Israel has ordered the quarantine of thousands after the resumption of a controversial telephone surveillance program, while Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are recovering from control after an outbreak of coronavirus in both areas.
A statement issued by the Israeli health ministry on Sunday said that “many” messages had been sent to the Israelis following further involvement from the Shin Bet homeland security agency. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that more than 30,000 people have been informed that they have been quarantined since Thursday.
After imposing strict measures at the start of the first wave of infections, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories appear to have contained their outbreaks, each reporting only a few dozen new cases a day in May.
But a relaxation of the restrictions has resulted in a steady increase in cases in the past month.
“We are at the height of a new corona offensive. This is a very strong epidemic that is spreading worldwide and here too, “said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.
|Will life return to normal after the coronavirus is locked? I Inside Story|
“We are in a state of emergency,” he said, adding that Israel needs to fight more against the virus.
Israel is now reporting around 1,000 new cases a day, more than its peak from the previous wave. There are plans to reimpose restrictions in response, limiting the occupancy of bars, places of worship and event spaces to 50 people. It also forces citizens to wear masks and has encouraged stricter social distancing.
Since the start of the epidemic, Israel has registered more than 29,000 cases and 330 deaths. Over 17,000 people have recovered.
With its contact finder struggling to keep up with the growing number of cases, Israel last week redeployed homeland security Shin Bet to use its sophisticated telephone monitoring technology to track Israelis who have come into contact with infected people, then inform them that they must go home quarantine.
The measure is generally used to thwart attacks by tracking down Palestinian fighters. The disputed tactic was used when the outbreak first appeared earlier this year.
When civil rights groups challenged it in the country’s Supreme Court, the court threatened to suspend its use unless it was placed under legislative control. Since then, the Israeli Knesset has done so twice using temporary legislation, most recently Wednesday.
While authorities have defended the practice as a rescue measure, civil rights groups have attacked it as an invasion of privacy. Analysts believe the measure could act as a brake that could unnecessarily force some to quarantine.
Harry Fawcett of Al Jazeera, from West Jerusalem, said that Israel’s surveillance by telephone had sparked outrage from human rights groups, but that it had been deemed necessary by the government.
“This is the third time that the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet has been punished for monitoring people’s phones,” he said.
|Pandemic panoptics: Israeli surveillance during COVID-19|
“It is not an application that people download voluntarily. Here, the security service monitors the people with whom they have teamed up and sends them an SMS to quarantine if it is assessed that they should do so. ”
Israeli media reports that thousands of people have been quarantined at home, many Israelis have complained that it was difficult to appeal quarantine orders because the Ministry of Health hotline was overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with such a deluge.
Critics have alleged that in the midst of declining cases, Israel has lowered its guard, reopened too quickly, and has not taken advantage of its time to improve its tracing capabilities to deal with a second wave.
Netanyahu, who was widely regarded as having successfully managed the first wave, suffered in public opinion polls for his approach this time. In May, he proudly urged the Israelis to go out, have a coffee or a beer, and « s’amuser ».
Blockage in the occupied West Bank
Residents in the occupied West Bank on Friday were ordered to stay at home unless they need to buy food or medicine.
On Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas extended the state of emergency in the territory for 30 days, a measure which authorizes the authorities to impose additional restrictions on viruses, including the extension of traffic bans, the banning of travel between cities and the deployment of security forces.
Palestinian authorities fear that if the outbreak spirals out of control, it could overwhelm its underfunded health system.
In the past two weeks, Palestinian health officials have reported more than 1,700 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the occupied city of Hebron in the West Bank and hundreds more in Bethlehem and Nablus.
The West Bank has reported more than 3,700 cases since the start of the epidemic. Over 400 have died.