Focusing on Returning Travelers, Israeli Police Fail to Enforce Domestic COVID Quarantine

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People walking in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, this month.
People walking in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, this month.Credit: Hadas Parush

More than 30,000 Israelis were required to go into quarantine in the past two weeks after being exposed to a confirmed coronavirus carrier, posing a challenge that police and municipal authorities, by their own admission, are unequipped to handle.

Only a few dozen fines were handed out to quarantine violators by municipal police over the last two weeks, even as the spread of the delta variant of the virus sent up the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, and with it the number of quarantine orders.

A police source admitted that enforcement of quarantines is insufficient, and urged the public to adhere to quarantine regulations. Regarding the quarantine of people returning to Israel, the source told Haaretz that "overall, we're seeing that those arriving from abroad are disciplined and understand the importance of abiding by the quarantine orders."

Out of 44,000 people now in quarantine, only 14,000 are arriving passengers who fall under the police's jurisdiction. The police assigned 500 officers to monitor those in isolation and conduct 7,000 checks daily, 60 percent of which are surprise home visits, with the rest being phone calls. Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, police have handed out 117 fines worth 5,000 shekels each (about $1,500) to quarantine violators.

Passengers arriving to Ben-Gurion International Airport, last month.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

High-ranking municipal and police officials said that the police are following a directive issued by the previous government, which instructed them to focus on monitoring the quarantine of Israelis returning from abroad. Though most infections in Israel are now internal, monitoring the lion's share of quarantined individuals is left to the local authorities – even though local inspectors are not authorized to hand out fines for quarantine violations. "Right now we're not enforcing quarantine at all," said Haim Bibas, the CEO of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel.

Police say that officers check on returning passengers who are in isolation every other day either by making house calls or calling on the phone. Additionally, officers conduct random house visits for some of the people whom they call.

Officers are also authorized to ticket people for not wearing masks. However, the police prefer to hand out warnings to fines in those instances, and only 75 tickets were handed out in the last two weeks for violating the mask requirement in closed spaces. Even those were given only when citizens refused to heed officers' instructions to wear a mask.

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