State Comptroller Report:
Hundreds of thousands sent into unnecessary isolation; 74% got results after 36 hours+

Health Ministry invested NIS 112 million to purchase 2.4 million kits for serological tests, but plans to perform only 300,000 tests.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman
State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman
Ofer Amram/Bar Assoc.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman today published a special report following the COVID-19 crisis, pointing out significant deficiencies in treating the crisis, with the aim of bringing about their immediate correction.

Engelman said the importance of the issues examined was particularly evident at this time of the "second wave" and in view of the significant implications that this entails in terms of health, education, and economic needs, to assist populations affected during and after the crisis including the elderly, unemployed, and displaced.

"The audited bodies must act quickly and efficiently to correct the deficiencies that haven't yet been rectified to improve their continued response to the coronavirus crisis," the auditor emphasized at the beginning of the report.

The auditor examined, among other things, the use of GSS location surveillance to conduct epidemiological investigations in the Health Ministry, and found that the tools used by the Service did not allow it to fully meet the task assigned by the government.

In addition, there were four incidents where the Service acted in violation of rules and procedures and in a manner that was disproportionately infringing on the public's right to privacy.

In the period between the beginning of July 2020 and the middle of August 2020, the State Comptroller's Office examined various aspects concerning GSS assistance activities to the Health Ministry. Two tasks were assigned to the Service: Regarding the carrier: Identifying location data and traffic routes in the 10 to 14 days prior to the day of diagnosis. Carrier contacts: Identifying people who came in close contact (as far as possible within a radius of two meters and for at least 15 minutes) with the carrier.

The audit found that the tools used by the Service did not allow it to fully meet the task assigned to it. In practice, the GSS was unable to provide, with the capabilities it devoted to the aid mission, location placements with the required resolution. This directly affected the effectiveness of its activities and the relatively large volume of contacts it located, and consequently the relatively large number of people required to enter isolation, including those who had not been in close contact with a carrier.

It also emerged that during the audit period about 3.5% of the people found to have been in contact with patients, and therefore required to enter isolation, eventually turned out to be ill. This ratio, known in the service as a "noise signal", and used as a measure of the effectiveness of GSS activity, reflects the potential for very widespread forcing of people into isolation, including those who were not in close contact with a carrier.

The GSS, in its reference on September 22, 2020 to the draft audit report, noted that over time the "noise-signal" ratio improved and rose to about 4.6%, because according to data from the Health Ministry, and after deducting details from family data, the noise-signal ratio of activity during the second period of operation was 7.3%, and that "the Service continues its process of continuous improvement." The review revealed that the effectiveness of the epidemiological investigation conducted by questioning the carrier is significantly higher than that of the GSS assistance operations: "On the basis of an investigation conducted by questioning the carrier it was about 24% in the corresponding period."

The audit also found that although the tools used by the GSS was able to yield, in the end, a significant number of contacts of verified carriers (close to 30% of verified carriers came up as part of the contacts identified by Service activity), "as allocated for the benefit of assistance to the Health Ministry, and in any case does not lead to 'closing a circle' of the epidemiological investigation process in its entirety (ie a combination of GSS and Health Ministry activities) and optimal utilization of the capabilities required to cut the contagion chain."

This partial exploitation of GSS capabilities is particularly striking given the price the public is required to pay in invasion of privacy, the large number of those required to enter isolation, and the effects that relief activities have on Service activities.

In addition, despite many actions taken by the GSS to minimize invasion of privacy, four incidents occurred in which the Service acted in violation of rules and procedures and in a way that disproportionately violated the public's right to privacy. The audit revealed that two R&D activities were carried out in the first round of Service operations where malfunctions occurred: One activity was performed without proper permission being obtained, and the method of action taken in the case was not included in work methods approved for the Service.

In another R&D activity, a study was conducted on asymptomatic people who did not come into contact with carriers, who were in an area where many carriers were located. Although the use of data on these people was done anonymously, however these data related to asymptomatic people who were not in contact with patients. When the legal advisors in the Service became aware of this, the R&D personnel were instructed to cease the activity. Following this, an investigation was also conducted in the Service, and based on it, the Service established strict guidelines so that a similar slip-up would not recur. The Service reported to the Attorney General on the entire incident as part of a timely report on April 26, 2020.