Local councils to help authorities track cases -- report

Police fine 1,300 for breaking virus rules; official: Only 8 test results wrong

900 people said fined for straying beyond 100 meters from home; authorities say data error recorded in 8 cases out of over 6,000; all tests over past 48 hours being reexamined

Police patrol on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on March 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police patrol on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on March 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 1,300 fines were handed down to citizens and places of business that were found to be in violation of virus restrictions, Channel 13 reported Saturday. Of those, 900 were given to people who traveled more than 100 meters from their home, a movement restriction issued this week, according to the report.

Since Wednesday at 5 p.m., Israelis have been ordered to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of specially designated approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine or a short walk of no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from one’s home. Those found violating the regulations are subject to large fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) and even imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry is expected to begin transferring patient information to local councils to help authorities track confirmed cases living in their jurisdiction, according to a Channel 12 report Saturday. The information is set to be handed to local authorities in real time.

The Israeli military said Friday that some 500 soldiers will be deployed across the country beginning Sunday to assist police in enforcing the government’s latest restrictions on movement to stem the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the country could enter into a complete shutdown if there isn’t an improvement in the number of confirmed virus cases in the next two days.

Israeli police patrol the promenade in Tel Aviv on March 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Test results

The Health Ministry on Saturday afternoon said that incorrect coronavirus test results were recorded in just eight cases out of over 6,000, as all tests taken over the past 48 hours are being reexamined. The ministry announced earlier Saturday that it temporarily stopped providing test results due to a data error in the ministry’s computer system, leading to concerns that some patients may have received false diagnoses.

Morris Dorfman, head of the ministry’s Regulation, Digital Health & Information Systems Directorate, said in a video statement that the incorrect results came from “two specific labs.” Dorfman specified that all 27 labs with which the ministry works have been instructed to stop providing results to patients for the moment even as they work to continue processing the tests.

Morris Dorfman, head of the ministry’s Regulation, Digital Health & Information Systems Directorate, gives statement on March 28, 2020 (Screen grab)

Dorfman had said earlier in the day that during a routine inspection of data Friday, several conflicting data points had been found, but that the error would be fixed “within a few hours.”

The eight people who may have received an incorrect diagnosis have been asked to remain in self-isolation and to await final results which are expected over the next few hours, he said.

Lab work is continuing as usual, as is testing by the Magen David Adom emergency service, he added.

Currently, the Magen David Adom service carries out the majority of tests throughout the country, sending the kits to the 27 labs that analyze them and report the results to the ministry. The ministry then enters the data into its own systems and transmits them to the HMOs of the various patients, who are then notified of the results.

An earlier report on Ynet said the heads of Israeli HMOs had been notified that “lab results may be incorrect.” A ministry source told the website: “We’ve had a knot in our stomachs since yesterday. If it’s a small sampling error, it’s negligible. But if it’s an ongoing problem it would be dramatic.”

One source told Channel 12 news that the results of some 1,200 people sent from testing facilities to the Health Ministry had been incorrectly entered into the system at the ministry. It was not clear whether the patients had received incorrect diagnoses.

Medical personnel wearing protective gear handle a coronavirus test sample at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

No issue existed with the tests or their results, the source said, but rather somewhere along the reporting chain.

A senior source in the health care system told Channel 12: “Due to the error there are certainly people who received negative results when it was actually positive.” He said that “at any rate the recommendation to everyone is to isolate.”

Separately, the Health Ministry’s new smartphone app Hamagen, which is meant to alert users if they’ve crossed paths with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus, has also reportedly issued incorrect information.

On Saturday, three health professionals who were using the app were instructed to self-isolate after the system incorrectly tracked them to locations frequented by persons subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to a report in Walla, the three had not been to the locations recorded by the app, which raises concerns that some users are being told to isolate without reason, and alternatively, others who may have possibly been in close proximity to confirmed patients were not correctly tracked or alerted.

One of the three medical professionals was Dr. Zvi Fishel, head of the Israel Psychiatric Association, who told Walla he received a notice from the app that he had been to a meeting in Bnei Brak on Monday morning, which was incorrect. Dr. Fishel said the alert was worrisome since it placed him at a location he hadn’t been. “If a mistake like this occurs and people have to stop what they are doing – especially medical teams, that’s something we need to pay attention to,” he said.

According to Health Ministry data, over 3,500 medical professionals are in isolation, including close to 1,000 doctors.

Earlier Saturday, the Health Ministry said that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel had risen to 3,460. Fifty were in serious condition, 73 were in moderate condition and 89 had recovered. The rest were experiencing mild symptoms. Twelve people have died of the pathogen.

The ministry said a majority of patients, 1,828, were isolating in their homes under monitoring, with 1,062 staying at various care centers including specially converted hotels. Only 469 were currently hospitalized.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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