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Israel Update 26.3.20

Israel has been experiencing a constitutional crisis following the inconclusive election over 3 weeks ago. However, according to a reported deal taking shape amid immense political drama in Israel on Thursday afternoon, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz is set to partner P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu in a unity government, serving initially as foreign minister, but then taking over from Netanyahu as prime minister in September 2021. Read more here



At the time of writing, Thursday afternoon, 2,666 people had been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel, with 39 in serious condition and 68 in moderate condition. Eight people have died from complications related to COVID-19. Israel has increased the number of people it is testing, which is directly tied to the increase in cases.  Read more here


The Israeli government on Wednesday announced a raft of new restrictions that came into effect from 5 p.m. for a seven-day period, including a prohibition on people venturing more than 100 metres from their homes, apart from under certain limited circumstances. Read more here


For Israeli residents: This web site enables you to type in your address in Hebrew or English and it will draw a circle around your home exactly 100 metres in radius. Read more here


The Israel Health Ministry Deputy Director-General said on Monday that although the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel keeps climbing steadily, the figures match the ministry’s “more optimistic” predictions. “There are no exponential leaps [in numbers of cases]. I hope we will maintain this level of new cases. This is how we know that the steps we’ve taken are starting to be effective. We’ll have to wait a couple of days to see whether these steps are working. In another two weeks, they will start affecting the rate of severe illness and mortality rates.” He said that the number of coronavirus tests conducted by health authorities will “reach at least 7,000 (daily) this week and then double that figure by next week.” Read more here


With the drive-through testing site already operational in Tel Aviv, three new locations are opening in Haifa, Beersheba and Jerusalem. The sites will are manned by MDA teams, police officers and security personnel, and are expected to test thousands of Israelis daily. Read more here


In “Story Time with President Rivlin,”  the Israeli President read Lea Goldberg’s book Dira Lehaskir  to children who are homebound due to the pandemic, in a video posted on social media and YouTube on Thursday. Read more here


Israel’s largest seaport in Ashdod is fully operational, with containers being unloaded at a similar pace to a year ago.  97% of cargo to Israel, by weight, arrives by ship. Read more here




Israelis will be barred from celebrating Passover with family members who don’t live in the same household. This includes those living alone, who will have to celebrate the holiday’s festive seder tradition on their own on April 8. Read more here


In what may be one of the boldest rulings issued on technology in recent years, several Sephardic Orthodox rabbis in Israel have declared that families may conduct their shared Seder over videoconference. While Orthodox religious law normally bans the use of electronic devices on Shabbat and festivals, the ruling, signed by 14 rabbis, permits the use of software to connect the elderly to their families on the first night of Passover. However, other rabbis, including Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, criticised the ruling. Read more here




The IDF Military Intelligence Technological Unit has been working to develop protective gear and improvised medical equipment to assist health care workers to combat the coronavirus outbreak. The unit has been working to find a way to easily convert simple breath regulating devices known as CPAP machines into ventilators. The soldiers are also developing new protective masks and other equipment for military and civilian medical teams.They have created a screen to seal off the front seat of an ambulance or van to transport carriers of the disease without infecting the driver, and 50 such screens have been manufactured. They are also working to better manage the data from the thousands of checks being performed each day on suspected coronavirus carriers. Read more here


Sonovia, an Israeli start-up company that developed an anti-pathogen fabric that could be used in masks to stop the spread of coronavirus is donating its first product – some 120,000 masks – to Israeli hospitals, medical professionals and coronavirus patients. Read more here


Israeli medtech and biotech companies are working to find new solutions to the coronavirus challenge. Israeli-American RADLogics Inc. is a software analytics company that specializes in visual analysis of medical scans to detect early signs of lung cancer. Two months ago, RADLogics’ products in China started revealing something small and patch-like in the lungs of patients, a phenomenon unique to coronavirus patients. It was also found in asymptomatic carriers. The company adjusted its products for the specific identification of coronavirus, and now offers a new identification avenue that can provide results within seconds instead of hours.
Tel Aviv-based Sight Diagnostics Ltd. developed a portable device that enables blood tests and blood counts with results in minutes rather than hours. Sheba Medical Centre will use the device to treat patients in isolation.
Biopharmaceutical company Kamada Ltd. is collecting blood and plasma from Israelis who have recovered from the virus, and using a purification process to achieve a specific concentration of antibodies for treating serious coronavirus cases. This is not a vaccine, but rather an expensive, one-off treatment for severe cases.
Israel-based EarlySense Ltd. has developed a non-invasive patient-monitoring system, placed under the mattress,that takes a patient’s vitals around the clock, 100 times a minute, to identify changes in a patient’s condition. It can also be used to track asymptomatic carriers in home-quarantine. Read more here


