)

8:26 P.M. Israel launches pilot of drive-through coronavirus testing centers

Monday evening, between the hours of 5P.M. and 11 P.M. three new drive-through testing centers operated by Magen David Adom and the Health Ministry will launch their pilot program for testing suspected coronavirus patients.

One testing center is located in the parking lot of Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem; the second is located in the parking lot of the International Convention Center in Haifa, and the third is located in the Bedouin market in Be’er Sheva. The centers are meant to serve residents of Jersusalem and the surrounding area, Haifa and the north, and Be’er Sheva and the south.

As part of the pilot, samples will be taken from hundreds of people in home-quarantine who developed symptoms and were instructed by Magen David Adom to arrive at one of the centers.

Beginning Tuesday, the drive-through testing centers will widen the scope of their activities. (Ido Efrati)

7:06 P.M. Netanyahu orders 'dramatic increase' in enforcing movement restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a "dramatic increase in enforcement of orders restricting public movement," in addition to drafting future guidelines that will further restrict movement, with the exception of shopping for food, medicine and basic necessities.

This, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office, is to decrease contact between people and limit the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, the government is looking into the possibility of quarantining any civilian above the age of 65.

The decision would be in effect for seven days from the moment it is approved by the government, the statement said.

Guidelines for those travelling to and from their workplace have not changed at this time, and shopping for food, medicine and basic necessities would not be limited even after any new restrictions are approved.

A source familiar with the talks said the wording of new restrictions is still being worked on and is still pending legal approval. Leaving the house "to get some air" would be allowed near the vicinity of one's home, the source said, but didn't mention the enforcement of this.

Fines will be levied against people who violate directions against congregating and breaking of quarantine, the source added.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit opposed banning protests, access to the courts and the Knesset. Ritual baths may also remain open, with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman having said "It can't be that it'll be allowed to take the dog for a walk outside the house, but the mikvehs will be closed." 

The latest restrictions, which were published Saturday, allow leaving the house for: Protests, legal proceedings, welfare issues, exercise (up to two people), religious ceremony such as a wedding, funeral, prayer and ritual bath, aiding someone in need of medical attention or any other difficulty that requires support. They also allow for "one or several people who live in the same house, for a short amount of time and near the residence." (Noa Landau)

7:00 P.M. Israel prepares for possible public transportation shutdown

The Transportation Ministry is preparing for the possibility that public transporation would be shut down and is developing a GPS-based shuttle service for essential workers. (Yaniv Kubovich)

6:47 P.M. Netanyahu mulls total market shutdown

As deliberations continue about tightening restrictions on the public, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with the Health Ministry and the Public Security Ministry, is advocating that preparations must be made for what in effect would be a full lockdown.

Palestinian health workers wearing a protective facemask are pictured in the courtyard of a UNRWA school at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, March 18, 2020
AFP

The measures being discussed include minimizing market activity down to only essential workers, with citizens being allowed to leave their homes solely to restock on food and medication.

This outline is vehemently opposed by the Finance Ministry, whose officials say it would lead to severe economical damage. (Noa Landau)

6:42 P.M. Palestinian Authority worsens lockdown conditions

Any commerce is barred from 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M., with only bakeries and pharmacies allowed to remain open. (Jack Khoury)

5:55 P.M. Health Ministry pushing for full lockdown

Ongoing debates within the Prime Minister's Office on whether to fully shut down Israeli markets in the face of the coronavirus epidemic continued on Monday for many hours.

The director of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, stressed the necessity of imposing a full closure of the markets, as soon as Monday evening. This would cancel the current protocols, which allow 30 percent of the workforce that is deemed essential to arrive at work.

The Finance Ministry continues to object to such a step, warning of the economic damage it could create. As of Monday, despite the market moving over to emergency protocols, most of the market’s functions continue – with the majority of the workforce working from home. (Hagai Amit)

4:20 P.M. Tunisia orders army into streets to enforce coronavirus lockdown

Tunisia's President Kais Saied on Monday ordered the army to deploy in the streets to force people to respect a lockdown imposed to halt the spread of coronavirus, the office of the presidency said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Tunisia has 89 confirmed cases of the virus. It imposed a curfew last week and a general lockdown from Sunday that keeps people in their homes except to buy necessities. (Reuters)

4:00 P.M. Israel unveils app using location data to tell users if they were in contact with coronavirus patients

A new Israeli app can instantly tell users if they have crossed paths with someone known to have been infected with the coronavirus. 

