Unclear if this affects Netanyahu, who just left quarantine

Israel’s Health Minister Litzman and his wife test positive for coronavirus

71-year-old is most senior Israeli official to be diagnosed so far with COVID-19, said to be in good condition and working from isolation at home; Netanyahu informed of situation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with then-health minister Yaakov Litzman, in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with then-health minister Yaakov Litzman, in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and his wife Chava have tested positive for the coronavirus, his office announced after midnight Wednesday, saying they were both in good condition.

The 71-year-old minister is the most senior Israeli official to be diagnosed with the virus.

The pair was being “suitably treated and are in isolation, under observation in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines,” the statement said, adding that all those who had been in contact with them would be informed and sent to quarantine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been informed of the developments, the statement said, but did not say if this would affect the prime minister, who emerged from voluntary quarantine on Wednesday night after one of his aides was found to be carrying the virus.

Wednesday night marked 14 days since Netanyahu last met the adviser, Rivka Paluch. The prime minister, his family and several close advisers were tested on Monday and were found to not be carriers.

Litzman has played a prominent role in handling the pandemic crisis alongside Netanyahu, attending key meetings with him, though the prime minister has been careful to maintain social distancing regulations.

Health minister Yaakov Litzman speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Under Health Ministry orders, tens of thousands of Israelis are in self-quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus and the entire country is in an almost total lockdown that has seen most of the population confined to their homes, only allowed out for essential needs.

A Magen David Adom ambulance at Tel Aviv’s Dan Panorama hotel, which was turned into quarantine facility, on March 26, 2020. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The statement said Litzman would continue his normal routine from home, in accordance with doctor’s orders.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Israel rose Wednesday to 26, and the number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus increased to 6,092.

Litzman, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, has been frequently criticized for his handling of the virus outbreak in Israel.

Some have alleged he put the interests of the ultra-Orthodox community ahead of the general public in his handling of the fight against the pandemic. He reportedly pushed to delay stringent restrictions on public gatherings that would have affected observance of the Purim festival last month, and fought bitterly against last week’s closing of synagogues.

A group of senior medical officials in major hospitals have also written to Netanyahu with an urgent demand to appoint a professional figure as health minister instead.

The doctors wrote in the letter that the coronavirus pandemic “has exposed and caught the healthcare system at a low point from an organizational and operational point of view, which everyone had been aware of.”

They laid out problems in the system, including widening gaps between the quality of health services in the center of the country and in the north and south.

“At this time… it is right for a professional to be appointed to head the Health Ministry — a doctor with a rich experience in Israeli healthcare,” they wrote. “Health comes before anything else, definitely before politics.”

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