Netanyahu, heads of Mossad, NSC, MOH all in isolation after Litzman infected

Health minister accused of praying contrary to his own office’s guidelines

A press conference on coronavrus held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman and Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov (photo credit: Courtesy)
A press conference on coronavrus held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman and Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, National Security Council Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov entered quarantine on Thursday after Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman was diagnosed with the coronavirus.
These officials, essentially Israel’s top leadership, are currently leading efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 throughout the country.
“The health minister is feeling well,” the Health Ministry said Thursday.
Dr. Sigal Sadetsky, head of Public Health Services at the Health Ministry; Dr. Vered Ezra, head of Medical Management at the Health Ministry; and Hadassah-University Medical Center CEO Zeev Rotstein are in self-isolation after they met in recent days with Litzman.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi is working from quarantine after coming in contact with an infected officer earlier in the week. He has tested negative for the virus.
Cohen will be in isolation at Mossad headquarters until Sunday. Litzman, head of United Torah Judaism, will be at home in Jerusalem. Bar Siman Tov will be in an office at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.
Netanyahu will also be at home through Wednesday. He completed a few days of self-isolation on Wednesday after coming into contact with another one of his advisers who also contracted the virus 14 days prior. He was tested – along with his family and several close advisers – on Monday. The tests were negative.
“We were prepared for such a possibility [of senior politicians and bureaucrats entering quarantine],” Bar Siman Tov said in a statement. “I will continue to manage my team through digital means... The need to go into isolation can happen to all of us, and we must obey instructions."
He urged citizens to follow Health Ministry guidelines.
But Litzman might not have followed his office’s guidelines, Channel 12 reported Thursday. He reportedly prayed at a synagogue with a minyan on March 28, three days after the Health Ministry’s directive that “no person should pray in a place other than his place of residence unless prayers are being conducted in an open space.”
Testimony by residents in the haredi neighborhood in which Litzman lives suggests he violated the directives several other times. Neighbors said he prayed at a minyan more than 100 meters from his home.
“He prayed daily in the Beit Israel synagogue with my father,” a young man told Channel 12. “I suppose the health minister will not say he was there during any investigation, which raises risk here. There are people out there who don’t know they should be in isolation because they came in contact with him, and if it turns out they are carrying the disease, they will pass it on and on.”
In response, Litzman’s office denied the allegations. “The minister of health has been fully responsible for the entire period,” it said in a statement.
Litzman’s office accused the report of being rooted in politics, adding: “Attempt to involve political pressure in a national and global emergency must be rejected.”
Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid said if the prime minister does not dismiss Litzman from his role, “the government does not have the moral validity to manage the coronavirus crisis.”
Last week, after Litzman attended a Knesset session, parliamentary and Health Ministry officials checked the footage of the building’s security cameras to determine with whom he had direct contact. Both a Knesset security guard and UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler were ordered to enter self-isolation. The entrances to the offices of Litzman and Eichler have been disinfected.
The Health Ministry said a full epidemiological investigation is being carried out, and messages will be sent to any others who would be required to enter quarantine. It is expected that other senior officials will also be asked to self-isolate.
Litzman, who is a Gerrer hassid, may have contracted COVID-19 from another senior government or Health Ministry official or from someone within the haredi community, Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto told Channel 12 Thursday.
A statement released to the press earlier said the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Ya’acov Aryeh Alter, would not have to enter isolation.
Litzman, 72, is among the high-risk population because of his age.
“His condition at this time is mild,” Grotto told Channel 12. “He is not asymptomatic. There are some symptoms, but no more than that.”
Grotto said he would not have to enter isolation because his contact with Litzman was by phone or video conference.
Litzman will continue to serve in his role from home in accordance with medical recommendations.
At last count on Thursday, 34 Israelis had died of COVID-19 and 6,857 had tested positive for the virus. More than 100 were in serious condition.