Netanyahu’s quarantine policy for foreign arrivals turns out to be illegal

PM orders that all arrivals from abroad be sent to quarantine after previously favoring self-isolation; Bennett says policy is impractical, costly.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Defense Ministry to quarantine all arrivals from abroad in hotels, starting Wednesday afternoon, but the policy turned out to be illegal.
In the immediate aftermath of the order, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said it would be logistically impossible and very costly to fully implement the plan, and said only arrivals from New York, where there is a high level of coronavirus infections, would be sent to the hotels at first.
However, even that proved to be problematic from a legal standpoint, because the arriving passengers did not sign a form in advance agreeing to go to the quarantine hotels. Netanyahu had made the order while their flight from Newark, NJ, was already in the air.
As such, the temperature of each person who arrived was checked, and they were asked if they had any COVID-19 symptoms.
Anyone with fever or coronavirus symptoms was sent to MDA for further care; MDA would decide whether people need to go into self-isolation or a quarantine hotel. People without any symptoms signed forms saying they are able to self-quarantine for the next 14 days. These tests will now be done to anyone returning from overseas and the decision as to where they will be quarantined, will be done with the Health Ministry's approval.
Fifteen of the people who arrived asked to be put in quarantine in a hotel, because they did not have a way to isolate themselves at home. They were transferred to the Prima Park Hotel in Jerusalem. This policy will be applied to other arrivals as well who do not have a place to isolate themselves in.
Meanwhile, flights were set to arrive in Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday and Thursday from London, Berlin, Moscow, Amsterdam, Newark, Belgrade, Addis Ababa, Vienna and Kiev.
Earlier Wednesday, Bennett said that Netanyahu did not inform him directly about the decision, and he found out about it from the media.
“We can’t put 4,000 people in hotels in one day, that’s clear,” Bennett said in an online press conference. “In the coming days, we will work on a more precise, smarter, more differential and more efficient plan than just putting up 50,000 Israelis in hotels paid for by the residents of Israel.”
In addition, Bennett estimated that quarantining tens of thousands of people for 16 days each– the two-week quarantine period plus two days to get the final coronavirus test results back – would cost NIS 300-400 million a month.
Bennett immediately ordered that everyone arriving from New York will be put in quarantine hotels right away.
There are flights arriving from Newark to Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday and Thursday.
The defense minister warned that fully enacting Netanyahu’s plan would create “a  coronavirus incubator,” in which healthy people would catch coronavirus in the quarantine hotels, because they would be sent there without being checked.
Instead, Bennett suggested that everyone be tested upon arrival at the airport and be sent to a way-station hotel where they would be fully quarantined in their rooms for one day, until they receive test results. Those who test negative for coronavirus
could go home to self-quarantine for the following 13 days.
Bennett said he hopes to present the more detailed plan to Netanyahu on Thursday or Friday.
Netanyahu’s change of policy from self-isolation for everyone returning from abroad to hotel quarantine came a day after Channel 12 reported that the policy Bennett announced to put people returning from high-risk countries was not enacted.
Hundreds of people arrived in Israel from places with high numbers of people infected by coronavirus and were sent
Bennett and the National Security Council decided last week that most arrivals from abroad could go into self-isolation at home, but people returning from the US, France, Italy and Spain, which are high-risk locales, would undergo a coronavirus test as they disembarked from the plane, and would be sent to a quarantine hoteldesignated for their category. Anyone whose test came back negative could finish the quarantine period at home.
At Friday’s cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri suggested that everyone be allowed to self-quarantine at home, and if someone is not able to do so, the Interior Ministry could find him a place in public housing or hostels.
Netanyahu decided to follow Deri’s suggestion. Five days later, after media reports and subsequent criticism, Netanyahu took a more maximalist approach than Bennett’s, requiring everyone who arrives from abroad to go to a quarantine hotel, not just those coming from high-risk countries.
The Health Ministry’s spokesman said it recommended more extreme measures weeks ago, but that it has no enforcement capabilities.