Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday ordered the Health Ministry to enforce regulations mandating that new arrivals to Israel be taken into quarantine, after reports emerged that hundreds of people have been entering the country from areas hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic without being tested for the virus upon arrival and without being sent to isolation hotels.
Netanyahu gave the order to Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar-Siman Tov, Channel 12 reported after broadcasting an investigative report earlier Tuesday into the failures to quarantine or even check arrivals from the US, Italy, Spain and France.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett confirmed that despite an announcement by his office last week that all arrivals from those countries would face the measures, the plan had been nixed.
Passengers arriving on a flight from New York on Tuesday, for example, were allowed to “simply walk out the doors” of Ben Gurion Airport, the TV report said. Hundreds more have said they came to Israel in recent days and faced no restrictions, it said. “Nobody checks that they are going into quarantine. Nobody tests them for the coronavirus.”
The report said that in a meeting hosted by Netanyahu on Friday, it was decided to trash Bennett’s plan and to have Israelis and foreign nationals based in Israel isolate themselves at home instead and not have to be tested for the virus. (Non-Israelis who are not based in Israel are not allowed into the country under the coronavirus restrictions.)
Former health ministry chief Gabi Barabash told the network that due to this “idiotic management,” Israel was in danger of “simply becoming a branch of New York” — the US state where 1,550 people have died and more than 75,000 were infected.
“People will just fly here from there,” Barabash warned. “Everything we’ve achieved to date will be lost. It’s intolerable.”
Asked about the subject during an interview, Bennett told Channel 12 that Netanyahu and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat had decided to go in a different direction to the one he had advocated.
“Not every program you want is enacted, and that is legitimate,” he said, indicating that a shortage of test kits may have been a factor.
Bennett’s office had announced the program last week as a done deal, not a proposal, said it would be implemented starting Saturday, and never said it had been shelved.
Israel has been implementing increasingly stringent measures to thwart the spread of the virus, with citizens generally required to stay home.