65,000 Israelis miss quarantine due to Health Ministry ‘computer glitch’

People who came into contact with virus carriers in early February missed isolation period because ministry made a mistake updating software, report says

People wearing face masks take cover from rain at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People wearing face masks take cover from rain at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of Israelis who were supposed to enter coronavirus quarantine were not ordered to to do due to a technical mishap, according to a Friday report.

After the government changed its policy and ruled that vaccinated Israelis were exempt from quarantine, the Health Ministry needed to change its system for sending out messages, and made a mistake during the update, Channel 12 reported.

The glitch affected some 85,000 people who had come in contact with a coronavirus carrier in the first two weeks of February. Some 20,000 people out of that group received a quarantine message after the glitch was found and entered a shortened quarantine.

Around 65,000 unvaccinated people missed their entire quarantine period, the report said.

MK Zvi Hauser, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a critic of the Netanyahu-led governing coalition, said, “85,000 Israelis who needed to go into quarantine continued to move around and who knows how many got infected. This is not how you manage a war on a pandemic. Too many Israelis have paid with their lives.”

The Health Ministry said in a statement, “between the days of January 29, 2021 [and] February 13, 2021, a computer mishap in the Health Ministry, followed by some people who came in close contact with a diagnosed sick person… did not receive a message instructing them to enter isolation as required. Upon finding the mishap, an immediate investigation and fix were carried out.”

Quarantine enforcement is one of many challenges health officials face as they seek to try and gain control over the pandemic.

Israel has instituted a controversial phone tracking program operated by the Shin Bet security service that alerts people who have been close to confirmed virus carriers. It wasn’t clear if the February incident was part of the Shin Bet surveillance program.

A young Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on February 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry announced last month that it failed to notify individuals tracked by the Shin Bet between December 13 and January 12 due to a “technical error,” and said it would begin to retroactively disclose the information to those who did not receive a notice.

Thousands have continued to get infected daily in Israel despite the lockdown and Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign, with officials blaming more infectious virus variants for the caseload, although the numbers have been declining in recent days.

A strict nationwide lockdown was imposed on Israel on December 27 and extended four times to combat the runaway infection rate.

Ministers eased the lockdown rules on Friday, with synagogues allowed to reopen and rules on gatherings made less stringent. The restrictions will be further relaxed on Sunday.

Other restrictions, including the closure of the main international airport, Israel’s land borders, and middle schools, remained firmly in place.

Cabinet ministers on Monday approved the reopening of stores, gyms, hotels, and other venues starting Sunday, in a major easing of the sweeping lockdown measures.

The Health Ministry said Friday that 744,513 Israelis have been infected since the start of the pandemic, including 3,014 on Thursday. There are 45,257 active cases and 872 serious cases.

The death toll stood at 5,526.

Over 4.2 million Israelis have received their first vaccine shot and over 2.8 million have gotten the second shot, out of a population of 9 million. Around 3 million Israelis are not currently eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and people who have recovered from COVID-19, among others.

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