Two weeks ago, France shortened the time that coronavirus patients and people who came in contact with them are required to spend in quarantine, from two weeks to one. French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that while the patient is still infectious a week after being infected, his likelihood of infecting others is very low. Other countries have also set quarantine periods of seven to 10 days, based on scientific research showing that patients are primarily infectious four to seven days after catching the virus.
Britain, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Holland and others have all set 10-day quarantine periods, and Portugal and Croatia are considering doing the same.
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In Israel, however, the Health Ministry has rejected every proposal to shorten the quarantine period, even by as little as two days. It has refused even though according to the ministry’s own data, the vast majority of Israelis who entered quarantine because cellphone tracking showed them in contact with a coronavirus patient didn’t actually catch the virus, and many weren’t even exposed to verified patients. The majority of Israelis who were quarantined due to the Shin Bet security service’s cellphone tracking over the course of two and a half months did not contract the virus, and many of them did not even have contact with a verified case.
This is a troubling statistic that raises difficult questions about both the effectiveness of cellphone tracking and the optimum number of days in quarantine. Even if we ignore tracking errors that have led to quarantining people who were never in contact with a verified patient (the Health Ministry has granted 150,000 appeals by people wrongly quarantined due to Shin Bet tracking), it ought to weigh the economic damage, the infringement on freedom of movement and individual choice and the emotional burden on quarantined individuals and their families and reconsider the need for 14 days in quarantine.
Indeed, the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, which is part of the Israel Medical Association, has urged shortening isolation periods for people quarantined due to Shin Bet tracking. “Unnecessary quarantine causes health and social damage to the individual and the public, on top of the economic damage,” association chairman Hagai Levine wrote. “Therefore, we support an immediate shortening of the quarantine period for people tracked by the Shin Bet.”
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) has also been battling the Health Ministry for months in an effort to shorten the quarantine period by two days, conditional on a coronavirus test that would be performed on the ninth day of quarantine. Economists estimate that cutting the quarantine period by two days would save the economy 200 million shekels a month. As the number of verified cases rises, so does the number of people quarantined.
Given the fact that just 2 percent of those quarantined are diagnosed with the virus, the decline in the likelihood of infecting others after a week and damage to both the economy and the people quarantined, the Health Ministry must consider shortening the quarantine period. A period of a week, like France has adopted, would make it easier for the public to comply with the state’s demands and for the state to enforce them.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.