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Secretary in Netanyahu’s office gets COVID; PM likely won’t need to isolate

PMO says he wasn’t in same room as affected worker; Netanyahu has had to quarantine several times over exposure to sick coworkers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on December 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on December 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office has contracted COVID-19, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely won’t need to self-isolate, his office said Sunday.

“From a preliminary investigation, it seems Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t need to enter quarantine, because he was in a different room and didn’t come into contact with her,” a statement said.

Netanyahu has been forced into quarantine several times since the start of the pandemic over exposure to sick staff members.

In recent days, the prime minister has said he would like to become the first Israeli to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which could happen next week.

The latest case comes days after Netanyahu attended an event with Likud MK David Bitan, who was later diagnosed with the coronavirus and was hospitalized on Saturday night.

Bitan, 60, was taken to the Sheba Medical Center when his oxygen levels fell, it was announced on Sunday. According to Hebrew-language media reports, he was in intensive care.

Bitan, who chairs the Knesset’s Immigration and Absorption Committee, was among the politicians who greeted new immigrants from Ethiopia a few days prior to his diagnosis.

That ceremony was also attended by Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and other senior government officials, though the politicians wore masks at the outdoor welcoming event at Ben Gurion Airport.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, and his wife Sarah, third left, greet members of the Ethiopian Jewish community as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport, outside Tel Aviv, on December 3, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)

Netanyahu’s office said last week he would not self-isolate, as he was exposed to Bitan for under 15 minutes, according to Channel 13.

A statement released on behalf of Bitan on Sunday said that he had received treatment at home in recent days but was hospitalized after his oxygen saturation levels dropped.

The decision to take the lawmaker to the hospital was made in consultation with a physician, the statement read.

The Knesset Guard announced Monday that Bitan had tested positive for the virus.

“I feel fine, I have only mild symptoms,” Bitan said of his condition in a Twitter post. The parliament said it was tracing Bitan’s contacts but no information was offered on where he is believed to have become infected.

According to Channel 12 news, Bitan continued to meet with people prior to his diagnosis despite feeling unwell and suffering from a cough. Around 30 people were reportedly forced to self-quarantine as a result of the MK not following the directive to stay home when feeling unwell.

Likud MK Miki Zohar announced that he was entering quarantine after meeting with Bitan on Thursday.

Bitan joins a handful of lawmakers and ministers who have contracted the virus, including then-health minister Yaakov Litzman, Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Peretz, and Shas MK Yinon Azoulay.

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