Israel Election: Special Polling Stations Set for Coronavirus Patients

Israel election: Netanyahu vs. Gantz. To counter growing coronavirus anxiety, isolation tents set up for voters under quarantine

Travelers coming out of the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion international airport, Israel, February 25, 2020
Ofer Vaknin

Israel's Central Elections Committee is setting up special polling stations for voters quarantined due to possible exposure to the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

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The committee’s director general, Orly Ades, told the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday that the Health Ministry gave the greenlight to those under quarantine who are asymptomatic to vote, so long as they wear face masks, do not use public transportation and follow other directives. 

The 12 to 15 special polling places will be placed all over Israel to enable these people to vote, Ades told the Knesset committee. “The numbers change every day, people enter and leave isolation, but we are keeping an eye on it." The stations will be placed in tents in major cities. Voters and polling station staff will be physically separated.

Magen David Adom was enlisted to help and is recruiting people from inside the emergency organization – because no one else is willing to work in the tents, said Ades. Those in isolation will enter the special polling places wearing clothing meant to protect others from the disease, including gloves and masks, and polling station staff will also wear protective gear.

Elections committee Director General Orly Ades, left, and Chairman Neal Handel, right, Jerusalem, January 2020
Emil Salman

“I very much hope that this will not incur major expenses, and that we can cut back on other things so we will not need additional funds,” Ades told the Finance Committee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday morning he saw no reason to postpone the Israeli election due to the coronavirus outbreak. "I think right now we're in control," he said in a radio interview.

Both Netanyahu's Likud and challenger Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan are worried that fears over the virus's little known contagion mechanisms could affect voter turnout in the closely fought race for the premiership. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said false reports and "fake news" could be used to discourage people from going out to the often busy polling stations, with Netanyahu pinning the blame on "foreign elements." Meanwhile, Kahol Lavan announced they will be fielding special patrols to go directly to the homes of voters in order to persuade them to vote despite any false reports about the virus.

Israel's Health Ministry complained to the police on Monday about Israelis who have returned from Thailand and refused to abide by the required home quarantine. There have been three separate incidents of Israelis returning and failing to quarantine themselves in their homes in accordance with authorities' instructions, while health inspectors have reportedly received at least 200 reports of people violating self-imposed isolation. These reports are usually resolved without problems, inspectors said.

More than 260 Israelis, including close to 60 high school students from the Haifa area, are also in quarantine after coming in close contact with a group of South Korean tourists that visited Israel in the last month. Some tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return to Korea. The incident, which threatened a diplomatic row between the two countries, has led Israel to close all connections with South Korea and attempt to return hundreds of citizens of Asian countries.

Coronavirus in Israel: Paramedics getting ready for a Korean Air flight from Seoul at Ben Gurion Airport, February 22, 2020.
Magen David Adom

Israeli authorities have imposed stringent regulations on citizens returning from a number of Asian countries, which includes the imposition of self-quarantine, although criticism has been rife. Critics contend that Israel does not have the logistical ability to monitor and counter the spread of the illness in this way.

More than 80,000 people worlwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and an estimated 2,705 have died, the overwhelming majority of them in China. There are fears of the virus spreading in Iran and neighboring countries, as well as in northern Italy. Currently two Israelis infected with the virus are in the country, and four are being treated in Japan. All of them were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has proved to be the second most important home to the virus outside of the Chinese province of Hubei, where it originated.