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Israel to test electronic monitor as alternative to state-run corona facilities 

Israel’s Health Ministry announced on Wednesday that it would launch a pilot program with an electronic monitoring device - worn on the ankle or wrist - for people arriving at Israel’s international Ben-Gurion Airport.

The pilot program will initially be tested on 100 people. If the program is considered a success, it will eventually become part of an alternative home quarantine to the controversial state-run corona facilities. The purpose of the device is to monitor the location of the home-quarantined individuals and ensure that they adhere to the guidelines set by the Health Ministry during their two-week quarantine period. The device cannot be removed, much like an ankle monitor used on released prisoners to keep track of them during their paroles.

According to Israeli Channel 13, the device will monitor the wearer’s location via GPS and Bluetooth technology connected to their cell phones. 

Israel is currently tightening the conditions for people entering the country out of fear that it could undermine the effectiveness of the ongoing vaccination campaign. It is part of the country’s overall efforts to prevent a further spread of a more contagious variant of the virus, such as its British, South African or Brazilian mutations. 

On Wednesday, Israel’s corona cabinet decided to reinstate the compulsory quarantine period for people landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. As in the past, quarantined individuals need to stay at the state’s facilities for 14 days. The stay can be reduced to 10 days for individuals who are able to present two negative test results during this period.

Apart from being controversial, the state-run facilities are costly and their effectiveness is being questioned. Consequently, the Israeli government has been looking for a less expensive solution, such as the electronic monitoring device. 

Initially, the electronic monitoring device will be integrated with the existing corona state-run facilities. Starting next week, people arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport will be tested for coronavirus before being transported to the facilities. If the test is negative, the next day the individual will be allowed to quarantine in their homes as long as they agree to wear the electronic monitoring device. 

In a statement, the Health Ministry declared that the intention behind the electronic monitoring device is “to provide more efficient alternatives to arrivals in the country, and out of a desire to limit harm to personal freedoms.”

However, if implemented on a wide scale, the electronic monitoring program could undermine personal freedom and privacy for citizens in a democracy. Just like Israel’s previous controversial and inefficient phone tracking COVID-approach, the new electronic monitoring device risks undermining Israeli citizens’ already strained trust in their authorities. While the need to prevent the spread of contagious virus variants is understandable, treating law-abiding citizens like potential criminals risks doing far more harm than good. By contrast, this extreme monitoring approach would be nearly impossible to implement in European democracies, where fundamental rights such as personal freedom and privacy are highly valued. 

It is also unclear how Israel’s unconventional COVID-monitoring efforts will affect Israel’s already COVID-ailing tourism industry once it resumes. In early February, Israel and Greece signed a bilateral tourism agreement. 

"Like always, tourism is a two-way street. Any and all agreements must be mutual, allowing the citizens of both countries the same positive experiences trips and vacations can provide," said Israel’s Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen.

Israel tentatively hopes to welcome international tourists by April. However, it is not without complications. While presenting a negative corona test has become common at airports worldwide, Israeli authorities also want foreign visitors to fill out a health statement, which must be approved before they arrive in Israel.

More controversially, tourist groups will reportedly be monitored through a dedicated phone app. Since a vacation is supposed to be a relaxing experience, tourists will be hard-pressed to find that Israel’s current monitoring measures can be reconciled with the country’s plan to become an attractive post-COVID holiday destination. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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