News Digest — 5/8/20

Malls, Markets And Gyms Back As Israel Reopens For Business

Israel took a major leap forward on Thursday (7th) in reopening its economy as shopping malls, outdoor markets and fitness centers welcomed patrons back for the first time since they were forced to close 54 days ago due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Shopping malls and outdoor markets must comply with strict Health Ministry guidelines, however.

Signs must be placed at entrances specifying the maximum number of people allowed inside, and notices must be placed at checkout lines reminding customers of social distancing requirements.

In addition, temperatures must be taken upon entry, only those wearing a mask will be allowed to enter, and hand sanitizer must be readily available on site.

Though no special restrictions were announced for gyms, Hebrew media showed that in some gyms every other machine was taped off to create distance between members.

Meanwhile restaurants are still suffering as no timeline has been provided by the government for their reopening.  According to Restaurant Association CEO Shai Berman, the restaurant industry is on the verge of collapse.

On May 4, in an address televised to the nation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined an exit strategy from the crisis.  He praised Israel’s response and noted that it had emerged from the pandemic in better shape than many Western countries.

As of Friday morning (8th), Israel’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 during this pandemic totaled 16,409 with 245 deaths.



U.S. Proposal To Name Street Outside Chinese Embassy ‘Li Wenliang Plaza’

According to The Guardian, U.S. lawmakers have proposed renaming the street in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington after the late Wuhan doctor who was punished for warning about the spread of coronavirus, “a step sure to outrage Beijing,” the paper writes.

Currently, the street is called “International Place” and if the proposal is adopted, it will be renamed, “Li Wenliang Plaza.”

Dr. Li Wenliang was one of several Chinese doctors who attempted to warn people about a new and dangerous virus spreading from the city of Wuhan, but he was silenced by Chinese authorities and forced to sign a statement promising not to commit any more “law-breaking actions,” The Guardian  writes.

Dr Li subsequently contracted the virus himself and died in February.  In an extremely uncharacteristic move, Chinese police actually apologized for the way the doctor had been treated.

“We’ll ensure the name Li Wenliang is never forgotten – by placing it permanently outside the embassy of the nation responsible for the deaths Dr. Li tried to prevent,” said Tom Cotton, a Republican senator, known for his hawkish views on China.



Iran Behind Cyber Attack On Israeli Water Authority

Iran was behind the cyberattack on Israeli water authority sites last month, Fox News reported Thursday (7th).

According to the report, the Iranian hackers used American computer servers to launch their attack.  The US  Department of Energy did not comment on the specific incident, but a senior US official said America and its allies are committed to protecting themselves against these sorts of attacks.

Two weeks ago unknown hackers staged a cyberattack on water facilities in Israel with the aim of taking over operating systems and disrupting pump operations.

The attack on several water-pumping stations and sewage plants around the country apparently took place over April 24-25, however, it is unclear whether any operating systems were taken over or pump operations were disrupted.

Water and sewage operators were instructed to act immediately to change passwords for the operations of the facilities, “with emphasis on operational systems and in particular on chlorine-adding systems,” a Ynet report said.

On sites where passwords could not be changed, operators were told to consider disconnecting systems from the Internet.

No operational damage was reported, and the national water authority gave a short  statement saying “the issue was addressed.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned in the past that Iran “threatens the very existence of Israel.”

Pompeo is expected to make a lightning fast 24-hour visit to Israel next week, the first foreign official to do so since the pandemic began.  It is expected that Iran will be high on the agenda when he meets Israeli leaders.



IDF Soldiers Work Together With Palestinian Volunteers In Eastern Jerusalem – Khaled Abu Toamah

In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, nothing seems to be impossible, including cooperation between the IDF and Palestinian activists in distributing thousands of food parcels to families in eastern Jerusalem villages and neighborhoods.  In the past few weeks, IDF soldiers have been distributing food parcels in neighborhoods such as Kfar Aqsb, Shuafat, Kalandiya, Jabel Mukaber, Beit Hanina, Issawiya,and Sur Baher.  The IDF troops were assisted by dozens of Palestinian volunteers.

“In the past few weeks, especially since the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan, we have provided significant aid to the residents of all the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem,” said Col. Sharon Gat, commander of the division responsible for the Jerusalem area.  “We are working in cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality and its community centers.”  Gat noted that he later saw many residents express gratitude to Israel on social media platforms for its assistance.  “Some of their leaders also came to the municipality to thank us for the beautiful cooperation,” he said.

“The people there told us: ‘Let’s put politics aside and work together.’  There was full cooperation between us and the residents there.  We also distributed medical equipment, not only food…I hope we will see more cooperation like this in the future.  Beside the bad things the coronavirus has done, it has nevertheless brought about good things; by uniting us and making us forget about politics,” Col. Gat added.



Llamas May Hold The Key To Coronavirus Cure

The coronavirus pandemic is believed to originate from bats and now some researchers believe another species of animal may hold the cure – Llamas.

According to a new study published in the journal “Cell” on Tuesday (5th), researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, the National Institutes of Health, and Ghent University in Belgium discovered that the antibodies of a four-year-old Llama successfully fended off the coronavirus six weeks after it was injected with the disease.

Winter, a dark-brown Llama who lives in a Belgium research facility along with 140 other Llamas, was used in the past to develop treatments for the SARs and MERs viruses back when she was only nine months old.  Winter’s antibodies were so effective in fighting off the viruses that researchers turned to Llamas to develop a workable vaccine for them.

Jason McLellan, an associate professor of molecular biosciences at UT Austin and co-senior author of the study, believes that a potential Llama-based coronavirus vaccine would be equally effective as the ones made to fight SARs and MERs.

“Immediately after treatment, they should be protected,” McLellan said in a statement.  “The antibodies could also be used to treat somebody who is already sick to lessen the severity of the disease.”

The research team is now preparing to conduct pre-clinical trials on hamsters, with the hope of testing on humans within a year.

Llamas and other members of the camel family have often been targeted for antibody research, because their antibodies stave off diseases more effectively than humans, despite only being a quarter of the size, and their molecular sequence can easily be modified.

“There is still a lot of work to do to try to bring this into the clinic,” Xavier Saelens, a molecular virologist at Ghent University in Belgium and co-author of the study, told The New York Times.  “If it works, Llama Winter deserves a statue,” he said.