Netanyahu aide tests positive for coronavirus

PM met with adviser on ultra-Orthodox affairs Rivka Paluch on Thursday, raising concerns he may have been exposed to the virus

Rivka Paluch, left, walks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rivka Paluch, left, walks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who met with the premier on Thursday has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, raising concerns that the prime minister may have been exposed himself.

Rivka Paluch, Netanyahu’s adviser on ultra-Orthodox affairs, tested positive hours after her husband was hospitalized with the virus.

Sources in Netanyahu’s office told media that they will act according to Health Ministry guidelines, likely meaning the premier and other aides or lawmakers will have to enter 14-day quarantine. They said an epidemiological study on Paluch was being conducted to determine whom she may have exposed to the virus.

According to reports, Paluch met with several lawmakers on Thursday amid frenzied negotiations as the Knesset voted Benny Gantz its new speaker, signaling a likely unity government deal being hammered out.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office had previously confirmed that Paluch met with Netanyahu on Thursday but said that “the appropriate distance was kept.”

“The rules for keeping distance from the prime minister and those near him were maintained in accordance with the instructions of the Health Ministry, even before the family member was found positive,” sources close to Paluch told Channel 12.

As of Sunday, there were seven MKs, including two ministers, in self-isolation due to exposure to someone with the virus, though that number may rise significantly once it is determined whom Paluch met with.

There was no immediate word on the adviser’s condition. Her husband was said to be hospitalized despite showing no symptoms of the sickness.

Most people who contract COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems. Netanyahu, 70, would be considered a high-risk patient, as is Paluch, 64.

As of Sunday evening, there have been 4,247 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel and 15 directly connected deaths. According to the Health Ministry, 78 patients are in serious condition and 59 are on ventilators.

On March 15, some two weeks ago, Netanyahu and his close aides underwent testing for COVID-19 on the instruction of the Prime Minister’s Office deputy director general for security and emergencies. None were found to be carrying the virus.

While confirming that all those tested came out negative for the virus, the PMO did not specify who was tested, nor did it state whether the prime minister or members of his close circle had been exposed to a carrier of the virus.

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