News Digest — 3/20/20

Coronavirus: Infected Israelis Hit 705 As Emergency Orders Roll Out

The Israeli Health Ministry guidelines to fight the spread of coronavirus will no longer be “recommendations” or “requests.”  Rather overnight Thursday (19th) the government signed existing restrictions into legally enforceable orders, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a national state of emergency.

Going forward, for the next seven days, whoever breaks the orders will be subject to fines.

“There has not been anything like this since the establishment of the state,” the prime minister said.  “There has actually been nothing like this in the last 100 years.” “It is not going to be easy – I am asking for your cooperation.”

In general, the new orders include that Israelis are not allowed to leave their homes unless “absolutely necessary.”  Visiting parks, beaches, pools, libraries and museums is prohibited, as are all social interactions. Work that can be done from home, should be.

Currently all “essential” services will remain open, including supermarkets, pharmacies and most medical services.  In addition, while Israelis are encouraged to work from home, employees who need to travel to work will be able to do so.

The announcement came on the backdrop of the largest spike in the number of infected Israelis: 705, according to the Health Ministry.  At press time Wednesday (18th), 433 Israelis had been diagnosed with SARS-Cov-2 an increase of 244 patients in one day. 



Israelis Take To Balconies To Applaud Medical Staff For Coronavirus Fight

Israelis went out on their balconies Thursday evening (19th) to salute the medical teams on the frontlines of the battle against the coronavirus.

President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both joined in the event, inspired by similar salutes in Italy, which took place after a call to do so on social media.

“I would like to thank all the medical teams who have been working night and day to provide a medical response to Israel’s citizens during these difficult times,” said Rivlin.

Standing together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister said: “We too join in the applause for the heroic medical staff who are defending us all.”

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz released a video tweet, saying, “I may not be on the balcony but when there is cause to applaud and salute – one applauds and salutes from wherever one may be,  Thank you to all the medical teams that are saving lives everyday.”

Over 2,600 medical workers are said to be in self-quarantine due to fears that they have been exposed to the virus which causes the COVID-19 disease.

Some medical workers have complained that the government and the Health Ministry has not provided them with adequate equipment to protect against catching the virus from the patients they are treating.



To Fight Coronavirus Spread, Israel Is Using Cellphone Technology – Prof. Eugene Kontorovich

→ Israel’s government this week approved the use of people’s cell phone location information to help battle  the coronavirus epidemic.

→ This has raised serious – and legitimate – concerns about privacy and government intrusion in the form of unseen surveillance.  Placing such sweeping data about people’s movements in the hands of the government is not to be taken lightly.

→ But in an epidemic or pandemic where strong public health measures are required, some rights will inevitably be restricted.  Measures like Israel’s can, on balance, be a lesser evil for individual rights. If they help contain the spread of the disease, they save lives and reduce the scope and duration of far greater restrictions, like quarantines.

→ Israel is using cell phone data to find out who a coronavirus patient may have exposed to the virus when asymptomatic.  The vast trove of metadata allows public health workers to see where the patient went and what other cell phone users were in the same place.  Those people can then be warned, limiting their unwitting ability to pass on the virus.

→ The broad use of cell phone data to track the movements of people infringes on the privacy of individuals and should not normally be tolerated.  But the particular circumstances of a contagious and life-threatening pandemic make this an appropriate response.

→ Individual rights cannot come at the expense of others’ rights.  Individual rights are not absolute when their exercise creates significant risk for others.  That is why measures are permitted in such circumstances that would otherwise be unthinkable.

The writer, a professor and director of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University Law School, is also a scholar at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.



Teva Donates Potential Coronavirus Treatment To Hospitals Across The US

As the coronavirus is spreading across the world, and the number of people infected is increasing every day, there is an urgent need to find treatments against COVID-19 that could reduce complications and improve recovery. Recently, the Israeli Health Ministry has approved multiple experiment treatments, and companies worldwide are attempting to determine what could be used to treat COVID-19.

As such, Israeli pharmaceutical company, Teva, has announced that they will donate more than 6 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets through wholesalers to hospitals across the United States, from March 31.  Over 10 million tablets are expected to be shipped within a month.

The tablets are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of malaria, lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis.  The tablets are currently under investigation to determine their efficacy against the coronavirus and US government officials have asked for the immediate availability and use.

“We are committed to helping supply as many tablets as possible as demands for this treatment accelerates at no cost,” said Brendan O’Grady, Teva Executive Vice President, North American Commercial, in a statement.

“Immediately upon learning of the potential benefit of hydroxychloroquine, Teva began to assess supply and to urgently acquire additional ingredients to make more product, while arranging for all of what we had, to be distributed immediately,” he added.  Teva is also reviewing its other products to determine if some could also be of use against the coronavirus.



24 New Immigrants Arrive From The US On Nefesh B’Nefesh Flight

In spite of the coronavirus pandemic, 24 new immigrants from the US landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday (19th) to start their new lives in the Jewish State.  And due to the viral scourge, the olim began their journey as Israeli citizens, like no others ever have before, in a 14-day quarantine.

For the last two weeks, all foreign citizens entering the country have had to go into isolation for two weeks.  But on Wednesday (18th), the government banned entry to Israel of all foreign citizens altogether, unless they hold Israeli residency visas.

The new immigrants who arrived on Thursday (19th), who were brought to Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group aliyah flight, in cooperation with the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish National Fund-USA, were allowed to come on their scheduled aliyah flight, provided they enter quarantine.

On the flight were both singles and families, with ages ranging from nine months old to 73 years old, including two sisters who decided to make aliyah together.

The new immigrants came from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Nefesh B’Nefesh expects another 20 olim to arrive in the next two weeks.

“It is truly remarkable to see that aliyah is continuing amidst increasingly complex global circumstances,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fase, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

“These new olim, more than ever, represent the strong future of the State of Israel, as they are determined to fulfill their dreams of helping to build the Jewish nation.  We are ready to assist them throughout their entire aliyah process in order for them to settle into their new homes as smoothly and comfortably as possible during these challenging times,” said Fase.

The new immigrants were sent directly into quarantine for 14 days in cities across Israel including, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Holon, Modi’in, Netanya, Ra’anana, Tsfat, and Yad Binyamin.