Israel cancels mandatory hotel quarantines as public anger grows

Unwilling guests protested terrible conditions and demonstrators decried the violation of citizens’ rights.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced Tuesday that Israelis returning from trips abroad will no longer have to be quarantined in so-called Corona hotels upon arrival, canceling the policy a few days before it was set to expire.

“I have instructed the senior officials in my ministry to cancel the quarantine in hotels as soon as possible for returnees from abroad, from all countries, subject to a Corona test,” he tweeted. “Every returnee from abroad who is allowed to enter the country must have an immediate test and go into home isolation for two weeks, or 10 days if he does another test on the ninth day.”

The stringent hotel requirement had been put into place in the beginning of last week until this Friday, for fear of the entry into Israel of a faster-spreading mutation of the Covid-19 virus that had been discovered in England and several other countries. The quarantine policy has been only selectively enforced, however, with as many as two thirds of the travelers successfully arguing their case to go home before an Exceptions Committee set up at Ben Gurion Airport.

Several cases of the new strain have since been diagnosed in the country.

Those forced into hotels, meanwhile, have complained of terrible conditions, inedible food and indifference to their plight. Several groups have protested at hotel entrances and tried escaping, getting into pushing contests with security guards in tussles described as riots.

In a clash Monday that was posted online from the Leonardo Hotel in Jerusalem, masked men of all ages can be seen crowding around the door yelling at the police who were called to stop them from leaving.

Yuval Peretz, who filmed the scene, said of the officers, “They are threatening us that if we don’t go up to our rooms, we’ll get tickets and they’ll arrest us.”

Some of those who had descended to the lobby eventually received 5,000 shekel fines for breaking quarantine.

The unwilling guests have also been supported from the outside by demonstrators protesting the denial of their fellow citizens’ basic rights of movement and individual freedom.

In the face of all the public anger, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who had ordered the Home Front Command to operate the Corona hotels as it had done in the previous lockdowns, called Monday to allow those returning from abroad to quarantine at home after taking the nasal swab test at the airport.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit took pains to distance itself from responsibility for the conditions that have led in part to the public conflict.

“Every complaint and problem are dealt with individually and with full attention by the Home Front Command and hotel staff,” it said in a  statement. “However, the Home Front Command is only the operator and is not responsible for the food or cleaning the rooms.”