Going viral

Virus-infected ultra-Orthodox health minister has internet installed

Yaakov Litzman, a member of the Gur Hasidic community, forced to work from home after coronavirus diagnosis

Then-deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman in 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Then-deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman in 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Officials from the Health Ministry on Thursday installed a home computer and internet at the house of ultra-Orthodox Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman, who announced earlier in the day that he and his wife, Chava, had tested positive for COVID-19.

In an overnight statement, Litzman’s office said that he was showing mild symptoms of the coronavirus and would be continuing his normal routine from home, in accordance with doctor’s orders.

The problem, however, is that Litzman, hailing from the Gur Hasidic sect, had no PC, laptop, smartphone, or even internet connection at his home in Jerusalem. In order for him to work from home — like most Israelis are currently being asked to do regardless of self-isolation instructions — he needed a way to communicate via video call with other ministry and government officials, many of whom are now also in quarantine due to contact with Litzman.

Those entering isolation following Litzman’s announcement include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Health Ministry head Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who has become the face of Israel’s management of the crisis, with near-daily briefings and media appearances; Sigal Sadetzki, head of public health at the Health Ministry; Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen, whose spy agency has been instrumental in obtaining medical equipment for Israel; and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.

IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi is already in quarantine having been in contact with an officer who has the virus, but has tested negative and is set to emerge from isolation at the weekend.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (L) Health minister Yaakov Litzman, (R) and Health Ministry General Manager Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Litzman, the head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, has played a prominent role in handling the pandemic crisis alongside Netanyahu, attending key meetings with him, though the prime minister has been careful to maintain social distancing regulations.

Under Health Ministry orders, tens of thousands of Israelis are in self-quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus and the entire country is in an almost total lockdown that has seen most of the population confined to their homes, only allowed out for essential needs.

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