Knesset advances bill to enable Shin Bet surveillance in coronavirus fight

Defense Ministry opening new coronavirus hotels * Orders to call up Homefront Command reservists extended

The coronavirus cabinet during a meeting on Wednesday (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The coronavirus cabinet during a meeting on Wednesday
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The cabinet and the Knesset voted on Wednesday to advance legislation that would enable the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to use its digital tools to  to track coronavirus patients. The bill passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum by a vote of 44 to 33, but still must pass additional readings in a Knesset committee and the plenum next week in order to become law.
At the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he wants to accelerate the development of an app to allow for effective contact tracing. However, he admitted that "this will take time – weeks and I hope not months. Until then, we are seeking to supplement" our efforts with the Shin Bet surveillance tool.
He said that he hopes the coronavirus spread will slow and there will not be a need to use it.
At press time on Wednesday evening, the Health Ministry reported an increase of 265 patients within the last day, bringing the number of active cases to 5,520. The number of people with serious cases is 46, including 28 who are intubated.
The Health Ministry also reported a record number of people screened on Tuesday: 19,533.
Netanyahu has been pushing to restart the surveillance program to help stop the coronavirus spread since last weekend, despite privacy concerns. On Monday, the coronavirus cabinet started a discussion on the subject, but the attorney-general said it was a discussion appropriate for the cabinet. The ministers agreed to push the talk off until Sunday. However, the increasing daily number of cases caused the meeting to be moved up.
The Ministerial Committee on Declaring Restricted Zones also met Wednesday to determine if additional cities should be closed, such as Modi’in Illit and Bat Yam, where the infection rates are high. At press time, no decision had yet been made, other than to reduce the narrowing of the red zone in Tiberias to three stress, effective immediately.
A report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center focused on spikes specifically in the ultra-Orthodox communities of Bnei Brak, Elad (named a red zone on Tuesday), Modi’in Illit, Beitar Illit and Beit Shemesh. There were 69 people diagnosed with coronavirus in those communities in one day, on June 22, the report said.
In light of the spread, the mayor and head rabbi of Or Yehuda announced Wednesday that prayers will return to open spaces.
"We all remember well that one of the most significant contagion centers in the first wave was in the synagogues, and none of us want to return to this place," Mayor Liat Shochat said. "We have one goal in mind, which is to reduce the morbidity across the city."
Likewise, Beit Shean called on its residents not to invite outside guests and to leave the city as little as possible, in order to ensure the infection rate there stays low. Four people have been infected in the city in the last three days, the Health Ministry showed.
The city is also stepping up enforcement.
“I ask everyone to obey the instructions and not make it more difficult for the inspectors and police,” the mayor said.
A separate report report by the Gartner Institute that advises the Health Ministry revealed how Israelis are catching coronavirus: 31% were infected in gatherings and it is still unclear who infected them; 61% came in contact with a known sick person; 2% caught it at a senior living facility; 1% on a flight from abroad’ and 5% are still under investigation.
At the same time, the Education Ministry reported that there are 839 students and teachers with coronavirus and 20,392 in isolation. Some 209 schools are closed.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed an order Wednesday extending the emergency recruitment of up to 250 reservists, most of them from the Home Front Command. The orders, he said, are valid through the end of July.
The order was already in place but set to expire on June 30. Recruitment will be carried out only as needed and in line with developments in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, Gantz instructed his ministry to prepare to open additional coronavirus hotels for those who contract the virus and cannot quarantine at home. One additional hotel was opened at the Sde Hermon School near in Kibbutz Snir in northern Israel. The command is already operating six others across the country.
Finally, the coronavirus cabinet drafted updated procedures for dealing with the virus in the public sector. Civil service agencies are being asked to authorize some employees to work from home, to limit public reception and rather to help the public through digital means when possible, as well as to move back to a “capsule” system that would require staff to work in limited numbers at a time.