On Sunday, the country’s health ministry unveiled the app, called “The Shield”(“HaMagen”, in Hebrew.) The app takes location data from the user’s phone and compares it with the information in Health Ministry servers regarding the location histories of confirmed cases during the 14 days before their diagnosis. (Allison Kaplan Sommer)

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3:30 P.M. Netanyahu considering stricter restrictions on movement

In debates being held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the premier is weighing the possibility of limiting commercial activity to essential workers only and restricting people from leaving their homes for anything other than food or medicine. (Noa Landau)

2:45 P.M. Israel's Transportation Ministry mulls shutting down public transport to curb virus

In recent days, the Transportation Ministry has been preparing to suspend public transportation, as Israel's confirmed coronavirus cases surge past 1,200.

In addition, the ministry is considering operating a special transportation service for workers deemed essential for the economy, who are still required to come to work. (Yaniv Kubovich)

2:40 P.M. Doctors warn of Gaza Strip’s collapse after first coronavirus cases surface

The announcement Sunday that the first two cases of the coronavirus had been diagnosed in the Gaza Strip transformed the situation there from a state of readiness for the prospect that the virus would surface in the densely populated enclave to a sense of major anxiety.

“We knew that it would reach here too, and that has made everyone tense,” a Gaza resident told Haaretz. Even though the two patients diagnosed in Gaza contracted the virus in Pakistan and have been in isolation since returning, Gazans remain on edge. “Maybe they had contact with an employee at the border crossing or with someone else who is not in quarantine,” another Gaza resident said. “The concern is that we will ultimately lose control, and everything will explode. That’s what’s making everyone anxious.” (Jack Khoury)
 
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2:05 P.M. Israeli High school teachers to continue working remotely

High school teachers will continue teaching via digital means and will not be put on unpaid leave, as Israel continues to battle the coronavirus.

According to the agreement reached with the Finance Ministry, the teachers will be responsible for preparing their students for the matriculation exams, some of which will be postponed until July. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)  

1:35 P.M. Saudi Arabia imposes curfew to curb coronavirus, UAE suspends passenger flights

Saudi Arabia will impose a nationwide curfew starting on Monday after reporting a jump of almost a quarter in coronavirus cases, while the United Arab Emirates will suspend all passenger flights as of Wednesday, state media reported.

Saudi's King Salman ordered a curfew from 7pm to 6am for 21 days to slow the spread of the virus, state news agency SPA reported. The curfew will take effect on Monday evening.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has recorded more than 1,700 infections and four deaths from the virus. Saudi Arabia has the highest toll at 511 confirmed cases. (Reuters) 

1:07 P.M. Second Egyptian military official dies of coronavirus

A senior Egyptian military official died on Monday from coronavirus, state newspaper Al-Ahram said, a day after state media announced the death of another senior military official.

Major General Shafie Abdel Halim Dawoud "died while fighting the coronavirus," state television said, without giving any details. State media announced on Sunday that Major General Khaled Shaltout had died for the same reason.

Egypt has so far registered 327 cases of the respiratory disease caused by the virus, including 14 fatalities, the health ministry said on Sunday. (Reuters)  

12:19 P.M. Iran's death toll from coronavirus climbs to 1,812 with 127 new deaths

Iran's death toll from the new coronavirus has increased to 1,812, with 127 new deaths in the past 24 hours, a health ministry spokesman told state TV on Monday, adding that the country's total number of infected people has reached 23,049.

Kianush Jahanpur said that in the past 24 hours, some 1,411 Iranians had been infected with the virus across the Islamic Republic, which has the worst outbreak in the Middle East. (Reuters) 

12:01 P.M. McDonald's closes most Israel branches

McDonald's announced Monday that due to the coronavirus it is shuttering the vast majority of its branches in Israel – 181 outlets – except for five branches which will operate under limitations. The five open branches, it said in a statement, "will deliver free food to hospitals, medical teams and security forces." (Hadar Kane)  

11:39 A.M. Netflix to reduce quality of streams in Israel to help ISPs

Netflix will comply with a government request to reduce stream quality in Israel to help ease data congestion from people staying home due to the coronavirus, the Communications Ministry said on Monday.

The world's largest streaming media service has also cut traffic on networks in Europe to help internet service providers experiencing a surge in usage.

Israeli ISPs have reported an average increase of as much as 30 percent since the outbreak began, prompting the telecoms regulator to ask Netflix to lower broadcasting bit rates.

