Health Ministry hits out at abiding failure to quarantine Ben Gurion arrivals

Health Ministry hits out at abiding failure to quarantine Ben Gurion arrivals

Legal opinion blocking mandatory isolation for all passengers is a ‘complete misunderstanding’ of the situation, says source

Illustrative: Travelers wearing protective masks arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Illustrative: Travelers wearing protective masks arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Over a week since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered all incoming passengers to Israel to be quarantined at specially designated hotels around the country, arrivals are still going directly home after signing a guarantee they will self-isolate.

A Health Ministry source told The Times of Israel on Friday that passengers who could prove they could self-isolate were allowed to leave the airport independently and return to their homes, while those who could not were sent to state-supervised hotels for a 14-day quarantine period.

The official said that while the ministry would prefer for all passengers to be sent to hotels, legal complications deriving from a legal opinion submitted by the attorney general were preventing that from happening. He called the opinion a “complete misunderstanding” of the situation.

No response had been received from the Attorney General’s office by the time of writing.

The Times of Israel understands that the current procedure at Ben Gurion Airport is that upon arrival, passengers have their temperature checked by Magen David Adom ambulance service personnel and have to fill out a questionnaire about their health and who they have been in contact with.

Health Ministry representatives then hand a list of those passengers who were found to be at risk, or who did not sign a self-isolation guarantee, to the Home Front Command, which is then responsible for transporting those persons to a designated quarantine hotel. The hotels are also under the responsibility of the Home Front Command.

Gabi Barbash at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, April 7, 2020. (Channel 12)

Former Health Ministry director-general Gabi Barbash told The Times of Israel that the fact that passengers were arriving from coronavirus hotspots such as the United States without being quarantined was leading to an increase in imported infections, in contrast to transmission within the domestic Israeli community, which has slowed as a result of the stringent restrictions imposed on citizens over recent weeks.

“I feel very bad about this, and concurrently we see an increase in patients with cases of imported coronavirus,” Barbash said. “This is not well managed to say the least.”

“It’s government management. I feel they are not taking the responsibility they should.”

A New York Times report on Thursday noted that Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, countries that saw success early on in the battle against coronavirus, were now seeing fresh spikes as a result of infections attributed to people who had arrived from abroad.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry, which is in charge of implementation of the plan, has cited “legal and procedural complications,” that prevent it from sending all incoming passengers to quarantine and only enable it to send to quarantine hotels those passengers who have not signed a declaration that they have an independent arrangement for self-isolation.

In late March, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett presented a plan for mandatory quarantine of all arrivals. However, he later acknowledged that the plan had been shelved.

On April 1, a day after Bennett’s acknowledgement, Netanyahu reinstated the plan to require all arrivals from abroad to be quarantined in a hotel or other designated facility for 14 days.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office at the time said that the policy was effective immediately. Netanyahu promised in a national broadcast that it would be implemented right away, but passengers have continued to arrive in Israel and head home independently.

A Magen David Adom ambulance at Tel Aviv’s Dan Panorama hotel, which was turned into quarantine facility, on March 26, 2020. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The Hebrew language Ynet website reported Thursday that incoming passengers on a United Airlines flight from New Jersey that landed earlier that day, in the midst of a particularly stringent nationwide closure imposed for the start of Passover, travelled home by taxi, despite an explicit prohibition on moving between towns.

One passenger told the website that he had signed the self-isolation guarantee although he did not in fact have any arrangement in place for the quarantine period.

“I still don’t know where I’ll go into self-isolation,” he said, “but first I’ll go home and then I’ll figure it out.”

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