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Health Ministry said to weigh ankle bracelets for those returning from abroad

Official says plan being mulled in bid to find mechanism to enforce quarantine as Israel struggles to bring down virus numbers, proposal unlikely to pass due to privacy concerns

Illustrative: In this, July 23, 2018, file photo, Immigrant seeking asylum Ildra Medreano wears an ankle monitor at a Catholic Charities facility not long after she was reunited with her son in San Antonio. (AP/Eric Gay)
Illustrative: In this, July 23, 2018, file photo, Immigrant seeking asylum Ildra Medreano wears an ankle monitor at a Catholic Charities facility not long after she was reunited with her son in San Antonio. (AP/Eric Gay)

The Health Ministry is reportedly considering recommending a policy that would require those returning from abroad to wear electronic monitoring bracelets so that law enforcement can track whether Israelis are violating quarantine.

However, the proposal is sure to receive backlash over privacy concerns, and therefore is unlikely to be put in place, Channel 12 reported Friday. If it were to though, Israelis arriving from abroad would first be sent to quarantine hotels while waiting for the results of their coronavirus tests taken upon landing to return. Those who test negative would then be allowed to leave the hotel, but be required to wear the electronic monitor.

The policy has been considered in places like China, Australia and several states in the US, according to Channel 12.

“No one specifically asked for electronic bracelets, but what we do insist on is enforcing quarantine, whatever technological instrument is used is immaterial,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s public health department, told the network when asked to comment on the report.

Another idea being considered in the Health Ministry is to have all arrivals from abroad download an app that will track their locations, Channel 12 reported. However, this would likely prove ineffective with many ultra-Orthodox Israelis and others who do not have smartphones.

The issue is not currently a pressing problem as Israel has shut down the airport.

People at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on January 27, 2021, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Quarantine enforcement is one of many challenges health officials face as they seek to try and gain control over the pandemic, which has the country entering a fourth week of the third lockdown over the past year.

According to Channel 12, Israel leads the entire world in the number of days locked down since the start of the pandemic.

The continued lockdown comes despite Israel’s massive vaccine effort, with officials blaming the inability to bring infection numbers down on the British variant.

Efforts are also being focused on ultra-Orthodox areas, which have made headlines in recent months due to their gross violations of the health guidelines, keeping schools open and holding large weddings and other gatherings.

According to Channel 13 though, cases in those communities have fallen, however, remain well above the national average. The percentage of positive tests in the Haredi suburb of Bnei Brak was three and a half times higher than the rate in Tel Aviv.

But violators of lockdown have not just been in Haredi towns. Police broke up a party in Rishon Lezion early Friday morning. A group of teens attacked the officers dispatched to the scene. Over 100 youth present were fined and at least one was arrested for assaulting a police officer. Shortly after the bust, police discovered that a COVID-19 carrier had been in attendance at the party. The suspect was summoned for questioning that will take place after he finishes his quarantine.

In Lod, police broke up a Muslim prayer service at a mosque where 150 people had gathered in violation of the lockdown. Worshipers were fined along with the mosque leadership, which was hit with an NIS 5,000 penalty.

The departure hall at the almost empty Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on January 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Police said they handed out a total of 3,468 fines on Thursday over lockdown violations.

According to figures updated Thursday, the Health Ministry confirmed 7,089 cases of coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases to 71,042.

Nine point three percent of the 78,237 tests came back positive. The number of seriously ill patients stood at 1,200 — 15 fewer than the number at the start of Friday. The death toll stood at 4,700.

Over 2,961,917 Israelis have been vaccinated with the first dose and 1,672,510 have been vaccinated with the second dose.

The lockdown is currently set to end overnight Sunday-Monday, but the cabinet is expected to extend the closure by another week.

Nonetheless, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party has said it will not approve extending the lockdown until the bill on raising fines is passed into law. The party argues the measure is necessary as part of a general increase in enforcement of lockdown regulations to effectively curb the virus.

Should the Knesset fail to pass the legislation and a lockdown extension on Sunday, there will be a period during which there will be no restrictions at all until the cabinet can meet to order a new lockdown.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks at a press conference, December 29, 2020. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

While the Health Ministry reportedly wants to add another week, ending the closure after the weekend to take advantage of two days when much of the country would not be at work anyway, some ministers prefer an extension of just a few days.

In addition, the Health Ministry is reportedly opposed to suggestions that some aspects of the lockdown be eased, in particular by reopening parts of the education system and certain commercial activities.

The lockdown, now in its third week, has not produced a significant drop in infection numbers. Thousands of Israelis are being diagnosed with the virus every day and the positive test rate has remained at around nine percent, compared with lows of around just 1% reached in previous lockdowns.

The infection numbers remain high despite Israel’s successful vaccination campaign. Israel leads the world by far per capita in inoculations, with over a quarter of the population having received its first shot.

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