Top doctor won’t be fired for letting billionaire skip quarantine, officials say

Health Ministry personnel tell TV that Deputy Director Itamar Grotto will likely only be reprimanded for granting exemption to Teddy Sagi, which provoked widespread criticism

Itamar Grotto at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020. (Flash90)
Itamar Grotto at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020. (Flash90)

Health Ministry Senior officials said Saturday that the ministry’s deputy director-general, Itamar Grotto, would not be fired after he granted an Israeli-Cypriot billionaire’s request to be exempted from self-quarantine upon arriving in Israel last week.

The officials believe Grotto will only be reprimanded for the decision, which drew widespread criticism, Channel 12 reported. All arrivals to Israel are required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering the country.

The Health Ministry officials also revealed what they said were emails between Grotto and employees of billionaire Teddy Sagi, in which Grotto said Sagi should adhere to social isolation guidelines. Grotto will likely release the full email correspondence in the coming days, they said.

The officials said that Grotto will likely claim that Sagi’s employees misled him to believe that Sagi was traveling to Israel to attend a family event.

The businessman, who owns the gambling company Playtech, after entering Israel attended a rooftop party in Tel Aviv hosted by a real estate developer that apparently violated the Health Ministry’s restrictions on large gatherings.

Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi. (YouTube screenshot)

The Health Ministry personnel alleged that a civil service official was involved in authorizing the event, the report said.

Grotto on Friday apologized for granting Sagi’s request to be exempted from self-quarantine.

“For every case in which my judgment was wrong, and the decision that followed was wrong, I apologize,” Grotto wrote in a letter to the Health Ministry’s outgoing director-general, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who had publicly called for Grotto’s resignation over the incident.

As first reported by Channel 12 last week, Sagi first asked Bar Siman-Tov to allow him to enter the country without having to self-quarantine but was turned down.

He then turned to Grotto, who the network said approved the request.

While admitting he was wrong to waive Sagi’s quarantine, Grotto said in his letter to Bar Siman-Tov that “the incident should be put into proportion,” slamming “the myriad of slander and assaults against me in recent days.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Wednesday that he’d instructed Bar Siman-Tov to probe the matter.

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, director-general of the Health Ministry, at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020. (Flash90)

“We’re calling on the entire public to observe the guidelines. This is a grave error in judgement that seriously harms public trust. I won’t act with forgiveness in such cases,” Edelstein wrote on Twitter.

The Ynet news site said Bar Siman-Tov had sent a “harsh” letter to Grotto, demanding clarifications and urging him to resign if the accusations are true.

“An exemption from quarantine, contrary to regulation, creates serious harm to the public’s faith in us, the professional health authorities and the government,” Bar Siman-Tov wrote, according to Ynet, which said it had a copy of the letter.

Bar Siman-Tov demanded to know if an exemption was given, and if so, what the justification was. He also asked if similar, unauthorized exemptions had been made.

“I hope there is a professionally satisfactory explanation for this and that the reports will prove to be false; however, if they are true then you need to immediately draw the appropriate conclusions,” he wrote.

Grotto, an epidemiologist, has served as deputy director-general of the Health Ministry since 2017. He is the top physician in the public health system, as Bar Siman-Tov, an economist, has no medical background and is the first non-doctor to serve as director-general of the Health Ministry.

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