Billionaire Allowed to Skip Quarantine Causes Uproar

Prof. Itamar Grotto at press conference about the coronavirus, at the Health Ministry on May 31. (Flash90)

Allegations of preferential treatment given to an Israeli billionaire could cost a senior Health Ministry official his job.

Teddy Sagi was allowed to skip a mandatory two-week quarantine by Ministry of Health deputy director-general Prof. Itamar Grotto, after flying into Israel from Cyprus last week, according to Channel 12.

The Ministry has confirmed that Grotto approved the exemption, and said in a statement: “This was a grave error of judgment and an investigation will be held on the matter.”

A spokesperson for Sagi denied any wrongdoing: “Sagi entered Israel according to the law and acted lawfully in accordance with the instructions that he received.”

Ynet reported on Thursday that it has an email in which Grotto approved the waiver, apparently based on the latter’s declaration that he had been infected with COVID-19 two months ago in London and recovered. In addition, he submitted his antibodies test to the Israeli health authorities and underwent another coronavirus test days before his flight, which turned up negative, the report said. Sagi also argued in his request that quarantine was not necessary since he arrived from Cyprus, which has few cases.

Grotto, an epidemiologist, refused to comment on the matter, telling journalists outside his home Thursday that their queries were an invasion of his privacy.

A senior Health Ministry official defended Grotto and described the allegation as a case of character assassination. “Prof. Grotto is an honest person and there is no doubt that this is a targeted attack against him,” the source told Channel 12. “Even if he made a wrong decision, this needs to be probed responsibly instead of hurrying to crucify him.”

Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein has instructed director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov to question Grotto and report on it by Friday.

Edelstein said, “Especially when we have made such efforts to explain to the public the importance of complying with Ministry of Health instructions and when we are calling for intensified enforcement, it cannot be that there will be exemptions from isolation that will endanger the health of the public. This is grave damage to the public trust and a serious error of judgment. In cases like these I will not behave leniently.”

Sagi may not have been the only one to use protektzia to avoid quarantine. Ministry sources told Channel 12 that Grotto had done the same for others, as well.

“That was not the first time and if it wasn’t for the revelation, it would not have been the last,” a source was quoted saying.