First publication:
Health Ministry sued in Freedom of Information Act COVID-19 request

Doctors, journalists, hundreds of citizens hire attorney after Health Ministry repeatedly ignores queries on mortality, testing, treatment.

Mordechai Sones ,

Health Ministry Director Hezi Levy
Health Ministry Director Hezi Levy
Flash 90

Hundreds of physicians, journalists, and citizens have engaged an attorney to submit an official Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Health Ministry regarding various issues related to the COVID-19 coronavirus. This, after queries by journalists representing the entire spectrum of Israeli media outlets consistently revealed a pattern of Health Ministry avoidance of certain issues.

The law firm of Waldman-David-Zuchowitzky-Fraidin today addressed Health Ministry's FOIA Officer Attorney Shulamit Blank, saying: "On behalf of my clients, many dozens of medical, scientific, academic, media, and ordinary citizens, I am hereby honored to address to you the matter in question, as follows:

"From the end of 2019, the world has been dealing with a disease caused by a novel virus from the corona family, known as SARS CoV-2.

"Although there is no argument that the virus exists, is contagious, and can cause severe morbidity and mortality, there are serious disagreements about the severity and extent of morbidity and mortality caused by the virus, the link between measures taken and prevention of infection and morbidity, and the degree of health burden.

"As you probably know, every decision, step, and policy affects the lives, health, and future of millions of Israelis and therefore reliable information and true data are critical."

The request is signed by Professor Eitan Fridman of Sheba Hospital, Professor Eyal Shahar (Arizona), Professor Udi Kimron of Tel-Aviv University, Professor Zvi Bentoich of Ben Gurion University, Professor Doron Lancet of the Weitziman Institute, Tel Aviv University Microbiology Professor Udi Kimron, and Dr. Aviv Segev at Shalvata Hospital.

The letter was also signed by Health Communication Lecturer at IDC Herzliya International School Dr. Yaffa Shir Raz, Channel 13 News reporter Alon ben David, Meytal Ysoor (Israel Hayom), Talya Levin (Ma'ariv) and others.

The request says: "My clients, a group of medical, science, academia, media, and ordinary citizens, is contacting you for answers and data to the following questions:

A. Mortality questions:

1. How many of the deceased were defined based on a positive laboratory test?

2. How many of the deceased died from an accident or an obvious external cause, and were also virus carriers regardless of the disease due to which they died or were resuscitated?

3. How many of the deceased had a significant background illness (heart disease, cancer, advanced Alzheimer's, etc.)? We request to receive the answer by age segmentation.

4. In how many of the deceased was the background disease (the underlying disease) the leading cause of death? We request the answer by age segmentation.

5. We would like to receive an Excel file of the deceased, with information clarifying which of them came from institutions: a. From nursing homes; b. Helping institutions; c. Rehabilitation institutions; d. Palliative institutions.

6. Which of them died within the institution itself?

7. How many of the deceased who were defined as deceased from coronavirus were not hospitalized at the time of death, and were defined as deceased originally due to receiving a positive lab response at some point in time in the past?

8. Of all the haredi/Arab carriers, what is the mortality rate in each sector? And how do they equate to percentages of general mortality among all carriers?

B. Questions about critically ill and respiratory patients:

1. Since July, how many of the most difficult patients have been defined as such based on the parameter of oxygen saturation lower than 93%?

2. How many went to hospitals due to illness/other medical condition (e.g. heart attack) and were transferred to coronavirus wards due to a positive test result?

3. Among the severe patients, how many of them have undergone intubation, and how many are assisted by oxygen support or by means of other light breathing aids?

C. Questions about the PCR tests:

1. How many of the positive tests reported so far reflect repeat tests for those people?

2. Of all the people who performed two tests in a row (ie. - within 24 hours), in how many tests were the two results different?

3. Is there a uniform standard for setting a viral threshold for a positive coronavirus test, and if so, what is it?

4. How many of the tests are borderline and is a borderline test considered positive?

5. Someone whose test was defined as borderline - what was the diagnosis?

6. In the context of the epidemiological investigations, people defined as borderline or asymptomatic - what was the percentage of people they infected?

7. What is the percentage of positive tests among medical staff in the various hospitals?

8. What is the percentage of people who have had a test for symptoms? How many of them received a negative answer?

9. What are the details of the contract agreement with My Heritage Corporation? If other private laboratories were blocked from entering the field of coronavirus testing, why?

10. How much money will the State of Israel pay My Heritage?

D. Questions about the chain of infection and connection to the disease:

11. In cases where the location of the infection is known (based on epidemiological investigation), is there a connection between the location of the infection (house, mall, plane, etc.) and the intensity of the disease in the infected?

12. Is there a difference in morbidity between people infected by asymptomatic carriers and people infected by patients with clinical symptoms (eg. hospitalized)?

13. Is there a relationship between the age of the person infected and the intensity of the illness caused by the person infected? And in particular, from among adults (over the age of 18) who were moderate ill, severely ill, or who have died, how many of them have been infected by children (in the following segmentation - up to the age of 10, up to the age of 18)?

E: Questions about the burden on the health system:

1. What is the percentage of occupancy in the inpatient wards + coronavirus wards + intensive care units this year, compared to internal + intensive care wards in the previous two years?

2. What is the number on ventilators in the coronavirus wards and intensive care units in each of the months from March to August this year compared to the corresponding months in the previous two years? And compared to all intensive care patients in the previous two years?

3. What is the number of malaria referrals in each of the months from March-August this year compared to the corresponding months in the previous two years?

4. How many ventilator (intubation) patients was the health system prepared to treat in August 2020, as opposed to its readiness in March 2020, and how many were on assisted breathing?

"In view of the urgency of the matter, we will be grateful for a response as soon as possible," says the request, continuing: "It will be recalled that under section 10 of the Freedom of Information Act, it is the duty of the public authority to consider the public interest in disclosing the information requested for reasons of safeguarding public health - which is even more true in our case.

"My clients undertake to pay the application fee and the handling and production fee up to the amount of NIS 151. As is well known, in the case of a demand for payment in a higher amount, the consent of my client is required for its execution.

"We will be grateful, therefore, for your answer in advance, and in any case no later than the statutorily imposed deadline," concludes the Freedom of Information Act request to the Health Ministry.