Archive for March 14, 2020

With 500 dead, Iran to empty the streets, check all 80 million people for virus 

March 14, 2020

Source: With 500 dead, Iran to empty the streets, check all 80 million people for virus | The Times of Israel

Top general announces: ‘Over next 10 days, entire nation will be monitored via cyberspace, by phone and, if necessary, in person; those suspected of being ill will be identified’

Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in the capital Tehran in a bid to halt the wild spread of coronavirus on March 13 2020. (AFP)

Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in the capital Tehran in a bid to halt the wild spread of coronavirus on March 13 2020. (AFP)

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran said Friday the security forces will clear the streets nationwide within 24 hours so all citizens can be checked for coronavirus — its toughest measure yet to combat the outbreak.

The COVID-19 epidemic in Iran — a nation of more than 80 million people — has now claimed over 500 lives and infected more than 11,000.

Since it announced the first deaths last month, Iran has shut schools, postponed events and discouraged travel ahead of Nowrouz, the country’s New Year holidays.

But despite those and other measures including the cancellation of the main weekly Friday prayers, the official number of deaths and infections has continued to grow exponentially.

Iran’s supreme leader on Thursday ordered the armed forces to lead the battle against the outbreak.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei instructed the security forces to bring their services together and expand efforts to combat the virus.

Iranians, some wearing protective face masks, at stalls displaying produce at the Tajrish Bazaar in Iran’s capital Tehran on March 12, 2020. (AFP photo)

Acting on those orders, armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri chaired a meeting on Friday that included Revolutionary Guard commander Hossein Salami and police chief Hossein Ashtari.

Among other top brass at the gathering was Gholamreza Soleimani, who heads the Basij, a volunteer militia loyal to the establishment, as was Defence Minister Amir Hatami.

Bagheri appeared in front of the cameras later to say a newly formed commission had been charged with overseeing the “emptying of shops, streets and roads” within the next 24 hours.

Entire nation to monitored

“During the next 10 days, the entire Iranian nation will be monitored once through cyberspace, by phone and, if necessary, in person, and those suspected of being ill will be fully identified,” he said.

It was difficult to estimate on Friday the real extent of the measures announced by the general.

News of the lockdown came as Iran said the novel coronavirus had claimed another 85 lives, its highest single-day toll since the first deaths were announced on February 19.

“Sadly, 85 people infected with the COVID-19 disease have died in the past 24 hours,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.

“Across the country, at least 1,289 infected people have been added to the list of confirmed patients.”

In all, the ministry says 514 people have been killed by the illness out of 11,364 confirmed cases of infection in Iran.

Several politicians and officials have been infected, with some dying from the illness.

The latest suspected case was Ali Akbar Velayati, who advises Iran’s supreme leader on foreign policy.

Velayati fell ill with “mild symptoms” on Wednesday and has been placed in quarantine, according to Tasnim news agency.

Iran on Thursday said it asked the International Monetary Fund for its first loan in decades to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the IMF to “stand on the right side of history”.

‘Right direction’

Zarif also appealed to the United Nations for an end to US sanctions, which he said were “undermining our efforts to fight the COVID-19 epidemic in Iran”.

The United States is currently pursuing a policy of “maximum pressure” aimed at crippling the Iranian government’s finances.

President Donald Trump launched the campaign in 2018 after unilaterally withdrawing the US from a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and reimposing sanctions.

In theory, humanitarian items are exempt from the US sanctions, but in reality banks tend to turn down transactions involving Iran to avoid being exposed to potential litigation.

The World Health Organization praised Iran as a delegation of WHO and public health experts left the country after a five-day mission.

“We see that Iran’s strategies and priorities to control COVID-19 are evolving in the right direction,” said Richard Brennan, WHO regional emergency director.

“But more needs to be done,” he said in a statement.

“We agreed on several priority areas for scale-up with the national health authorities, based on informed experiences in China and elsewhere.”


Israel set for drastic new restrictions on workplaces, gatherings; no lockdown

March 14, 2020

Source: Israel set for drastic new restrictions on workplaces, gatherings; no lockdown | The Times of Israel

New measures, including restrictions on public transport and limits at malls, shutting preschools, barring Palestinian workers, could paralyze 50% of economy, TV report says

A closed school in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, March 13, 2020, as part of preventive measures amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Israeli government is set to announce further widespread and stringent measures to try to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, including transitioning staff at workplaces deemed non-essential to work from home, and further limiting public gatherings and movement. The raft of new measures, in addition to those already in force, are likely to paralyze up to 50 percent of the Israeli economy, TV reports said Friday night.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat Friday with top ministers and advisers working on the next steps and was expected to make the announcements on Saturday night, Hebrew media reported. However, Israel was expected to stop short of declaring a state of emergency or imposing a lockdown or curfews.

