Central Elections Committee readying special booths for virus-quarantined voters
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Central Elections Committee readying special booths for virus-quarantined voters

Isolated tents in central cities to be staffed by officials in protective clothing to prevent possible spread of coronavirus on election day

Magen David Adom personnel donning protective gear at Ben-Gurion Airport on February 21, 2020. (Courtesy MDA)
Illustrative: Magen David Adom personnel donning protective gear at Ben-Gurion Airport on February 21, 2020. (Courtesy MDA)

The Central Elections Committee is preparing to set up special isolated voting stations on election day next Monday for those who are in quarantine to prevent a spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Committee director Orly Adas told the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday that preparations were being made for up to 15 voting stations that would be located in central cities for the elections next week.

Israelis who return from Asian countries where the virus has been detected have been ordered into self-imposed quarantine for 14 days, as health authorities apply strict measures in an effort to prevent it from spreading to Israel.

Adas told the committee, which convened to discuss budgeting for the March 2 election, that the special voting stations will be housed in tents staffed by workers from the Magen David Adom ambulance service. Each voting station’s committee, a panel responsible for overseeing proper procedure during voting, will wear protective clothing and be kept separated from the voters.

Earlier this week the Health Ministry issued instructions for those who are in quarantine, enabling them to go out and vote under certain conditions, Adas said. The voters must not have any of the flu-like symptoms of coronavirus, must wear masks and gloves, and must not use public transportation, among other measures.

Central Election Committee director Orly Adas, center, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 14, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Adas said the Central Elections Committee is keeping track of the number of returning travelers who must enter quarantine, and those whose self-imposed isolation ends are returning to their normal lives.

It was not immediately clear how exactly the stations would operate. Usually, voters present their national identification card to polling station workers, who then check the details against lists of voters by area, including a visual confirmation that the person standing before them matches the photograph on the ID. The ID card is kept by the panel while the voter enters a voting booth and is returned after they have posted their ballot in a locked box.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there was no reason to delay the elections over concerns that the virus will spread through the general public as they cast their ballots, and asserted that the country had taken rigorous precautions to prevent the disease from arriving.

Also, at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the police and the Shin Bet security agency must be prepared to deal with possible attempts to influence the March 2 elections through false news about the threat of the coronavirus, which could repel voters from visiting polling stations.

Neither Netanyahu nor Erdan identified any potential culprits. US officials said Saturday that there was a Russia-linked social media campaign to spread panic about the virus.

So far, there have only been two confirmed cases in the country — both of whom were already in quarantine when diagnosed. However, over the weekend South Korea informed Israel that several members of a group of pilgrims who returned from a recent visit to the country were found to have the disease. Another four Israelis were being treated in Japan, where they were diagnosed as having the virus while still on the ship. On Tuesday one of the Israelis was given the all-clear to leave the hospital.

On Saturday authorities instructed some 200 Israeli students and teachers to self-quarantine due to their contact with the group of South Korean pilgrims. It is not clear whether the Korean tourists were already infected while in Israel.

Israel has responded severely to the threat posed by the disease, banning the entry of any foreigners who have been to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand Singapore, South Korea and Japan in the past 14 days. The Health Ministry has also issued travel warnings for a slew of countries in East Asia, and on Monday added Italy, due to a surge of coronavirus cases there.

The coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, began in China in December.

The number of fatalities in China has continued to soar, with 150 more confirmed deaths taking the official death toll to over 2,600 Tuesday.

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