Coronavirus Israel live: High schools reopen in areas with low infection rates

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 9,923 active cases; 2,854 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 8,132 active cases and 703 deaths, and in Gaza 8,626 active cases and 90 deaths.


8:45 A.M. Israel reopens high schools in communities with low COVID infection rates 

Some 400,000 10th through 12th graders in communities where the coronavirus infection rate is low returned to regular classes on Sunday, according to a decision by the coronavirus cabinet Thursday.

In addition, the education and the finance ministries decided over the weekend that kindergartens, first and second grades will remain in session over the Hanukkah vacation.

High school classes will be limited to 20 students at most. Most of the high schools are to limit themselves to two days of learning a week at the school, and distance learning from home the rest of the time.

Next week, Israel’s 423,000 junior high school students are expected to go back to in-school learning. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)


7 P.M. Some 10 Isrotel Dead Sea Hotel employees diagnosed with coronavirus, says Health Ministry 

The Health Ministry announced on Saturday evening that 10 employees at the Isrotel Dead Sea Hotel in Ein Bokek have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

The coronavirus tests and diagnoses were made as part of the “Green Island” program, which surveys hotel workers in the Dead Sea region. In the wake of the diagnoses, the Health Ministry has decided to open an epidemiological investigation, and the hotel’s operations have been suspended until the investigation draws to a close. The ministry urges guests of the hotel who were there from Sunday on to get tested. (Haaretz).   

5:10 P.M. Gaza Health Ministry reports increase in active cases, with intensive care unites 75 percent full 

Gaza’s Health Ministry reported on Saturday afternoon that the number of coronavirus patients in serious condition has reached 109, and that intensive care units are 75 percent full, with both numbers expected to rise. The ministry also reported that over the past 24 hours, 827 new cases were diagnosed, bringing the total number of active cases to 8,626. Some 334 people are hospitalzed, with 109 people on ventilators. The death toll currently stands at 90. 

On Saturday afternoon, Red Cross vehicles drove around the Gaza Strip, calling on the public to obey security instructions. (Jack Khoury)


7:00 P.M. Government considering requiring teachers be tested before they return to work

The Health Ministry is examining the possibility of requiring teachers to be tested for the coronavirus before they can go back to work, at the request of the coronavirus cabinet. The ministry is also considering authorizing school principals and Education Ministry inspectors to prevent staff from returning to preschools and schools if they have not been tested, ministry sources said. Teachers unions are expected to oppose such a step.

The vast majority of teachers and preschool teacher aides who recently returned to work have not been tested, raising concerns in the Health Ministry. On Wednesday, Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy said the use of testing “has not been optimal so far. Less than 10,000 [teachers] were tested – an eighth of the potential.” Levy added that 2.1 percent of educational staff who have been tested were found to be positive. (Ido Efrati)

4:30 P.M. More towns in north declared restricted areas or have restricted status extended

Authorities declared several Arab localities as restricted zones and extended the restricted status of others on Friday. The city of Umm al-Fahm and the town of Yafa near Nazareth have been made restricted zones for five days, from November 28 until December 3. The restricted status in the town of Majf al-Kurum was extended for another two days, as was that in Kafr Manda, both located in the Galilee area. The city of Arraba, also in the Galilee, has its status extended by one day. The ministerial committee that makes decisions on the declaration of restricted zones also changed the policy for the maximum distance people within restricted areas can travel from home, setting it at 500 meters instead of the previous kilometer. (Noa Landau)

1:23 P.M. ‘As if there was no coronavirus’ | Israelis throng malls, authorities struggle to enforce rules

There were queues in front of every store as Israelis flocked to the fifteen malls granted a temporary license to reopen on Friday. Stewards employed by the shopping centers, as well as local authorities staff were struggling to enforce strict social distancing rules, as shoppers stood in line for hours in order to drip-feed into chain stores.

Israel also marks Black Friday, and between 9 A.M. and 12 A.M., 400 million shekels ($120 million) were recorded nationally in credit card sales. This is only ten percent down on last year, and a little above sales from 2018. Still, owners deplored the government’s policy, arguing that only reopening fifteen indoor malls was bound to create overcrowding.

“For a long time, the Health Ministry, which does not understand a thing about trade, has insisted on making fateful decisions,” said Shahar Turgeman, chairman of the Association of Retail, Fashion and Restaurant Chains. “We call on the Israeli government to open all trade immediately according to purple badge rules, and remove the limit of ten people per store,” he added. (Liat Levy and Israel Fisher)

12:34 P.M. Pre-schools, first and second grade to remain open over Hanukah holiday, Israeli government announces

The Education Ministry and the Treasury agreed to implement the plan, which will see schools operate on reduced hours during the week of the holiday, from December 13 to December 18. Staff will be sourced from local authorities, after the teachers’ union refused to caution bringing people to work during holidays. 

