Health minister suffering mild symptoms after catching virus, deputy says
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Health minister suffering mild symptoms after catching virus, deputy says

Yaakov Litzman, 71, doing well, ministry official says, speculates minister likely caught bug from his ultra-Orthodox community and not lawmakers

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman visits Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2020. (Flash90)
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman visits Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2020. (Flash90)

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is doing well but showing mild symptoms of the deadly novel coronavirus, a top official in the ministry said Thursday.

“Overall, he is in good condition at the moment,” Health Ministry deputy head Itamar Grotto told Channel 12 news. “He is not asymptomatic, he has a few symptoms but not more than that.”

He did not specify what symptoms Litzman, 71, was showing.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and a dry cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms including pneumonia, and lead to death.

Litzman’s office announced early Thursday that the minister and his wife Chava had tested positive for COVID-19.

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 into quarantine.

Litzman was continuing his normal routine from home, in accordance with doctor’s orders.

Grotto said it was not known if Litzman was infected by another one of the senior government officials he has recently met with or had caught the disease from the general public. Litzman is ultra-Orthodox, and the community has been hit especially hard by the disease.

Screen capture from video of Deputy Director-General of the Health Ministry Itamar Grotto. (Twitter)

“We are now conducting an investigation to identify where he was and who was with him for what is considered extended exposure of more than fifteen minutes,” Grotto said.

The diagnosis has forced several top officials into quarantine, including Health Ministry head Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, and has raised questions as to which other ministers and senior government officials may have been exposed to the virus.

Litzman is the most senior Israeli official to be diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

He has played a prominent role in handling the pandemic crisis alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attended key meetings with him, though the prime minister has been careful to maintain social distancing regulations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (L) Health minister Yaakov Litzman, (C) and Health Ministry General Manager Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Ministers Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Economy Minister Eli Cohen told Channel 12 that for the past two and half weeks, cabinet meetings have been held via video or conference calls.

“I imagine that perhaps the team closest to him met with him,” he said referring to Litzman. “In the last week there were more than a few government meetings via telephone, so I don’t think he met with any cabinet members.”

Cohen said that Litzman’s infection was a further indication that everyone is at risk and urged the public to adhere to government restrictions aimed at limiting social contact and public gatherings to prevent the virus spreading.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Prime Ministers Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 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.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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