Coronavirus czar expected to quit amid clashes with Netanyahu – report

With Gamzu set to depart by end of October, PM has reportedly offered his post to previous coronavirus frontman Moshe Bar Siman-Tov

Ronni Gamzu at a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the Jerusalem City Hall, August 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Ronni Gamzu at a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the Jerusalem City Hall, August 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is reportedly expected to quit at the end of October amidst a deteriorating relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is said to have offered his job to previous Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov.

Bar Siman-Tov received the offer from Netanyahu and has said that he is seriously considering it, according to a Ynet report Wednesday.

Coalition whip Miki Zohar has reportedly called for Health Minister Yuli Edelstein to appoint Bar Siman-Tov, saying that he had “proven himself in the first wave and stood the test of time. His appointment as [coronavirus czar] could bring about positive change.”

Gamzu’s expected departure would come after relentless pushback from cabinet ministers over his strategy to combat the virus and his recent clashes with Netanyahu over the country’s second national lockdown.

Previous Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov during a press conference about the coronavirus at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 8, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a recent interview, Gamzu described enduring a three-week “nightmare” over school reopening this fall. Education Minister Yoav Gallant wanted all schools to reopen on September 1, but Gamzu pushed to close schools in areas with worrying outbreaks and ultimately prevailed.

Gamzu endured similar wrangling with ultra-Orthodox politicians, who fought furiously to allow prayers in synagogues — believed to be centers of infections — and a mass pilgrimage to the grave of a revered Hasidic master in Ukraine. Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman even resigned in protest over Gamzu’s plans for a lockdown implemented over the High Holidays.

However, Gamzu’s most recent struggle has been with the prime minister over the lockdown measures implemented earlier this month.

According to a Channel 13 report, Gamzu privately decried the government’s decision to impose a second full lockdown on the nation, expressing disgust at the move and claiming Netanyahu had pushed to enforce harsher restrictions only after he learned that he could not stop protests against him otherwise.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second from L) with then-Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov (L), Professor Ronni Gamzu (C-R) and Osnat Luksemburg (R), at a press conference at the PMO in Jerusalem on December 29, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to the network, Gamzu told associates he believed the decision was “terrible” and its motives “disgusting,” musing that he felt had to take nausea pills after it was made.

Gamzu, a physician and director of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, reportedly told the cabinet that he didn’t believe a full lockdown of the economy was warranted but wanted to achieve a “50 percent reduction” in economic activity that would dramatically reduce social contacts while allowing the partial lockdown to last for a long time. He had recommended “tightening the lockdown, and not shutting down the entire country,” he told reporters before the second lockdown went into effect.

Bar Siman-Tov, Gamzu’s possible replacement, resigned as Health Ministry director-general in May after leading the nation’s response to the first wave of coronavirus. His resignation came days after the cabinet voted, against his recommendation, to significantly ease coronavirus restrictions throughout the country, a move widely seen now as a mistake.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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