Transportation Minister Miri Regev was photographed at an office birthday party in her ministry on Tuesday with over a dozen employees, in clear violation of the national lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Regev’s office later explained that the minister was only briefly at the event and that she had told the workers to obey the restrictions.
In the photo, which was shared on social media by reporter Israel Frey of the DemocratTV media network, Regev was shown sitting at a food-laden table crowded with 12 other people as they celebrated the birthday. The lockdown, which Regev herself voted to apply, limits indoor gatherings to just five people.
Those in the photo were not maintaining social distancing orders by keeping two meters between them, and none — including Regev — had a face mask on.
— דמוקרטTV (@Democrat_TV) January 12, 2021
A statement from her office said that “Minister Regev participated for a few minutes to mark the birthday of a worker in her office. Minister Regev went in to congratulate the worker.”
The statement continued that Regev “notified those present of their duty to refrain from deviating from procedures during the lockdown and sought to reiterate the procedures about the matter. It should be stressed that those photographed in the picture are essential workers who work together as a pod in the workplace.”
Regev was caught breaking a previous lockdown last July when she participated in the inauguration of a new interchange that was attended by more than the maximum 20 participants permitted at the time. She vowed then not to repeat the incident.
Along with closing schools and nonessential businesses, the lockdown limits outdoor gatherings to just ten people and restricts Israelis to moving no further than 1,000 meters (0.65 miles) from their homes, other than for essential needs.
The lockdown is set to end on January 21, but officials have warned it may be extended as Israel has in recent days seen new records in daily confirmed infections, active cases and serious patients.
Regev is not the only minister to have been caught running afoul of lockdown orders or limitations on public activities since the measures were first implemented in April last year.
Last year then-heath minister Yackov Litzman contracted COVID-19 and a subsequent epidemiological investigation found he had attended a banned prayer meeting.
Later that year, his fellow United Torah Judaism party member Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush was seen at a wedding in Haifa that was attended by several hundred people, in contravention of Health Ministry guidelines.
In October police probed Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel following reports that she lied to epidemiological investigators about breaking lockdown rules when she caught the virus. Gamliel came under fire when it emerged that she traveled to Tiberias for Yom Kippur and prayed indoors at a synagogue. Reports indicated that she tried to hide that fact from contact tracers but investigators found no proof that she had lied.
Since the start of the outbreak 513,715 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel, according to Health Ministry figures published Wednesday. A national vaccination drive that began last month has so far begun inoculations of over three times that number, with 1,880,198 having received at least the first of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNtech vaccination.
As of Wednesday, there were 77,178 active virus patients, and the death toll stood at 3,772.