Among the steps being discussed and likely to be announced are ordering non-essential workers to work from home, limitations or bans on public transport, shutting preschools and creches, limiting access to some malls and shutting others. Some government workers will also be shifted to working from home, TV reports said. Officials were said to be working to determine how many Israeli workers would be classified as non-essential.

All essential workers and workplaces would continue as usual, with extra staff to be recruited.

An empty cafe in the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv on March 13, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The government was also considering releasing prisoners with light sentences to reduce prison crowding.

Despite the devastating effects to the economy, officials have repeatedly promised that there will be no food shortages, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday there was “no reason to storm the supermarkets.”

“We are investing considerable means right now to increase the pace of testing, to reduce the infection rate and – of course – to reinforce, strengthen and safeguard the medical teams, as well as many other things,” Netanyahu said after the Friday meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a meeting to decide on measures to contain the coranavirus with participants sitting at least a meter apart on March 13 2020 (Screencapture/Channel 12)

“There will be enough food in general and for the (upcoming Passover) holiday,” Netanyahu said.

Like many other places in the world, Israelis have been stocking up on supplies, fearing extended periods of quarantine, lockdown orders, or shortages.

Further financial steps were being planned to help people affected by the crisis, lost work and shut businesses, reports said, including easing criteria for unemployment benefits. Banks would also be encouraged to ease terms for loan repayments.

Channel 12 said Israel was also considering reducing or barring the entry of Palestinian workers from the West Bank and would consider giving the Palestinian Authority some kind of financial compensation to ensure the Palestinian economy did not collapse.

The front seat of a public bus at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem is blocked off as part of measures against the coronavirus, March 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel has already closed universities and schools across the country.

Israel has taken a number of far-reaching measures to contain and fight the virus, but has so far stopped short of steps such as banning all non-essential domestic travel or ordering the closure of most businesses.

All Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals were barred from entering the country as of Thursday at 8 p.m., unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks. Some 35,000 Israelis are said to be in quarantine, almost 1,000 of them doctors and over 600 nurses. Three Israelis are seriously ill with the virus, and almost 150 have tested positive. Nobody has died.

Any public gatherings of over 100 people have been banned, leading to the cancellation of sports games and numerous other events, as well as the closure of theaters and many hotels.

That order, which went into effect Thursday, applies to weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals, and covers “both closed and open spaces,” according to the Health Ministry.

The regulation has also impacted religious life, with Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Thursday calling on Israelis to avoid large prayer gatherings at the Western Wall and saying Health Ministry directives should be treated as Jewish law “for all intents and purposes.”

Police announced Friday they were carrying out hundreds of inspections to ensure compliance with the ban on gatherings of over 100 people.

Across the world, authorities have canceled sporting events, theater productions, TV show tapings, concerts and anything that draws a crowd in a frantic effort to keep the virus from spreading in places where people congregate.

Religious Jews at the Rashbi gravesite, which was split into two parts as part of preventive measures against coronavirus, in Meron, northern Israel, March 13, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The closures are just the latest blow wrought by a series of measures that have seen public life in Israel and around the world contract significantly in the hopes of cutting down meetings between people and chances for the virus to spread.

Netanyahu on Thursday called the pandemic “a global event unlike anything” the country had seen. He warned that “the potential number of deaths is very high and we must take action to prevent that.” Tens of thousands of Israeli lives were at stake, he said, and he intimated that tens of millions could die worldwide if the virus was not thwarted.

He said Israel’s efforts were focused on slowing the spread of the virus so that it doesn’t cause vast numbers of ill people to require medical attention at the same time and overwhelm the health care system.

Netanyahu called on his political rival, the Blue and White party headed by Benny Gantz, to join him and immediately form a temporary emergency government following a year-long political deadlock. Gantz has indicated a willingness to do so, though the terms of such a government were not immediately clear.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said his ministry was aiming to greatly expand the number of Israelis tested every day for COVID-19, from the current 600 to 2,000 and more.

Worldwide, there have been over 134,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and over 5,600 deaths since it first emerged in China in December, according to AFP figures.

The World Health Organization has declared the virus a pandemic and warned Friday it was “impossible” to know when it would peak.