Health Ministry: Israeli Travelers Who Don’t Self-Quarantine Could Be Prosecuted

YERUSHALAYIM -
Hospital staff prepare for the arrival of a Chinese woman to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, over suspicions she may be infected with the coronavirus, on Jan. 27. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After banning the entry into Israel of residents of four Southeast Asian countries Monday,the government ramped up its enforcement of rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country. Channel 12 quoted Health Ministry officials as saying that Israelis returning from the Far East who do not quarantine themselves at home for at least two weeks will be subject to criminal prosecution. The stricture is aimed especially at Israelis who have been vacationing in Thailand, a popular destination for Israeli tourists.

And those strictures could affect far more people than previously thought. El Al and other carriers are still flying to Thailand, but the main interest in those flights is among Israelis currently in that country who are seeking to come home.

According to Kan News, in recent days between 1,500 and 2,000 Israelis have been arriving from Thailand on a daily basis. The Health Ministry did not say how it would enforce its rule or keep track of individuals who are supposed to remain in quarantine. It also did not say on what offenses individuals would be charged if they are to be prosecuted.

Some of the travelers returning from Thailand had also visited China, and health authorities are especially interested in tracking them down. On Monday, health officials frantically tried to track down two Israelis who had traveled to Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus, after “losing” them in Ben Gurion Airport. They were found after several minutes.

With elections set for two weeks from Tuesday, there is concern among health officials that the spread of coronavirus could upset the conduct of elections. If thousands of people are in quarantine they will not be able to vote.

On Monday, officials of the Central Elections Committee and the Health Ministry met to discuss options to enable those under quarantine to vote. In the case that there are indeed thousands of people under quarantine, the Committee said that it would set up special polling places for them. The Ministry said that voting would be possible for those under quarantine who have not shown any signs of the disease. The Ministry stressed in a statement that it would make the final decision, since it is “responsible for the health of the public.”

In an effort to keep coronavirus at bay as long as possible, the Immigration and Population Service announced that as of Thursday it will no longer admit residents of Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore. The ban includes workers in areas such as agriculture, home care, and manufacturing, as well as tourists. A similar ban was instituted several weeks ago against travelers from China.

The decision follows one by the Health Ministry Sunday that requires Israelis who return from those countries to enter a self-imposed quarantine for at least two weeks. The order comes after an increase in reported cases of coronavirus infection in countries throughout southeast Asia. The ban includes not only tourists and workers coming to Israel for the first time, but also workers who had been in Israel previously and returned home for a vacation.