Protester who attended mass Tel Aviv rally diagnosed with coronavirus

Health Ministry says demonstrator was at Rabin Square from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, days after officials warned that gathering would feed increase in infections

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square against the government's economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, July 11, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis protest in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square against the government's economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, July 11, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that a protester who attended Saturday’s mass protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s economic policies relating to the pandemic has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Officials did not say when the individual had tested positive for the pathogen, so it was unclear if he or she had broken quarantine to attend the demonstration of some 10,000 people.

The ministry said the individual was at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday evening.

The protest, the largest in Israel since the start of the pandemic, was held as the country was undergoing a surge in new coronavirus infections, leading the government to reintroduce some restrictions on gatherings and economic activity.

Prof. Ran Belcer, a public health expert who is advising the government on the virus, told Army Radio Wednesday that statistically, it was likely that there were several coronavirus carriers at the rally.

“I hope he made sure to wear a mask and keep distance. If so, one may hope that this will not end with a large number of infected. Time will tell.”

Health officials had earlier warned that the Saturday night protest could cause a spike in new cases of the virus due to demonstrators’ failure to heed social distancing rules.

“Even while understanding the pain and concern of the protesters — it is a dangerous gathering that I fear will see results in the coming days in the number of people infected,” Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy told Army Radio on Sunday.

“It is quite clear that the demonstration is a large gathering with no compliance with the regulations against infection and the transmission of the virus from person to person,” Levy added.

Self-employed Israelis protest at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, calling for financial support from the Israeli government in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, on July 11, 2020.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch had condemned the protest as a “health terror attack.”

Kisch, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said he recognized “the extent of the economic crisis” but was committed to preventing gatherings to curb the spread of the virus.

“We’re doing everything to prevent gatherings and are paying a high price (socially and economically) in order to stop the virus and then see images from the square yesterday. A mega health terror attack,” he wrote on Twitter.

Under current rules, gatherings of 20 people or more in closed spaces are forbidden except in some circumstances. The rule does not apply to open spaces and protests have generally been exempted from virus rules, provided that social distancing is maintained.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that the widespread protests against the killing of Floyd George appeared not to have led to a surge in coronavirus infections. There were said to be a number of theories as to why this may have happened, including the fact that case numbers were already dropping in many of the regions with large demonstrations. Furthermore, the majority of protesters in the US wore masks and transmission is thought to be more rare outdoors than in confined environments.

The news that a participant in the Tel Aviv protest had become ill could mean that thousands who attended the protest may be sent into quarantine if flagged by a tracing program that tracks cellphone locations.

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against the government in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 11, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein filed a complaint Sunday against a doctor at Soroka hospital in Beersheba, who told protesters not to bring their cellphones to the rally to avoid being traced and potentially sent into quarantine.

Saturday’s protest came as Israel faces unemployment of some 21 percent, or 850,000 people, with many saying they are fearful for their future and numerous businesses facing collapse.

There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy whose members say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.

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