The scheme should cost around 150 million shekels (around $45 million), which will be allocated from a broader aid package to the school system. Parents will also contribute, on a sliding scale depending on their catchment area and income. The aim is to alleviate the financial burden of childcare for working parents, “leading to savings of hundreds of shekels per child,” a joint statement by the two ministries said. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

10:00 A.M. Fifteen malls reopen as part of government pilot

Nine malls were chosen by lottery to reopen Friday as part of a government pilot that will attempt to test the ability of shopping centers safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The nine malls chosen are, in the Jerusalem area: Big Fashion in Beit Shemesh, Center 1 in Jerusalem and the Arad mall, in the city of the same name; in the central part of the country: Herzliya’s Seven Stars, Ramat Gan’s M Haderech and Hod Hasharon’s Sharonim malls; and in the north: Cinemall in Haifa, Arena in Nahariyya and Mall One in Nof HaGalil, just outside of Nazareth.  

Another six malls – those belonging to the Azrieli group in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and those belonging to the Melisron group in Be’er Sheva, Petah Tikva and Kiryat Bialik – also reopened.

In order to reopen, the malls were required to appoint attendants to remind guests to abide by regulations, including mask wearing and social distancing. The malls are required to have an electronic registration system that keeps track of the number of people in the facility, though people are not required to provide identifying information. One person is allowed in for every seven square meters of space. Malls are required to avoid gatherings, in particular, lines at the front of stores. Employees and shop owners must be briefed on the regulations.

Following the pilot period, and an assessment of the results, the cabinet will decide when and in what manner all the malls will be allowed to open. (TheMarker)


10:00 P.M. COVID czar says third lockdown is ‘on the agenda’

Israel’s new coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said on that a third lockdown is “Definitely on the agenda.” He added that “the data is worrying. The basic reproduction number of infection is higher than 1, the daily number of patients is also higher than desired and today we have reached a thousand.”

However, he added: “We are preparing vigorously to lead a nationwide vaccination campaign, and at the end I hope we can declare that the people of Israel have won the fight against the coronavirus, but it will take some more time.”

In a statement to the media, Ash clarified that “we have more difficult days ahead” and assumed that “the coronavirus will be here in the coming year” and that “an effective vaccination of the population will be at best around mid-2021, and at worst towards the end of next year.”

According to Ash, “In the coming days, we will provide more than a million serological tests. Based on the antibody tests, we will know who is not at risk of infection, and they will receive a green passport … The passport will also be given to those who have recovered from the disease. It can be said that the traffic light plan will not only be for areas but also for people.” (Ido Efrati)

9:45 P.M. Israel diagnoses over 1,000 cases in a day

The number of total coronavirus cases has risen by 1,022 since Wednesday, the first time the number of cases in a day rises above 1,000 in Israel since November 16.

There are currently 9,427 active cases nationwide, of whom 276 patients are in serious condition, including 114 who are on ventilators.

Three patients died, raising the death toll to 2,829. (Haaretz)

12:08 Netanyahu visits vaccine logistics center, says storage won’t be a problem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Teva Pharmaceuticals’ logistics center on Thursday in the town of Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines would be stored and distributed when Israel acquires them, saying that the facility can store vaccines in low temperatures.

Pfizer’s vaccine, which the company has said is highly effective, must be stored at the ultra-cold temperature of  minus 70 degrees Celsius, while Moderna’s must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius, about the temperature of a normal freezer.

“From what I see here today, we have no logistical limitation to store, freeze and distribute these vaccines,” Netanyahu said. “This is very important news.” (Noa Landau)  

8:35 A.M. Active cases continue to rise, reach three-week record

The number of total coronavirus cases has risen by 402 since Wednesday, with the number of active cases standing at 9,422. This is the biggest number of active cases in Israel since November 4.

There are 282 patients in serious condition – a record low since late July – including 122 who are on ventilators.

The death toll remains at 2,826. (Haaretz)

12:34 A.M. Cabinet approves pilot to open markets, 15 shopping malls starting Friday

The coronavirus cabinet approved a one-week pilot scheme to open 15 shopping malls starting Friday. The cabinet will discuss opening more malls throughout the country after reviewing COVID statistics gathered during this week.

As part of the pilot, seven museums, as well as outdoor markets, will open, while adhering to coronavirus restrictions. (Noa Landau)

12:28 A.M. More Arab communities declared as restricted areas to curb COVID infection rates  

The Ministerial Committee for Restricted Areas declared two neighborhoods in Kuseife, one neighborhood in Hura and Reineh as restricted areas starting Thursday in a bid to curb coronavirus infection rates there.

In addition, the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth will remain a restricted zone until December 1, as well as the Druze village of Isfiya until November 28. (Noa Landau)

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