Netflix, which had more than 42 million subscribers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East in the first quarter, agreed to comply and will make adjustments gradually over the next week, the ministry said in a statement.

"Given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus, we have decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Israel for 30 days. We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on Israeli networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good quality service," the ministry quoted the streaming giant as saying.

In Europe, Netflix is removing its highest bandwidth within each resolution category for 30 days.

Many Israelis have taken to social media to complain of a slowdown in Internet speeds.

There was no immediate, separate comment from Netflix on the Israeli move. (Reuters) 

11:45 A.M. Car convoy enters Jerusalem, protesting weakening of Israeli parliament

A convoy of some 100 vehicles arrived in Jerusalem to protest steps taken to prevent the Knesset from convening amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

Some 20 protesters waved the Israeli flag, holding signs reading "If we won't wake up it will be the end of democracy." (Josh Breiner)  

11:26 A.M. Israel will enter daylight saving time on Friday as planned

The National Security Council recommended not to postpone the transition to daylight saving time tonight, also known as "summer time," leading Interior Minister Arye Dery to announce the clock would be moved forward on Friday as planned.

On Sunday Dery was mulling delaying the move as part of Israel's battle against the coronavirus. (Aaron Rabinowitz)  

10:41 A.M. Israel's unemployment rate spikes to 17.6 percent, hitting all-time record

The Israeli Employment Service said that some 62,000 declared themselves as unemployed in the past 24 hours, with unemployment rate standing at 17.6 percent, 1.1 percent up from Sunday. This is the highest unemployment rate registered in Israel's history. (Lee Yaron)  

9:47 A.M. Netanyahu to convene a meeting to 'reexamine tightening restrictions'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, government officials and Health Ministers representatives will meet Monday at 10:00 A.M. "to reexamine further tightening of restrictions" to battle the coronavirus pandemic. (Noa Landau)

9:31 A.M. Qatar announces $150 million aid to Gaza in effort to contain coronavirus

Qatar announced $150 million in aid to the Gaza Strip over a period of six months, to support United Nations humanitarian programs in the Palestinian territory and efforts to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, the state-run Qatari Committee to Rebuild Gaza said Monday on Twitter. (Reuters)

8:29 A.M. Israel confirms 1,238 cases, with 24 in serious condition

167 more Israelis were diagnosed with the coronavirus, bringing the total in the country to 1,238. 24 patients are in serious condition, and 1,142 are in mild condition. 37 have so far recovered.

According to the Health Ministry, 5,268 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, up from only several hundreds of tests a day last week.

MONDAY

4:52 A.M. Trump claims he offered Iran coronavirus aid as ‘maximum pressure’ sanction campaign continues

U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday that he had offered Iran assistance in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the Islamic Republic and claimed the lives of over 13,000 people worldwide.  

Speaking to reports, Trump said he has sent an official letter to Iranian leaders offering help. With more than 1,700 dead, Iran is the country suffering from the worst outbreak in the Middle East. 

But in recent days, Washington has signaled that Iran's dire situation would not change its enhanced economic pressure policy against Iran.

Iran has reportedly denied receiving any assistance from the United States, and is blaming sanctions imposed by the Trump administration for the mounting death toll from the highly contagious disease. (Amir Tibon)

3:57 A.M. Harvey Weinstein tests positive for coronavirus in prison

Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who is serving a prison sentence for sexual assault and rape, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the head of the state corrections officers union.

Weinstein, 68, has been placed in isolation at Wende Correctional Facility, said Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association.

Powers said he learned that the test came back positive on Sunday morning and is concerned about the corrections officers, who he said lack proper protective equipment. Several staff have been quarantined, Powers said. (Reuters)

3:44 A.M. Japan says Tokyo Olympics may be postponed, Canada and Austalia say they won't participate

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said for the first time on Monday that the Tokyo Olympic Games may need to be postponed if the event cannot be held in its "complete form" due to the coronavirus pandemic. He also said that cancelling the Games was not an option.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Sunday after an emergency meeting that it is stepping up its "scenario planning" for the 2020 Games due to start on July 24, including a possible postponement.

Canada and Austalia have formally said they would not be attending the games citing health concerns. (Reuters)

2:34 A.M. UAE to suspend transit flights, Saudi Arabia imposes curfew

The United Arab Emirates, home to the world's busiest international airport in Dubai, announced early Monday it was suspending all passenger flights and the transit of airline passengers in the country for two weeks to stymie the spread of a new virus.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, announced overnight that an evening curfew would go into effect starting Monday from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for 21 days. (Associated Press)

1:30 A.M. 65 Chabad devotees diagnosed with coronavirus placed in quarantine

More than half of the members of a group of 114 Chabad followers who were placed in quarantine at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem after returning from the United States last week tested positive for the coronavirus, the defense minister's office said overnight Sunday. 

