$2,920 for breaking quarantine: Gamzu wants far bigger fines for COVID violators

Virus czar also urges ministers to launch PR campaign among Haredi and Arab publics; finance minister backs relaxing rules on private sector

Police fine a man for violating the national lockdown rules at the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on September 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Police fine a man for violating the national lockdown rules at the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on September 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The government’s coronavirus czar on Wednesday urged ministers to substantially increase the fines issued to violators of the COVID-19 related restrictions.

During a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet — a forum of ministers charged with formulating policy to counter the pandemic — Ronni Gamzu recommended raising the fine for face mask violators from NIS 500 ($146) to NIS 1,000 ($292), according to a presentation the coronavirus czar presented at the high-level ministerial meeting.

Businesses that open in violation of government guidelines should be charged NIS 10,000 ($2,920) instead of the current NIS 5,000 ($1,460), Gamzu recommended.

The steepest fine recommendation was reserved for those who hold mass gatherings or who reopen schools against government guidelines. For those violators, Gamzu asked ministers to increase the fine to NIS 50,000 ($14,598) — up from the current NIS 5,000 ($1,460).

Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at his office near the central Israeli city of Lod, September 24, 2020 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

As for quarantine violators, Gamzu pressed ministers to increase the fine from the current NIS 5,000 ($1,460) to NIS 10,000 ($2,920).

The Israel Police has stepped up its enforcement of the nationwide lockdown, which was imposed due to skyrocketing coronavirus infections, saying Wednesday that officers had almost doubled the daily number of fines issued for breaking the rules.

Police said 3,570 fines were issued in the 24 hours between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon. In the previous 24 hours, only some 2,000 fines were handed out around the country.

According to the data, 2,134 of the fines were issued for traveling more than a kilometer away from home in violation of the rules. Another 1,179 fines were given for failing to wear face masks, and 67 were for breaching quarantine.

Additionally, 57 fines were handed to businesses violating the rules in various ways, and 109 tickets were slapped on people who were in public places and businesses whose operations are currently banned.

Gamzu’s presented his set of fine increase recommendations in tandem with a push to launch a host of information campaigns that will primarily target ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis, among whose communities the virus has surged, raising awareness regarding the dangers of the outbreak and urging compliance with health guidelines.

These campaigns would include testimony from COVID-19 patients, and recruit social media influencers to reach out to young people on TikTok, Gamzu said.

During Wednesday’s ministerial meeting, Finance Minister Israel Katz urged his colleagues on the 12-member panel to back a plan that would see a gradual return of the private sector workforce in offices that don’t serve in-person customers. Katz recommended that at the conclusion of the Sukkot holiday on October 11, those private sector offices be allowed to return to work at 50% capacity before gradually expanding in compliance with earlier guidelines.

Katz also pushed ministers to back the reopening of daycare facilities in order for parents to be able to return to work.

Israel’s second lockdown, which started on September 18, has been less stringent than the country’s first earlier this year, despite cases and deaths soaring daily. The public has accordingly been reported to be taking a more lax approach to the limitations.

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