Top Health Ministry doctor apologizes for letting billionaire skip quarantine

Deputy Director Itamar Grotto says he was wrong to approve request by Teddy Sagi, who then went to large rooftop party that violated virus restrictions

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)

The deputy director-general of the Health Ministry issued an apology Friday for granting an Israeli-Cypriot billionaire’s request to be exempted from self-quarantine upon arriving in Israel earlier this week.

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

As first reported by Channel 12 news three days ago, billionaire Teddy Sagi first asked Bar Siman-Tov to allow him to enter the country without having to self-quarantine for 14 days as all arrivals are required to do, but was turned down.

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

Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi (Youtube screenshot)

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

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.

“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.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein( (R) and ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov are seen during a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020. (Flash90)

“An exemption from quarantine, contrary to regulation, creates serious harm to the public’s faith in us, the professional health authorities and the government,” he 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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