Police minister enters quarantine after top border cop tests positive for virus

Amir Ohana says he is isolating even though Health Ministry rules do not require him to do so; president, defense minister and IDF chief will not have to quarantine, ministry says

Amir Ohana at a Public Security Ministry changeover ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Amir Ohana at a Public Security Ministry changeover ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana became the latest senior official to go into quarantine Saturday, after the head of the Border Police force tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Ohana (Likud) said he had decided to voluntarily self-isolate out of an abundance of caution, even though two meetings with Border Police Commander Yaakov Shabtai did not didn’t meet the Health Ministry standards requiring a person who was in contact with a COVID-19 carrier to quarantine.

“[People] shouldn’t take risks, especially considering the nature of my meetings,” Ohana wrote on Facebook, noting he was supposed to take part in Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.

Ohana said he took a coronavirus test that came back negative.

As Public Security Minister, Ohana oversees the police, who have taken on a central role in Israel’s fight against the coronavirus by being tasked with enforcing rules mandating mask-wearing and self-quarantine orders.

The government has looked to increased police enforcement of hygiene rules as a way to possibly avoid the broad lockdowns that shuttered the economy and brought the nation to a two-month standstill during the first wave of the pandemic.

Ohana said on Facebook that starting Sunday, thousands of officers would be assigned to only deal with enforcing coronavirus rules.

Among events attended by Shabtai recently was a Jerusal

Border police officers in downtown Jerusalem on July 2, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

em memorial service which included the participation of President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

The Health Ministry said later Saturday that based on the results of an epidemiological investigation, Rivlin, Gantz and Kohavi did not need to enter quarantine.

Shabtai and the other officials had attended the Thursday ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl commemorating the sixth anniversary of 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, left, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi speak to Lea and Simcha Goldin, foreground, outside a memorial ceremony six years after Operation Protective Edge, in Jerusalem on July 2, 2020. Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some other ministers had canceled their participation at the last moment for an emergency meeting to discuss new measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has seen a major resurgence in Israel in recent weeks.

Shabtai attended multiple ceremonies within the Border Police over the past week, meaning that potentially hundreds of officers could be quarantined, Channel 12 news reported.

Yaakov Shabtai, commander of the Border Police, on September 28, 2017 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Also Saturday, the military said Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, head of IDF Central Command, would enter quarantine after taking part in an event on Tuesday at which a confirmed coronavirus carrier was present.

The Israel Defense Forces said another unnamed senior officer in Central Command, which is responsible for an area that includes the West Bank, will also enter quarantine after attending the same event.

On Friday, an unnamed advisor to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Yosef Grif, the Knesset sergeant-at-arms, told Knesset members and workers that anyone who was in contact with the individual should follow the Health Ministry’s quarantine guidelines.

Several ministers and top military officials have been forced into quarantine during various times since the start of the pandemic, though only one lawmaker — then-health minister Yaakov Litzman — has tested positive for the virus.

Police officers guard at the entrance to a neighborhood in the central city of Lod that was placed on lockdown due to a rise in coronavirus cases, on July 3, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Netanyahu said Friday Israel was again in the midst of a “major outbreak” as the number of active coronavirus cases in Israel passed 10,000 for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 1,000 new coronavirus cases were confirmed over Shabbat, the Health Ministry said Saturday, bringing the number of active cases to 11,024.

Among the active cases, 84 people were in serious condition, of whom 32 were on ventilators. The death toll stands at 330.

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