Health official says data error led to lockdown of Tiberias neighborhoods
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Health official says data error led to lockdown of Tiberias neighborhoods

‘We’re not free of mistakes. There was a mistake in Tiberias,’ Anat Zurel-Farber tells Knesset committee; closures were later cut back to a few streets

Police officers at the entrance to a neighborhood in Tiberias on June 24, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Police officers at the entrance to a neighborhood in Tiberias on June 24, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

A Health Ministry official acknowledged on Sunday that a statistical error led the government last week to order a lockdown of several neighborhoods in the northern city of Tiberias, which was later limited to three streets.

“We strive to thoroughly examine the data,” Anat Zurel-Farber, an assistant to the head of public services, told the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. “We’re not free of mistakes. There was a mistake in Tiberias.”

Pressed by the committee’s chairman, MK Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism), on the extent of the error, Zurel-Farber said she could not answer the question. However, she insisted no such statistical mistakes led to the decision to impose a similar lockdown last week in the ultra-Orthodox town of Elad.

Apparently unsatisfied, Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar responded: “It is not wise to close a city because of 30-20 cases. There are ways to work more accurately.”

He said that such measures cause irrevocable damage to the economy and society.

Anat Zurel-Farber, an assistant to the head of public services, address the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on June 28, 2020. (Screen capture/Knesset Channel)

The decision last week by ministers to shutter five predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the northern city of Tiberias came after the Health Ministry presented data showing 82 cases in those areas.

But the next day, it was discovered that those patients were more highly concentrated than originally believed, and ministers updated the closure to only cover three streets in Tiberias.

“We review the criteria again and again. The mistake was in pinpointing the location [of the cases],” Zurel-Farber told the committee.

The Shefa Hayim, David Elazar and Zalman Shazar streets remain closed to non-residents. In addition, the Tiberias municipality announced on Sunday that it would be shuttering three schools after students at those institutions were identified as coronavirus carriers.

Residents of the sealed off zones may leave for work, matriculation exams, medical care, legal proceedings, the funeral of a first-degree relative or the transfer of a minor.

Police gather in Tiberias to enforce a partial lockdown in effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, June 24, 2020 (Israel Police)

Separately on Sunday, Israel Society for Infectious Diseases head Miri Weinberger wrote to Health Ministry director Chezy Levy, warning that the country was on the verge of losing control of the coronavirus epidemic.

Weinberger warned that not only was the number of cases increasing, but so was the age of those infected, an indicator that patients could be more severely affected.

The Health Ministry’s latest data on Sunday morning showed 76 new recorded infections from Saturday evening, bringing the national tally to 23,497. The number of daily cases has been steadily rising, topping 600 on Thursday, after restrictions were rolled back in May.

The death toll from the pandemic climbed by one on Sunday to 318. There were no details given on the fatality.

The number of active cases on Sunday morning stood at 6,160, including 45 in serious condition, an increase of four from Saturday evening, among them 24 on ventilators. There were 50 people in moderate condition, with the rest experiencing only mild symptoms or none.

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