British company diagnostics.ai, whose research and development is entirely based in Herzliya, Israel, is already providing labs in the UK and US with their advanced diagnostic technique, employing artificial intelligence for faster and more accurate results.  Read more here


While a vaccine against the coronavirus is expected to take a year to develop and test, scientists around the world are racing to develop new treatments.Dr. Rivka Abulafia-Lapid, a senior lecturer on virology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said, “Israel already has 11 different drugs for trial [on COVID-19 patients].”She is “very optimistic” that the world is six months away from an effective treatment. Read more here


Many of the startups that can help defeat the virus are based in Israel. They are working on diagnosis, mitigation, patient tracking, contamination prevention, protecting medical staff, education, and exercise for the homebound. This article includes a list of these startups.   Read more here


Ben-Gurion University, the Technion‒Israel Institute of Technology, Rambam Health Care Campus, Migal Galilee Research Institute and the Sheba Medical Centre are each at the forefront of medical technologies and innovation, task forces, methods and vaccines in the making that are working against   the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Read more here



Vocalis Health is launching an initiative to collect “voice prints” with the goal of offering a new contact-free way for Israel’s Health Ministry to triage, screen and monitor COVID-19 patients. Read more here




Earlier this week, 550 Israelis left India for Israel before the country was set to close its airspace. An Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said “We are helping Israelis from all over the world get back to Israel, especially from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia. We are talking about 8,000 travellers.” Recently, 1,100 Israelis were airlifted out of Peru in four El Al planes.  El Al is reportedly preparing flights to Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, and another to India and perhaps Thailand, to bring more Israeli travellers home. Read more here


330 Israelis, mostly students, landed back in Israel on Monday from northern Italy. The passengers were required to wear face masks for the entire flight and were served by flight attendants dressed in full-body protective gear. The passengers are now in quarantine at an hotel. Read more here


Some 40 Israelis left Ghana in a hastily-organized operation on Sunday afternoon, just before the borders were closed. 600 Israelis were evacuated from Ukraine with Israel’s Ambassador working to coordinate 4 flights. He also helped arrange the evacuation of 160 students, mainly Israeli Arabs, from Odessa on Friday.    Read more here


In an historic first, El Al flew a commercial flight directly from Israel to Australia to evacuate about 230 Israelis, 80 of whom had travelled from New Zealand, as it became increasingly difficult to leave the country. Read more here


A chartered El Al flight from Bogota evacuated nearly 70 Israelis from Colombia on Thursday morning as most flights were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Israel’s Foreign Minister specifically ordered his ministry to organize the flight to help Israeli backpackers. Read more here


A special flight bringing 200 Israelis stranded in Hungary back to Israel is scheduled to depart from Budapest on Thursday.  Read more here




With concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in the Palestinian territories, cooperation with the Palestinians is at its tightest ever. Israel and the Palestinian Authority understand that they’re staring into this abyss together and acting accordingly. Read more here


Hundreds more coronavirus testing kits and 1,000 protective medical gear kits were delivered into Gaza on Friday through the Erez border crossing by Israel’s Defence Ministry’s COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) unit. Read more here


It was reported on Wednesday by COGAT that over 3,000 coronavirus test-kits and 50,000 masks were delivered by Israel to the Palestinian Authority to aid in the fight against the coronavirus. The medical gear was donated by the World Health Organization. Read more here




Austrian Chancellor Kurz said he ratcheted up measures to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus after speaking to Israel’s P.M. Netanyahu, who warned him in a phone call in early March, that Europe was underestimating the devastating impact of the pandemic. Read more here




Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva has announced it will donate more than 6 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets to hospitals across the U.S. from March 31. Over 10 million tablets are expected to be shipped within a month.The tablets are approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. They are currently under investigation to determine their efficacy against the coronavirus and U.S. officials have asked for their immediate availability and use. Read more here




Interview with Dr. Elli Rosenberg who runs the coronavirus unit at the Soroka Medical Centre in Beersheba. “What we’re trying to do is maximize patient care with minimal staff exposure.”

EXTRACT: “Technology helps. A coin-sized monitor taped to patients’ chests – developed by an Israeli startup company – continuously transmits vital signs by Bluetooth to our control centre.” “We also have tablets for the patients that measure their temperature and can serve as a stethoscope. Students and faculty from the engineering department at Ben-Gurion University are building a telemedicine robot to our specifications.”

Q: What’s your take on Israel’s handling of the pandemic?
Rosenberg: “In the beginning, I thought this was handled way too aggressively and that the measures the government decided on were extreme.” “As time progressed, especially with examples coming in from different countries around the world of how governments responded and what the consequences were – for better and for worse – I slowly shifted to the point right now where I hope we’re not too late with the actions we’re taking.” Read more here