Mandatory stay at quarantine hotels finally imposed on all arrivals from abroad

Regulations approved by cabinet after passengers have for days been allowed to enter Israel unchecked, take taxis home, despite PM’s repeated instructions

The empty arrivals hall at Ben Gurion International Airport, March 11, 2020. (Flash90)
The empty arrivals hall at Ben Gurion International Airport, March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

The cabinet on Sunday approved emergency ordinances requiring all people arriving in Israel from overseas to be housed at state-run quarantine hotels upon entry to the country.

All arrivals will be housed at state-run quarantine hotels for 14 days to ensure they are not infected with the coronavirus.

The director-general of the Health Ministry can make exemptions allowing people to quarantine elsewhere for “health and humanitarian reasons or other special circumstances,” after consulting with the head of the IDF’s Home Front Command, the statement said.

The regulations were approved in a telephone vote.

A Magen David Adom ambulance at Tel Aviv’s Dan Panorama hotel, which was turned into quarantine facility, on March 26, 2020. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The Defense Ministry issued a statement on Saturday saying the prime minister had agreed that it would take full responsibility for the matter henceforth.

In light of the new agreements, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the few flights still coming to Israel would resume, after they were frozen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday morning until the issue of quarantine was addressed.

The new action came after it became clear that incoming passengers to Israel were not all being quarantined despite Netanyahu’s orders last week, and that arrivals on numerous flights were being allowed to enter the country and go home, sometimes via taxi, without being required to enter state-overseen quarantine or even having their temperatures checked.

On Saturday morning, some 70 passengers on a United Airlines flight from the virus-stricken New York area arrived at Ben Gurion Airport and were allowed to travel home. The flight had received exceptional approval from authorities to land in Israel despite the current lockdown.

Illustrative — A traveler wearing a protective mask checks her phone at the arrivals hall of Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 10, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

According to data from the Corona National Information and Knowledge Center, a government body of researchers that serves as an advisory group to the Health Ministry and the Home Front Command, approximately one-third of infections in Israel are in people who have returned from abroad. The report noted that many of those cases were people traveling from New York.

Government officials have in recent days pointed to legal problems with enforcing the decision, and on Saturday sources in Netanyahu’s office told Hebrew media that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had limited the government’s ability to compel arrivals to enter quarantine facilities. A Health Ministry official made similar claims to the Times of Israel on Friday.

But an incensed Mandelblit issued a statement Saturday evening calling the claim “lies and falsehoods.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at an event at Bar Ilan University, March 4, 2020. (FLASH90)

His office said he “did not delay or prevent the government from taking necessary measures, as was claimed with regard to isolation of persons returning from overseas.”

It said Mandelblit had approved the original measure for the quarantine of arrivals on April 2 and had agreed that it was “an important and effective tool to deal with the spread of coronavirus by those arriving from abroad.” It said he had received a request for tougher measures on Saturday and was now reviewing them.

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