Since Israel first imposed lockdown and public health restrictions to battle the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, not a single person has been prosecuted for violating those orders, Channel 13 news reported Tuesday.
According to the report, prosecutors were set to file charges for the first time against a 25-year-old man from southern Israel who allegedly attended a party while he should have been in quarantine after contracting COVID-19.
However, the man’s lawyer has filed to have the charges dismissed, citing “selective enforcement,” noting that no one else had been prosecuted despite widely documented violations, including those who violated quarantine, defied mask mandates and opened businesses during lockdown.
The prosecution was expected to dismiss these charges too, the report said.
While no one has been prosecuted, thousands of people and businesses were fined for breaking emergency health regulations during this period.
The report came as Israel looks to reimpose some restrictions and heavy fines for violators following a recent jump in infections.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday urged Israelis to avoid nonessential international travel amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the country.
“It’s not currently an order, it’s a request,” Bennett told reporters at Ben-Gurion International Airport, following a tour of its testing sites and a consultation with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli.
“If you don’t need to go abroad, do not go abroad,” said Bennett, noting that the recent coronavirus outbreak in Binyamina was traced to a family who returned from Cyprus, which is not considered a high-risk country.
The prime minister also announced that masks will become mandatory again within the airport, and encouraged Israelis to resume wearing facemasks indoors. Israel lifted its indoor mask mandate last week.
Bennett, who took office last week, said the new government will reestablish the coronavirus cabinet, which will assist in making future COVID-related decisions. The prime minister said the government is working “to cut off” the extra-contagious Delta variant “early and decisively.”
In addition to the mask mandate at the airport, Bennett recommended that people don masks in all indoor areas.
“If the numbers go up, to over 100 new cases for several days, it will be an order,” Bennett said, noting that he will instruct ministers and public leaders to resume wearing masks indoors immediately.
He also warned of possible “significant changes in entering and exiting Israel” once the coronavirus cabinet has reconvened and studied the current situation.
Concerns are rising in Israel over the spread of the new Delta variant, which is believed to be responsible for 70% of the new cases in the country in recent weeks. There were 125 new COVID cases confirmed on Monday, a figure more than double the number detected the day before, and the highest daily caseload since April 20.
The Health Ministry is also expected to announce the return of the mask mandate in hospitals, health clinics, old age homes, and in schools where there is a COVID outbreak, according to Channel 12 News.
One-third of new cases of COVID in Israel are believed to be among vaccinated individuals, according to Health Ministry figures. Ran Balicer, the head of Israel’s COVID advisory panel, said the figures are not surprising or alarming.
He also noted that there have been no severe COVID cases reported so far among those infected.
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash described the recent coronavirus outbreaks at several schools as localized upticks, and not a sign that Israel could be facing a fresh wave of infections.
“This is a local and not a general outbreak, whose source is primarily from abroad,” Ash told Channel 13 News. “However, the issue of quarantine [after travel] isn’t being done properly — people aren’t strict about it and therefore we see contagion.”