The 65 confirmed patients will be hospitalized at the Shmu'el Harofe Hospital in central Israel, while the rest who came into contact with them will remain in isolation at the hotel. The test results of eight more group members have yet to be ascertained.

Group members said they learned of the diagnosis from the media before receiving official notices. None had reported experiencing symptoms when they left the United States. (Josh Breiner)

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12:55 A.M. Republican coronavirus bill hits roadblock in U.S. Senate; negotiations continue 

Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Sunday were voting to block a coronavirus response bill as they pushed for more funding to help hospitals and others hurt by the outbreak.

With a procedural vote still underway, the Democrats had more than the minimum 41 votes needed to stop the Republican bill from advancing. Privately, negotiations were continuing on a revised bill after Democrats said this one was skewed too heavily toward helping corporations at the expense of workers and families. (Reuters)

SUNDAY

10:37 P.M. Israeli government approves regulations not to freeze bank accounts over bouncing checks

The government approved emergency regulations, promoted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, to prevent the freezing of bank accounts of those whose checks have returned amid the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (Netael Bandel)  

10:27 P.M. Syria confirms first coronavirus case

Syria confirmed its first case of coronavirus, in a person who had come from abroad.

Health Minister Nizar al-Yaziji told state media "necessary measures" had been taken regarding the 20 year-old woman, who he said would be quarantined for 14 days and given medical checks.

Damascus announced a ban on public transport on Sunday as it stepped up a lockdown introduced in recent days, including the closure of schools, parks, restaurants and various public institutions, as well as calling off army conscription.(Reuters) 

10:07 P.M. Israel sees a significant spike in domestic violence amid coronavirus crisis

As Israel nears a full lockdown, the number of reported cases of violence against women surges, and shelters for battered women across the country are expected to become completely full in the coming days.

The Welfare Ministry said they are examining opening additional shelters to prevent a situation in which the existing ones would have to reject women reaching out for help. (Lee Yaron)  

9:24 P.M. Blood type may influence how prone you are to the coronavirus, report says

People with type A blood are more prone to contracting COVID-19 and are likelier to be hit harder than people with other types of blood. Type-O people are less likely to get COVID-19 and suffer less when they do get it, reported a large Chinese team headed by Jiao Zhao of the Shenzhen School of Medicine.

Their report appeared last week in the pre-publication site medRxiv. (Ruth Schuster)

>> Read the full report

9:06 P.M. Additional 188 Israelis test positive, bringing coronavirus toll to 1,071

The Health Ministry said that 188 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, raising the total tally of cases to 1,071. Eighteen patients are in serious condition, and 37 have recovered. (Haaretz)  

8:22 P.M. Netanyahu orders to reach 14,000 tests per day within two weeks 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said that the number of coronavirus tests Israel runs per day is solely dependent on its ability to produce and buy the proper testing kits, adding that the number of daily tests is not decided by the premier.

However, Netanyahu has instructed to reach 14,000 tests per day within two weeks, which will position Israel as one of the leading countries in the number of daily coronavirus tests carried out daily. (Noa Landau)

8:05 P.M. Rand Paul is first U.S. senator to test positive for coronavirus

Rand Paul reported testing positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, making him the first U.S. senator to do so. Paul, a Republican who represents Kentucky, released a statement saying that he is not showing any symptoms and will be entering quarantine.

Two House representatives, Ben McAdams and Mario Diaz-Ballart, reported testing positive for the virus last week. Prior to that, several lawmakers had gone into isolation after coming into contact with confirmed cases. In addition, a member of Vice President Mike Pence's staff at the White House has tested positive. The White House released a statement last week that President Donald Trump had been tested and found negative. Dozens of members of Congress are putting pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell to promote a change to voting rules that would allow lawmakers who are in quarantine to vote remotely. (Amir Tibon)

7:22 P.M. Waqf orders closing Temple Mount to Muslim worshipers amid coronavirus

The Waqf, the Muslim religious trust in charge of the Temple Mount on behalf of Jordan, announced Sunday it is closing the compound for Muslim worshipers amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

According to sources in the Waqf, Israel committed not to allow Jewish worhsipers and tourist into the compound. (Nir Hasson)

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