Israel’s corona tracking in chaos as healthy people ordered into quarantine

Shin Bet’s GPS tracking system turned back on, sending tens of thousands of quarantine orders to Israelis, but many say the information is wrong.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The Ministry of Health phone system crashed after thousands of worried Israelis who had received notices on their phones ordering them to enter quarantine overloaded the call center trying to confirm how they were exposed to the coronavirus, Israel Hayom reported Monday.

The Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) surveillance tracking system was reactivated on Thursday. The high-tech system is normally used to track terrorists, but instead has been turned to scan the GPS history of smartphones belonging to Israelis who test positive for coronavirus.

Since Thursday, tens of thousands of quarantine notices were sent out to owners of phones that were in proximity to the infected people, but hundreds of Israelis say the information about their exposure is wrong.

Unable to handle the load, the Health Ministry phone system crashed, putting many Israelis in the dilemma of either complying with the quarantine order or breaking the law.

A lawyer in the city of Bnei Brak said he received a text message ordering him into quarantine because last Sunday the surveillance system found he had been in the vicinity of an infected individual between 11:00 and 12:00 in the morning.

“At the time and date in the message I was in my office, I had nobody with me and there was nobody sick in the office,” the lawyer named Yanke told Israel Hayom.

“Even if theoretically there was somebody sick, there were another 10 lawyers in the office and none of them got the message,” he said, adding that nobody in the WhatsApp group of workers in the office building he works in got a notice.

Although Israel’s three main TV news channels documented cases of the computerized phone system hanging up on callers, Yanke was one of the lucky ones who managed to get through, but said the health officials on the other end of the phone were useless.

“They said they weren’t interested” that the text message he received didn’t match up with reality, Yanke said, adding he was transferred to the appeals desk where he was told he could expect an answer in four days.

“That’s already the time when I’m supposed to be able to leave quarantine,” Yanke noted, but did not clarify if he would stay home or go to work despite the incorrect information.

Another resident named Roey told the paper he and his wife both tested positive for corona, and one friend he had interacted with received a notification on their phone to go into quarantine, but many other friends had not.

“The feeling is that this is something automatic that has no logic,” Roey said.

One frustrated doctor said it was impossible to make sense of what was going on.

“You have to remember that we have no idea what this (surveillance) tool is or how accurate,” said Prof. Hagay Levin, head of Israel’s Association of Pubic Health Physicians, adding that having to add human investigation on top of the computerized tool was duplicating efforts and causing contradictions.