Report: Rabbi Ordered Israeli Health Minister to Step Down

Israel’s minister of health on Sunday said he would resign after public outrage about the handling of the coronaviral crisis and its own infection with COVID-19.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would step aside as the country forms a new government. In a statement, he made no mention of his much-criticized performance at the Health Ministry, which he has led for most of the past decade, and instead said he would take over the Construction Ministry.

Elsewhere in the region, Saudi Arabia signed a deal worth more than $264 million with China to provide the kingdom with the ability to conduct 9 million coronavirus tests. Syria also said its schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year, while the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers said they will allow restaurants and coffee shops to reopen.

In a statement, Litzman said he “decided not to return to the Health Ministry for a fourth time, and prefers to lead a sweeping development for solving the housing crisis in Israel in the Housing Ministry.”

The government has generally been lauded for keeping the coronavirus crisis in check. The virus has infected over 15,000 Israelis and killed nearly 200 people, but Israel has not seen its health system overwhelmed like hard-hit places such as Italy or New York, and the country has begun easing weeks of lockdown.

Litzman, an ultra-Orthodox politician with no formal medical training, has come under criticism for appearing ill-prepared at news conferences and reportedly resisting proposals to tighten lockdown measures that would affect the country’s religious community.

Early this month, Litzman was diagnosed with COVID-19, apparently after ignoring his own ministry’s orders to avoid group prayer in public places. He has since recovered.

In a TV interview Sunday, Litzman said he had never violated lockdown rules and said he was leaving his job because he was ready for a new challenge, not because of public pressure.

The coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it can cause severe illness or death, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems.

Barbershops, beauty salons and other small businesses reopened, and restaurants were permitted to serve takeout orders for the first time in nearly two months. Last week, some shops were allowed to open as well. Malls and outdoor markets, however, remain closed.

The restrictions on many small businesses helped propel unemployment in Israel to over 25% since early March.

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