Israeli Health Officials Eye Stricter Quarantine Enforcement as COVID Cases Rise

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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COVID testing of arriving passengers at Ben-Gurion airport.
COVID testing of arriving passengers at Ben-Gurion airport. Credit: Hadas Parush
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Tuesday evening's coronavirus cabinet meeting ended without reaching any new decisions, and an additional meeting will be held in the near future. 

The Health Ministry was expected to demand at the meeting, which was called off due to voting on a variety of legislation in the Knesset plenum, that the police substantially step up enforcement of quarantine requirements in Israel. Such a step, ministry officials believe, is essential to halt the increase in COVID-19 cases that the country has recently been experiencing.

“Without significant enforcement over those in quarantine, there is no point in the other preventative steps and the pandemic will continue to spread,” a ministry source warned.

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The Health Ministry reported 501 new coronavirus cases in Israel on Monday, a 50 percent increase from Sunday and the highest figure since March 30, due to the spread of the delta variant. But the leading factor that officials look at in assessing the current situation is the number of seriously ill patients – a figure that is still very low – as well as potential strain on the health-care system.

Among the steps that the Health Ministry is expected to demand at Tuesday’s meeting is that vaccinated parents go into quarantine if they are caring for children who have been infected with the virus. The ministry is also expected to seek to expand the number of countries from which returning Israelis are required to go into quarantine, to include not only a list of countries designated as “red,” but also a broader range of countries for which there is a “serious” warning.

Apart from requirements related to arriving passengers from abroad, the Health Ministry is expected to seek to require rapid COVID tests for anyone visiting geriatric institutions and events attended by more than 100 children under the age of 12. Israelis under 12 generally cannot be vaccinated.

There are reportedly 50,000 people in quarantine in Israel, a figure that is expected to grow as the current wave of new COVID-19 cases in Israel spreads. Health Ministry officials predict that the daily number of new cases will exceed 1,000 at the beginning of next week and plan to boost the number of COVID tests to 100,000 per day.

The demand for increased enforcement of quarantine requirements was raised at the last coronavirus cabinet session about two weeks ago. “It came up in the discussion and an agreement was reached on increased efforts, but in practice, it’s not happening to a great extent,” one Health Ministry source said.

According to a number of ministry officials, the police are still working according to prior directives that required that priority be given to people returning from abroad. Now, however, most of those in Israel who have been infected with the new delta variant have caught it in Israel, with only 5 percent of confirmed cases among travelers who returned from overseas.

Administering a coronavirus vaccination in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, July 2021.Credit: Hadas Parush

One of the measures planned to assist in oversight and enforcement of quarantine requirements among returning Israelis is the use of electronic surveillance bracelets. The Health Ministry invested about 40 million shekels ($12 million) to establish the system, contracting with the firm SuperCom, which has provided tens of thousands of bracelets.

The system has been ready for more than two months, but has yet to be put into operation. Initially that was due to the country’s prior political stalemate, which meant that Knesset committees that would have had to approve the plan were not functioning. But now the reason remains unclear.

The tracking system was set up after it was found that two-thirds of returning passengers who were required to go into quarantine were not complying with the requirements.

Health Ministry officials don’t currently intend to recommend restrictions on gatherings or other more stringent requirements. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and other senior ministry officials are interested in creating a solution that will permit routines to continue alongside the coronavirus, ministry sources said.

“The perspective is a long-term one of life alongside the coronavirus, rather than the ‘accordion’ approach followed in the past, which was characterized by strict and immediate measures, which have no justification today and would unlikely be accepted by the public,” one ministry source said.

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