Analysis |

Israel Insists on Two-week Coronavirus Quarantine, but Experts Say It's Unnecessary

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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People wearing protective masks on a street in Paris on Saturday. France reduced the isolation period of COVID-19 carriers to a week.
People on a street in Paris on Saturday. France reduced the isolation period of COVID-19 carriers to a week.Credit: Francois Mori/AP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

From the beginning of July through the middle of September, over one million Israelis suspected of having coming into contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient were placed in isolation, based on Health Ministry regulations. Just last week 160,000 people were ordered into isolation because of fears they were exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 carrier. In comparison, only 100,000 people a week had to go into isolation in the preceding weeks.

At the same time, the Health Ministry’s call center approved about 150,000 appeals of isolation orders submitted by Israelis, after the Shin Bet security service tracked their cellphones – but the people said the isolation orders they received were unfounded.

Since the coronavirus crisis began, over six months ago, the Health Ministry has enforced strict isolation rules. The quarantine is for two full weeks from the date of the last exposure to a confirmed patient. This rule is still in force – even though the scientific research has shown that COVID-19 patients are infectious mostly in the range of four to seven days from when they were infected.

A report from the national information and knowledge center on the coronavirus, operated by the IDF’s intelligence branch, shows that after 11 and a half days of isolation, about 97.5 percent of those infected and who will display symptoms – will already be symptomatic, and this figure rises to about 99 percent by the end of the full two weeks of isolation. The Health Ministry has so far rejected all proposals to shorten the isolation period in Israel by two days.

Nonetheless, a Health Ministry representative said recently in an internal forum that it is possible to reach an arrangement in which those in isolation will be given a coronavirus test at the end of their ninth day in isolation and then can be released from isolation at the end of the 12th day if they test negative. Shortening the isolation period by two days could save the economy almost 200 million shekels a month, estimate economists. This would also make it easier psychologically for those in isolation, many of whom are in their second, or even third, period of isolation. Such a change in policy would require an additional 12,000 tests a day.

Pedestrians in Jerusalem on Sunday, as the government finalizes it decision to impose a general lockdown.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Other countries impose shorter periods of isolation than Israel. France shortened its isolation period last week from two weeks to one week, both for confirmed patients and for those who have come in contact with them. This decision was actually made because of a sharp rise in infection rates. The French health minister, Olivier Veran, said that a week after patients are infected they are still infectious, but potential to infect others is very low. Even before France made its move, Austria and Switzerland shortened their quarantine periods from two weeks to 10 days – and it is also only 10 days in the Czech Republic.

The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, lawmaker Zvi Hauser of Derech Eretz, has been battling the Health Ministry for months in an attempt to shorten the isolation period. Shortening the period would reduce the economic damage significantly and “limit the damage to freedom of movement and personal freedom,” Hauser told Haaretz.

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