Virus reaches halls of power: Ministers Deri, Hanegbi and 2 MKs quarantined
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Virus reaches halls of power: Ministers Deri, Hanegbi and 2 MKs quarantined

Knesset said weighing virus tests for all MKs after director general tests positive; Israeli embassy in Germany closes after ambassador, diplomat also found to carry coronavirus

Disinfecting the Knesset ahead of the swearing in of MKs amid the coronavirus crisis, March 16, 2020 (Knesset spokeswoman)
Disinfecting the Knesset ahead of the swearing in of MKs amid the coronavirus crisis, March 16, 2020 (Knesset spokeswoman)

Two cabinet ministers and two other members of Knesset were ordered into quarantine on Tuesday after they met with a southern mayor who was later confirmed as a coronavirus carrier.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Blue and White MKs Ram Ben-Barak and Alon Shuster will enter immediate home quarantine after meeting with Merhavim Regional Council head Shai Hajaj in recent days.

Modi’in Mayor Haim Bibas, who chairs the country’s main mayors’ organization, the Center for Local Government, also announced he was entering self-isolation on Tuesday after he attended the meeting with Hajaj.

Three of the four lawmakers, Hanegbi, Ben-Barak and Shuster, had already faced potential quarantine after meeting with Knesset director general Albert Saharovich on Monday. Saharovich’s wife was found to have contracted the virus and he himself subsequently tested positive for it as well.

Shas chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, forward right, and Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman, left rear, at the plenum hall during the opening of the 22nd Knesset, in Jerusalem, on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

When Knesset officials learned of the diagnosis of Saharovich’s wife — but before he was diagnosed as well — it asked the three not to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the 23rd Knesset.

The Blue and White lawmakers stayed away, but Hanegbi entered parliament despite the Knesset order. He wandered around the parliament building and was spotted in the cafeteria meeting with Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel. Hanegbi’s office claimed in a statement that the minister received just 10 minutes’ notice before the swearing-in, at which point he was already in the Knesset.

The Knesset was reportedly weighing testing all MKs for the coronavirus in light of recent events.

MK Tzachi Hanegbi of Likud on September 17, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Monday’s ceremony saw members of the 23rd Knesset take their oaths in batches of three as a health precaution. There were no additional guests invited to the ceremony and the Knesset Guard was administering fever tests outside the parliament.

Israel has banned all gatherings of over 10 people to stem the outbreak, which has infected over 377 Israelis as of Tuesday night.

Also Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry reported that Israel’s ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff and diplomat Aharon Sagi had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The two are feeling well and are at their homes,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Issacharoff and Sagi were tested after meeting with a member of the Bundestag who later tested positive for the virus.

The embassy has since been shuttered and the diplomatic staff sent to home quarantine, according to the ministry.

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