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Sick minister went to Knesset with symptoms, but contacts not quarantined — TV

Lawmakers filmed speaking to Gila Gamliel last week have not been ordered to self-isolate, despite her COVID-19 diagnosis

Enviromental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel attends a Knesset Economy Committee debate on bottle deposits, September 14, 2020 (Courtesy)
Enviromental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel attends a Knesset Economy Committee debate on bottle deposits, September 14, 2020 (Courtesy)

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel visited the Knesset last Tuesday for a vote, reportedly while feeling ill — days before she was diagnosed with COVID-19, and after she allegedly violated the national lockdown.

Channel 13 on Tuesday quoted unnamed sources as saying Gamliel admitted she was not feeling well last week while in parliament, several days before her diagnosis.

Though she was filmed talking to other lawmakers, including fellow Likud MK David Amsalem, for more than 15 minutes, none have been ordered to quarantine following Gamliel’s announcement on Saturday that she contracted the coronavirus, the report said.

Gamliel faced calls for her dismissal on Monday after she admitted that last week she broke a lockdown limit by traveling from her Tel Aviv home to the northern city of Tiberias.

She also reportedly tried to hide the trip from a Health Ministry epidemiological investigation into her infection. Gamliel spent the Yom Kippur fast, last Sunday evening and Monday, at a synagogue in Tiberias, where her father-in-law is the rabbi, Kan reported.

Gila Gamliel speaks at a conference in Kedem, in the West Bank, on September 5, 2019 (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

She disclosed that she had been infected with the coronavirus in a social media post overnight Saturday.

Gamliel on Monday did not admit to doing anything wrong, but allowed later on that she may not have handled the situation correctly.

“I acted in line with guidelines, though it is possible I erred in my judgment. I am sorry, I will pay the fine,” she said in a statement.

Police on Tuesday conveyed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit the results of an initial probe of Gamliel. It is now up to the attorney general to rule whether to open a criminal investigation into Gamliel.

Channel 12 reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no intention of firing Gamliel over her alleged conduct, and the Likud minister is not planning to resign. The premier, however, was considering taking “serious steps” against her, the network said, without elaborating on what those penalties would entail.

The Haaretz daily reported late Monday that Gamliel could not be reached for hours by the Health Ministry epidemiological investigators on Sunday morning. When she was reached, at 3:30 p.m., she initially told the Health Ministry she believed she was infected by her driver and he was marked down as the source of the virus.

But investigators could not reconcile that with the fact that Gamliel’s husband and another relative were diagnosed with COVID-19, despite the fact that they weren’t in contact with the driver. Hours later, at 7:22 p.m., the Health Ministry contact tracers followed up with Gamliel on the discrepancy.

At that point, she disclosed that she had taken part in prayers at a “family synagogue” over Yom Kippur — but did not mention that it was in Tiberias, not Tel Aviv, the report said. Gamliel told the authorities she had been in her office in Jerusalem and at a meeting in Petah Tikva but omitted mention of her travels to the northern city.

According to Haaretz, the Health Ministry only learned on Monday morning that she had been in Tiberias. It again called Gamliel, who named eight people with whom she had been in contact at the synagogue.

Associates of the minister have said the congregants all wore masks and that Gamliel slept in a local family apartment in the city, parts of which have been declared virus hotspots. They also asserted on Monday that her husband owns the apartment where they stayed and that they were thus allowed to be there under the lockdown regulations.

Dozens of protestors demonstrated near Gamliel’s Tel Aviv home on Monday evening, calling on her to resign.

Protestors demonstrate near the Tel Aviv home of Gila Gamliel, October 6, 2020 (Screen grab/Ynet)

Critics have said Gamliel’s conduct as a cabinet member is incompatible with expectations that the public adhere to lockdown restrictions.

Netanyahu said he was waiting for investigators to uncover the “full picture” before drawing conclusions on the conduct of Gamliel, a senior member of his Likud party.

Israel has instated an ongoing national lockdown that, among other restrictions, limits Israelis to remaining within one kilometer of their homes except for work or essential needs. Visiting others’ homes is also banned.

Gamliel is not the first minister whose infection with the coronavirus uncovered apparent violations of government-ordered restrictions.

In April, then-health minister Yaakov Litzman was diagnosed with COVID-19, reportedly after having attended prayer services that at the time were banned under his own ministry’s orders during a previous lockdown.

During the first lockdown earlier this year, there were multiple reports of lockdown violations by politicians and their families, including Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid announced on Monday that MK Mickey Levy will resign from the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee “by joint agreement” after violating the lockdown rules.

And on Tuesday, Kan news reported that Nadav Argaman, head of the Shin Bet internal security service, violated lockdown regulations over the Sukkot holiday by hosting members of his family that did not live in his household.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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