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Government approves electronic tracking of travelers in quarantine

Public Security Ministry aims to use a cellphone app to monitor arrivals who are supposed to be in isolation

Police officers enforce COVID-19 regulations at Ben Gurion International Airport, on July 19, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Police officers enforce COVID-19 regulations at Ben Gurion International Airport, on July 19, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Government ministers on Sunday approved a proposal authorizing Public Security Minister Omer Barlev to revive electronic monitoring of returning travelers to ensure they remain in quarantine.

Though the cabinet approved using “electronic means” to track arrivals, the surveillance will be conducted using a phone application rather than electronic bracelets which were rolled out in a trial in the past, according to Hebrew media reports.

Use of electronic tracking was already approved by the Knesset earlier this year, though the regulations require that the government authorize the Public Security Ministry to decide when it should be used.

It was not immediately clear when the electronic monitoring would begin.

The development came as Israel has recently tightened restrictions on travel to and from the country, as well as public events, in an effort to curb a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

Health officials have linked a recent spike in infections in Israel to travelers who brought back new variants of the virus from abroad and did not properly quarantine after arriving.

Currently, vaccinated travelers arriving in Israel must quarantine for 24 hours, or until they receive a negative result for a test taken upon landing — whichever comes sooner. Unvaccinated travelers have to quarantine for seven days and receive a negative test result when the week is over.

All those returning from countries deemed to have high infection rates are required to quarantine for a full seven days, even with a negative test result, according to Health Ministry’s guidelines. The full quarantine period was recently shortened from the previous 10-14 days.

On Sunday, Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash warned Israelis to refrain from travel abroad unless necessary. During a briefing on the COVID-19 situation, Ash said he advises “anyone who is planning on traveling abroad to take into account that there may be changes in policy [for returnees] when they return to the country.”

Last week Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that technological means would be used to check on the location of those in quarantine, and asked the attorney general and public security minister to examine the legal implications of such a move.

The system would allow police to track the locations of those who are quarantining by sending a text message with a link to their phones. When the individual in isolation clicks on the link, their physical location is immediately shared with law enforcement.

It was not clear how the system would work for those who don’t have phones, such as young children, or those who choose not to carry them when leaving the house.

The use of the system was announced by the previous government earlier this year but was ultimately barely used.

The resurgence of the coronavirus in Israel has been largely attributed to the spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India and is believed to be twice as contagious as the original COVID strain.

Health Ministry data released Sunday morning showed that 97 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in serious condition, the highest recorded number in nearly three months. According to ministry data, 966 new coronavirus cases were recorded on Saturday, after cases had topped 1,400 on Friday with nearly double the number of tests conducted. Testing is usually slower over the weekend.

There are 11,390 active virus cases in the country, Health Ministry data showed. Two months ago that figure was around 200.

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