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Tuesday Jul 07 2020

Israeli health official resigns after advice to fight coronavirus ignored

Passengers wearing protective masks in the arrivals halls at Ben Gurion Airport. — AFP/Files

JERUSALEM: A top Israeli health official resigned Tuesday, saying her guidance on combatting the coronavirus was being disregarded and the country's containment efforts were "disoriented" as it faced a surging caseload.

The resignation of Siegal Sadetzki, the health ministry's director of public health services, came after Israel re-imposed several lockdown measures in an effort to curb the virus's spread.

"For a few weeks now, our compass for dealing with the pandemic has become disoriented," Sadetzki wrote in a Facebook post announcing her decision to step down.

"Despite repeated warnings in different forums, we are watching with frustration as our window of opportunity (to contain the virus) is running out," added Sadetzki, an epidemiologist.

"I've reached the conclusion that, in a new context where my professional opinion is not being accepted, it is no longer in my capacity to help prevent the pandemic's spread," she wrote.

Former parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein, an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, became health minister under a coalition government sworn in in May.

Edelstein announced Monday that he intended to name a point person to oversee Israel's response, a new role that was likely to cut into Sadetzki's authority.

Israel had earned praise in March and April for its fast action against the virus, including the imposition of early travel restrictions.

But its re-opening strategy has faced criticism as cases have shot up.

Sadetzki said Israel's effective initial response had been nullified by "the swift and broad opening of the economy".

Netanyahu, who thanked Sadetzki for her service, has warned that Israel's health system risked being paralysed by a flood of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

But he has also voiced concern about renewed lockdown measures that would further devastate an already battered economy.

As of Tuesday morning, Israel had recorded more than 31,000 coronavirus cases, including 338 deaths.

In recent weeks, the country of about nine million people has regularly registered between 500 to 1,000 new cases each day.

Various restrictions have been re-imposed, including the closure of event venues, clubs, bars, gyms and public pools.

Limits on the number of people allowed in restaurants and places of worship have also been reinstated.