Israel's Security Service to Monitor Families of COVID-19 Carriers Suspected of Violating Quarantine

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Home Front Command soldiers perform contact tracing at the command headquarters in Ramle, September 29, 2020.
Home Front Command soldiers perform contact tracing at the command headquarters in Ramle, September 29, 2020.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

The Shin Bet will begin tracking immediate family members of coronavirus carriers suspected of lying or not cooperating in their contact tracing.

According to the IDF Home Front Command’s Alon task force for contact tracing, about 30 percent of confirmed carriers do not cooperate with the contact tracing investigation, or insist they were not in contact with anyone in the days prior to their diagnosis.

The contacts of 500 confirmed carriers will be tracked to see whether these patients did not in fact have any contact with immediate family members prior to their diagnosis, as claimed.

The examination will initially be carried out by Home Front Command personnel, assisted by experienced contact tracers from the Health Ministry. If a confirmed carrier is found to have lied or failed to provide relevant information, the Shin Bet will also get involved. If an immediate family member is found to have been in contact with the confirmed carrier, he will receive a text message instructing him to enter quarantine and get tested for the virus.

A pilot of the new program was recently presented to Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen.

The Shin Bet tracking system works automatically on the basis of lists of confirmed carriers supplied by the Health Ministry. The system was deliberately designed not to track immediate family members to reduce errors and “background noise,” based on the presumption that family members’ exposure would be easily revealed when the carrier is questioned by a contact tracer.

But the Health Ministry has noticed a growing trend of confirmed carriers reporting zero contacts. In some cases, when other information such as the carrier’s age or family status raises doubts about the credibility of their report regarding contacts, the new Shin Bet tracking method will be used.

This method is not based on classified technology or anything different than what has been used until now. It traces family members’ locations during the relevant time period on the basis of cellar information – essentially by removing the filter that previously blocked this tracing.

Health Ministry data shows Shin Bet tracking is effective. Its level of accuracy has improved. At first, an average of 20 people per confirmed carrier received a message to enter quarantine; that is now down to nine. Forty-four percent of confirmed carriers (more than 100,000 people) were identified through Shin Bet tracking. The ministry considers it important in cutting off the chain of infection.

The Alon task force has 2,600 contact tracers who can conduct 7,500 epidemiological investigations a day.

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