Israel's Health Ministry will begin using electronic bracelets next month to enforce quarantine restrictions on all arrivals from abroad – tourists as well as local residents.
The bracelets will replace the government-mandated hotels used to house and monitor many travelers.
Currently anyone entering Israel who has not recovered from a coronavirus infection or been vaccinated against the virus in Israel, faces a mandatory quarantine period.
The Knesset passed a law last month allowing electronic monitoring of those entering and exiting the country. The law is only directed at those who are required to quarantine and not applicable for those who have been vaccinated in Israel or have recovered from the illness.
The electronic bracelets will serve as an additional technological monitoring tool much like a smartphone application.
An exact date for the new policy has not yet been set. Officials hope to launch it in May but can do so only once a new government and Knesset Law Committee is formed.
The aim is to make two options available to residents or tourists entering the country; to either quarantine at home and wear an electronic bracelet for monitoring purposes or isolate at a hotel operated by the army’s home front command.
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The Health Ministry has purchased 30,000 electronic bracelets from the SuperCom company which won a tender to supply and operate them for about 40 million shekels. The decision to publish a tender followed a pilot program that tested a mere 100 bracelets which was all that was available at the time.
Restrictions on entering and leaving Israel - imposed in an effort to curb the pandemic - expired on March 20, and were not renewed after the High Court of Justice found the restrictions to be unconstitutional. The 3,000-person daily entry limit to the country and an exceptions board were subsequently abolished.
Israel’s high court determined that the restrictions violated democratic rights to enter and exit the country. The court also found that the timing of the restrictions, implemented without providing citizens with advanced notice and so close to the March 23 election, had done additional damage to citizens’ civil rights. The justices added that the government would need to supply an accurate and evidence-based case were it to seek to extend entry and exit restrictions to the country in the future.
Still, the Health Ministry fears the entry of newly infected people, particularly those with variants of the virus. Last week a new variant was identified in Israel, with the diagnosis of seven cases of the Indian variant. In recent months, seven other variants have been detected in Israel: the British, South African, B1.525 Ugandan variant, the Brazilian variants, and variants from New York and California. Most of these infections have been isolated cases that did not lead to a massive spread of any of the variants except for the British variant which accounts for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases since January.
Prof. Nachman Ash, Israel’s coronavirus czar, said that last month’s court ruling was worrisome and would permit “many dangerous variants to enter Israel.” Ash said that he thought it would be a shame to risk Israel’s success in lowering its infection rates and that it could lead to a new wave of infection.
132,000 new arrivals
Since March 21 when emergency restrictions on entering and leaving Israel expired, and a few days after the cabinet canceled rules denying landing rights to flights from a list of destinations, Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport has resumed routine operations.
Flight arrival data released by the Health Ministry for the March 20 through April 20 period shows more than 132,000 Israelis landed in the country during that time. By way of comparison, while restrictions were underway in February, only 13,000 Israelis arrived in the country or a tenth of the March to April figure.
Fifty-two percent of those entering Israel this past month had either recovered from COVID-19 or were vaccinated in Israel, and did not have to be quarantined.
There were 445 cases of coronavirus among the latest arrivals (0.34 percent) diagnosed over a 14-day period prior to their landing (which means data for the April 7-20 period is still not final). Seventy-five percent of the new arrivals with COVID-19 (or 336 people) were located within three days of landing. Estimates are that the total number of people with COVID-19 among the latest arrivals may be as high as 600 cases.
Some 34,000 of the people arriving in Israel flew from the United States, 41 percent of them recovering from COVID-19 or having been vaccinated and 45 of those flying from the U.S. having tested positive for the virus.
Some 13,000 people have arrived from Turkey in the past month, with 79 percent of them recovering from the virus, and 61 people testing positive. About another 8,500 flew in from France (42 percent recovered or vaccinated) and 22 testing positive for the virus. Further down the list are Ukraine with 8,200 entries, and 91 of them testing positive, and the UAE with 8,000 entries, eight having tested positive for the virus.
The number of people testing positive was particularly high among those flying in from India, at 58 positive cases out of a total of 1,300 people. Thirty-two people tested positive among the 931 who flew to Israel from Ethiopia.