Ministers reinstate compulsory hotel quarantine for arrivals from abroad

Measure dependent on approval by Knesset committee, but panel chair says no meeting planned, sets up talks on matter with health minister

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

People who flew back to Israel seen arriving at the Dan Panorama Hotel used as a quarantine facility, on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People who flew back to Israel seen arriving at the Dan Panorama Hotel used as a quarantine facility, on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ministers approved early Wednesday the reinstatement of a compulsory quarantine period in special government-run hotels for all those arriving from abroad, a day after the previous regulations on the matter expired.

The coronavirus cabinet, a narrow forum of ministers tasked with forming policy to deal with the virus outbreak, approved the hotel quarantine via a telephone vote, according to a joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry.

Final approval of the temporary measure is still needed from the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee and according to the statement the panel is to meet later in the day to deliberate the matter.

However, committee chair MK Ya’akov Asher said he had no knowledge of such a planned gathering.

“In contrast to what was written in the joint announcement of the PMO and Health Ministry, an invitation has yet to be sent to deliberate hotel quarantine in the constitution committee,” Asher said in a statement.

“Talks are ongoing,” added Asher, who has publicly opposed the hotel quarantine system and at the last meeting of the committee earlier this week called on the government to find alternatives, including better enforcement to ensure that travelers self-quarantine at home.

MK Ya’akov Asher attends an Economic Affairs committee meeting in the Knesset, December 10, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

After he spoke with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, the two agreed to meet at 12:30 p.m., according to Hebrew media reports, while the Ynet news site reported that Asher was to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day.

The coronavirus cabinet approved the hotel quarantine rule until March 9. As was previously the case, quarantine is for 14 days, or ten days for those who have two negative tests during that period.

However, travelers carrying documentation showing they have completed the two-shot virus vaccination, or those who have recovered from the disease, will be able to skip quarantine provided they have a virus test just before, and on arrival in the country, with both tests being negative.

Any other requests for exemption from staying in the hotels can be taken by returning travelers to a special Health Ministry committee located at Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main international terminus. Exemptions are granted to young children traveling alone, the elderly, pregnant women, and other similar cases in which staying at the hotels would be impractical.

The empty arrival hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on February 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Sunday Asher, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, proposed electronic means or increased police enforcement to ensure people quarantined at home as required and claimed that two-thirds of returnees get exemptions from the hotel stays anyway. At the time the committee had refused to approve extending the hotel quarantine requirement, as sought by the government, and it expired at midnight Monday.

Preempting the expiration, Netanyahu, Edelstein, and Transportation Minister Miri Regev decided to slash the number of Israelis allowed into the country each day to just 200. The Transportation Ministry said at the time that the strict limit would be kept in place until a technological solution to quarantine is found, or the hotel stays are restored.

Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, with Ben Gurion Airport shuttered for all but a few special flights by Israeli airlines to bring back citizens stranded abroad. Health officials are concerned that more contagious strains of the coronavirus could arrive in the country from abroad, as is the case with the so-called British mutation which now accounts for almost all new COVID-19 infections in the country.

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