Troubling Study: Israelis Mislead About Contracting COVID-19

Police and soldiers at a temporary “checkpoint” in Yerushalayim, on Thursday, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

New figures released on Wednesday indicate that a large number of Israelis who have contracted the coronavirus do not properly cooperate with the epidemiological investigations, concealing the true number of people they came into contact with and routinely violating quarantine directives.

The study, compiled by the IDF Home Front Command, was shared with government and health-care officials dealing with the pandemic. It shows that as of Sept. 20 – when around 340,000 Israelis were supposed to be self-isolating at home – at least 140,000 of them only partially quarantined or not at all.

The data on quarantine violations was collected from a variety of sources. Senior officials said similar figures exist for other days as well, and that the scope of violations was “extremely troubling.”

According to the officials, while there is no information pertaining to the number of people in home isolation who have contracted the virus, this was a “very concerning phenomenon that doesn’t have a solution.”

Among the main reasons for the trend – lack of enforcement and lax punishment. On a daily basis, meanwhile, police officers only check on about half of the people who are supposed to be in quarantine. Even the fine that is given to a violator – NIS 5,000 ($1,440) – is lower than other countries and is not a sufficient deterrent.

But the lack of cooperation with the coronavirus directives does not end there. A worrying number of people who have been confirmed as infected with the virus do not provide full and precise details about the people with whom they came into contact before testing positive.

Epidemiological investigations are a crucial part of severing the chain of infection, and their success hinge on people’s cooperation. The purpose of the epidemiological investigation is to locate, test and potentially quarantine people who came into contact with the confirmed individual.

According to studies conducted around the world these past two months, effective epidemiological investigation should reveal that the infected person came into contact with between 18-40 individuals prior to testing positive.

The figures in Israel should be similar, but instead are much lower. As of September 21, among all the epidemiological inquiries that were conducted, 43.2% of confirmed cases said they had been in contact with between 1-4 people; 22.4% of confirmed cases said they’d been in contact with between 5-9 people; and 13.4% said they’d been in contact with more than 10 people; meanwhile 21% said they had not been in contact with anyone.

It is obvious to those charged with conducting the epidemiological investigations that the information they receive in many of the cases is partial or intentionally misleading.

“Those who hide the information from us aren’t helping their families or friends – they are endangering them,” said Brig. Gen. Nissan Davidi, the head of the IDF Home Front’s coronavirus command center.