Forced hotel quarantine said likely to be nixed, as dozens try to break out

Israelis who had returned from abroad clash with guards at Jerusalem IDF-run facility; Gantz, deputy health minister say policy should be rethought

Dozens of Israelis who had returned from abroad attempt to break out of a forced quarantine in the Leonardo hotel in Jerusalem, December 28, 2020. (Screen Capture: Channel12)
Dozens of Israelis who had returned from abroad attempt to break out of a forced quarantine in the Leonardo hotel in Jerusalem, December 28, 2020. (Screen Capture: Channel12)

The government decision to compel all Israelis entering the country to quarantine in state-run hotels is likely to be revoked, following public criticism from a number of senior officials and a number of clashes between those who have been forced into the facilities and the authorities running them, Channel 12 news reported Monday night.

According to the report, the government appears unlikely to extend the order it issued last Wednesday, bringing an end to the apparently selectively-enforced policy as early as Friday, the report said.

Amid fears of a new, more contagious strain emerging, the coronavirus cabinet last week voted to require a stay in the hotels for 14 days, which can be reduced to 10 days with two negative coronavirus tests.

Additionally, all foreign nationals are banned from entering the country. Until last week, foreign travelers were allowed entry into Israel to attend Health Ministry-approved lifecycle events for first-degree relatives, and for several other reasons.

Since Wednesday, of the some 6,300 passengers who have landed in Israel, 2,555 were taken to hotels, and the rest received approval for home quarantine, the IDF spokesperson confirmed Monday evening to Globes.

Earlier in the day, dozens of people quarantined in the Leonardo Hotel in Jerusalem attempted to break out of the facility, clashing at the entrance with security guards, who forced them back inside.

At the same time, dozens of Israelis returning to the country from Dubai clashed with officials at Ben Gurion Airport, while waiting in line to get an exemption from the hotel quarantine, Channel 12 reported.

Israelis who returned from Dubai line up to receive exemptions from hotel quarantine at Ben Gurion Airport, December 28, 2020. (Screen Capture: Channel12)

Following Monday’s incidents, Defense Minister Benny Gantz urged the government to allow Israelis who enter the country to quarantine at home, on condition they undergo a COVID-19 test at the airport.

Gantz will not support extending the order requiring quarantine for all returning travelers, his office said.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch of Likud also questioned the policy approved by the government, saying on Twitter that due to the vaccines apparently being effective against the so-called British mutation, “it is right to move to home isolation and stop the isolation in hotels,”

He said the ministry was “considering whether to continue with [the policy].”

On Thursday, a day after the order came into effect, Channel 12 reported chaotic scenes at Ben Gurion, with passengers kept waiting for long periods at the baggage claim, and no one providing answers on how their transfer to hotels was supposed to work.

“Nothing had been prepared in advance,” one passenger returning from Dubai said. “There’s an improvised line packed with dozens of people… we’ve been sent from here to there, there’s only one representative who won’t let anyone near her, no one’s supervising, there’s no order. It’s indescribable.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the decision against criticism last week, saying, “We have a new epidemic that is spreading, with a virus that we don’t yet understand. This mutation could become coronavirus 2.0.”

“I know this is a difficult decision. We have no choice. I understand the difficulty that it causes families, travelers, to all. But this decision is critical because we must protect your health and lives,” the prime minister said.

He said the restrictions would be in place “until we understand the disease.”

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