Official Tells Knesset: No Case of COVID Can Be Traced to Demonstration

Health Ministry official’s comment to Knesset committee contradicts claim of coalition whip who blamed protests for upsurge in infections

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, August 18, 2020.
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, August 18, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

As of late August not a single case of the coronavirus has been traced back to a demonstration, a Health Ministry official said Sunday.

Dr. Eric Hass, director of the ministry’s routine immunizations department, was responding to a question asked by the chairman of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee, Yifat Shasha-Biton. He said the statistics were accurate as of August 26. The ministry doesn’t usually publicize the sources of infection, and has done so only once before, in July.

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Last week coalition whip Miki Zohar argued that the demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are responsible for the rise in the incidence of coronavirus infection, without giving any evidence or grounds for the claim. The demonstrations have been going on for 11 weeks.

The concentration of virus droplets in the air surrounding someone with COVID­-19 determines the risk of infection to others. But in the open air, where there are winds and air currents, the virus is diluted quickly, reducing its concentration. That’s why the risk of infection outdoors is minuscule, compared to the much higher risk of infection in enclosed spaces, especially poorly ventilated ones.

In July, the Health Ministry presented data showing that the epidemiological investigations had managed to trace the source of infection in less than a third of the confirmed cases over a specific week. Even those statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt, said officials in the health system. “Once we’re talking about infection outside the home, it’s much harder to locate the source of the contagion,” said an official in one of the health bureaus.

Places where infection was detected
Places where infection was detected according Health Ministry data released in July, 2020.Credit:

In response to Haas’ remarks, Zohar wrote, “Even if we were to proceed from the completely delusional assumption that there are no infections at demonstrations, we will never be able to explain why we are permitting mass gatherings for demonstrations while forbidding prayer and cultural performances.”

The prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, accused the Health Ministry and the Shin Bet security service of hiding the data on coronavirus infections from the demonstrations in front of the prime minister’s residence.

Yair Netanyahu, October 12, 2018
Yair Netanyahu, October 12, 2018Credit: Moti Milrod

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu had said Thursday that he would be pleased, “If there weren’t demonstrations at this time. It for sure increases the contagion. All gatherings should be restricted,” he said, adding, “There’s no difference between a mass demonstration and a mass wedding.”

The number of coronavirus cases rose by 1,221 Sunday to reach 130,157, of which 26,683 are active cases, according to the latest Health Ministry figures. The total death toll rose by two to reach 1,012.

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