The Health Ministry sent messages on Thursday and Friday instructing more than 30,000 people to self-quarantine after the Shin Bet security service digital tracking system reported that they had been in close proximity to confirmed coronavirus patients.
However, some of those who were ordered into quarantine say they were at home at the time in question and were not in contact with anyone, but that they have no means of appealing the order.
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The messages were sent after the Knesset on Wednesday passed a temporary legislation allowing the Health Ministry to avail itself of Shin Bet assistance to locate people who had been in the vicinity of confirmed patients.
By law, a person who receives such a notification can ask the Health Ministry to “re-examine the data,” and the ministry is required to respond to the request within three days. But people say the ministry is not answering their calls, and those who have been able to reach the ministry say they were told that for the time being there is no means of appeal.
“I got a message on Friday to go into quarantine,” a resident of southern Israel said. “I checked the time that I was supposed to have been near a coronavirus patient, and it was late at night when for sure I was home sleeping. But when you try to reach the ministry nobody answers, the line disconnects and that’s that.”
A man wearing a protective mask walks in Jerusalem, June 28, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman
“I’ve tried to reach them three times and now I’ve been waiting for 40 minutes on the line for somebody to pick up,” a resident of central Israel said, who received notice on Saturday that he had been exposed a week ago to a confirmed coronavirus patient and had to self-quarantine. “It simply can’t be. On that day I slept until 1 P.M. and I only left the house at 3 P.M. It’s depressing that there’s no way to appeal, because I have plans for the rest of the week and everyone around me is under pressure. Still, as long as I’m not cleared by the Health Ministry, I’ll stay home.”
Another man from central Israel, who got a message on Saturday ordering him into quarantine for the next 11 days, said he was with his family at the time he had supposedly been exposed. “I have no intention of staying in quarantine, especially without any way to appeal. Whoever heard of such a thing in a democratic country, that they send you into quarantine with no means of appeal?”
The Health Ministry responded by saying that “beginning Thursday many text messages were sent from the Health Ministry following Shin Bet tracking. As a result, numerous calls were made to the ministry’s hotline. Waiting times are very long and some of the calls get disconnected. The Health Ministry is working to improve the availability and level of the service soon. The Health Ministry emphasizes that receipt of the text message requires immediate quarantine, and the directions in the message must be followed until officially informed otherwise.”
According to the digital tracking bill, the Shin Bet will provide the Health Ministry with location data of anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 and people who had been in contact with carriers within the 14-days prior to diagnosis. The information is expected to include data on individuals' identities, location and whom they have had contact with, in accordance with the country's wiretapping laws, but not their phonecalls. The Shin Bet and the Health Ministry would be required to submit weekly reports to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee regarding their joint activities.