Delegation to US said to break health rules after getting reduced quarantine
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Delegation to US said to break health rules after getting reduced quarantine

Health official tells newspaper organizers wanted waiver on isolation upon return; 5 days were eventually agreed upon, but with strict distancing guidelines team failed to follow

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds before a lunch in the State Dining Room of the White House after a signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds before a lunch in the State Dining Room of the White House after a signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Israel’s official delegation to Washington for the signing of peace accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain was allowed a reduced coronavirus quarantine time of only five days, but failed to maintain agreed-upon health guidelines during the trip, according to a report Wednesday.

The agreement to allow the delegation to only quarantine for five days and not 14 as normally required for travelers from the US, came after extensive wrangling between health officials and trip organizers, Haaretz reported.

Delegation organizers had sought a complete waiving of quarantine for the delegation, despite the US’s high infection rate, the paper reported, citing unnamed sources in the Health Ministry.

“There was some shouting” over the matter, a ministry source said, but eventually it was agreed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those who accompanied him on the trip would remain in quarantine until Monday only.

The agreement included a commitment by the delegation to maintain mask-wearing and distance between individuals.

However, a senior health official told the newspaper the delegation had not lived up to the bargain throughout the White House ceremony — with delegation members packed together in the audience and many eschewing masks. Netanyahu was not seen wearing a mask at any point throughout the day.

Foreign Affairs Minister of Bahrain Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani (left), Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (second from right) and US President Donald Trump participate in the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords on the South Lawn of the White House on September 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

The report indicated this was the result of pressure from the Trump administration, which has been notoriously reluctant to endorse social-distancing measures, even as the United States sees some of the highest infection and death rates in the world.

It was not clear whether Netanyahu had been expected to wear a mask during the ceremony itself. None of the officials before the cameras wore masks at the event.

“This sends a very bad message to the citizenry, that is required by the state to maintain distancing rules. They should have all been sent to two weeks quarantine when they came back, even if only for optics purposes,” the senior official told the paper.

Sharon Elrai, acting director of the Health Ministry’s public health services division, told Army Radio the delegation had not been given a “VIP waiver” but rather was allowed rules similar to those set for professional athletes based on stringent separation from their environment while abroad.

An audience watches at the White House during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates normalize ties with Israel, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020 (video screenshot)

“If these basic rules were flouted, then the instructions they were given will need to be changed,” she said.

Netanyahu on Tuesday participated in a signing ceremony in Washington DC to normalize relations with the UAE and Bahrain, as US President Donald Trump said similar US-brokered deals were close between the Jewish state and several other nations, including Saudi Arabia.

An audience watches as US President Donald Trump speaks from the Truman Balcony at the White House during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates normalize ties with Israel, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020 (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE sealed the accords establishing full diplomatic ties with a ceremony on a flag-decorated White House South Lawn.

The flight to Washington was Netanyahu’s first public trip abroad since the start of the pandemic. The premier was criticized over the timing of the trip, with infection rates in Israel spiking and the country headed to a second national lockdown, set to begin Friday.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry said daily infections had soared past 5,000 for the first time.

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