Computer glitch said to blame for suspicions minister lied to contact tracers

TV report says Health Ministry investigating if computer problem that led to error in Gila Gamliel’s epidemiological probe affected other cases

Likud Minister Gila Gamliel speaks at a conference at Tel Aviv University on June 11, 2019. (Flash90)
Likud Minister Gila Gamliel speaks at a conference at Tel Aviv University on June 11, 2019. (Flash90)

A technical glitch was reportedly to blame for suspicions that Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel lied to contact tracers about violating the national coronavirus lockdown when she contracted COVID-19.

Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has faced heavy criticism after it emerged that she had traveled to Tiberias for Yom Kippur and prayed indoors at a synagogue, with reports indicating she lied about her whereabouts.

On Monday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would not open a criminal probe into Gamliel and that there was “no basis” for allegations that she had lied.

According to Hebrew media reports, an inquiry found that Gamliel told contact tracers she was in Tiberias, but the Health Ministry’s computer system only listed Tel Aviv, due to a glitch that automatically changes the location of where a person was infected to their place of residence.

After uncovering the glitch, the Health Ministry was investigating whether it affected previous epidemiological probes, Channel 13 reported.

Illustrative: IDF contact tracers in the central city of Ramle, in a TV report aired on September 25, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 13)

In his statement Monday, Mandelblit also said Gamliel “fully cooperated and provided true facts.”

Breaking the coronavirus restrictions on travel from home can be punished with a fine. However, misleading contact-tracing investigators or knowingly spreading the virus can carry separate heavy penalties.

A police probe into a minister can only go ahead with a nod from the attorney general. Mandelblit made his decision after receiving the results of an initial police probe into the matter.

Mandelblit additionally noted that he had instructed police “that in cases where there is alleged evidence of a serious violation of restrictions by elected officials and senior officials, there will be enforcement even retroactively.”

The attorney general emphasized the need for officials to obey regulations and set an example to the general public to ensure widespread compliance.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, there has been a slew of reports of lockdown violations by senior officials and their families, including the head of the Shin Bet, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, two senior police officers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Reuven Rivlin.

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