Knesset advances bill raising fine for not wearing a face mask
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Knesset advances bill raising fine for not wearing a face mask

Violators will be forced to pay NIS 500; vote delayed on legislation granting Shin Bet authority to use digital surveillance to contain virus spread

Police enforce coronavirus hygiene regulations on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, June 28, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police enforce coronavirus hygiene regulations on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, June 28, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset on Monday advanced a bill hiking up the fine for those eschewing face masks in public areas, as required under Health Ministry measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the terms of the bill, the fine will be more than doubled from its current NIS 200 ($57) to NIS 500 ($144).

The proposed legislation was approved by lawmakers in its first reading late Monday. It will now go to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for preparation for its final two plenary votes.

Police have recently stepped up enforcement on face mask wearing, handing out thousands of fines last week as the number of virus cases has steadily climbed.

Israeli police officers patrol on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, to enforce the emergency regulations on June 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Separately, another bill granting the Shin Bet security service the right to digitally track virus carriers and those exposed to them was not brought for Knesset approval, with the first vote put off until next Monday.

The bill currently being promoted is a temporary, scaled-down version of the legislation the government is seeking to regulate the surveillance program.

MK Zvi Hauser, chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which is overseeing the bill, said the full legislation sought by the government requires more time for deliberation and instead proposed a temporary bill permitting use of the digital tracking for just two or three weeks, and only in virus hotspots, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.

The Shin Bet program — which used vast amounts of cellular phone and credit card data to track the movement of coronavirus patients and those in close contact with them — ended earlier this month, nearly three months after it began.

The program had been subject to Knesset oversight, but the High Court of Justice ordered the government to craft a law — instead of a temporary emergency regulation — to give the Shin Bet permission to use these tools.

A woman uses a cellphone as people wear face masks for fear of coronavirus in downtown Jerusalem, June 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ministers decided to call off the program after having failed to write a bill legislating how it would operate, but as infection rates climbed, reversed their position.

The head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, has opposed legislation regulating the Shin Bet’s role in the program, according to leaks from the high-level cabinet forum dealing with the pandemic response. He reportedly believes a private firm should be given the power instead.

Also Monday, the Knesset approved a NIS 4,000 ($1,158) monthly stipend for workers over the age of 67 who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic but are too old to qualify for unemployment benefits. The stipend will be provided until mid-August.

As a lockdown began in mid-March, hundreds of thousands of Israelis were put on unpaid leave or lost their jobs. By April, there were over a million out of work and even though the lockdown has been lifted, unemployment still runs at around 20 percent, compared to just 4% before the pandemic.

The government on Monday decided to limit public gatherings and reimpose some restrictions previously employed to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus, as the second wave of infections over the last month has shown no sign of abating, with hundreds of daily cases.

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