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Israel to use cyber surveillance to track coronavirus patients

What happened: The Israeli cabinet has approved an emergency order for 30 days to allow digital surveillance tools to monitor the movement of people who are infected with the coronavirus.

  • The controversial mobile tracking tool, originally used to combat terrorist activity, will enable authorities to monitor quarantined citizens and geolocate all those they came into contact with for the last two weeks.
  • The tool has been developed by Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet. Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White), who chairs the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, called the approval of the measure a “hijacking” and demanded that his committee be convened immediately to provide oversight and scrutiny of the measures.
  • The number of Israelis infected with coronavirus rose to 304 this morning,  of those 4 are in critical condition.
  • The Government announced new measures for the public sector and private sector to operate in emergency mode. Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “Work can be done in shifts and from home. There will be adjustments for specific industries to be determined jointly by the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry. This requirement does not apply to businesses with ten or fewer workers, on the condition that they keep a distance of at least two meters from each other.”
  • Essential services will remain at full capacity, including medical centres, grocery stores, banks, and emergency services. Public transport will continue to function but at a reduced volume.
  • The Finance Ministry presented a package of measures to help people and businesses who have been adversely affected.
  • Earlier in the day the newly elected Knesset was sworn in, but instead of the usual 120 member house in full attendance, the Knesset members entered in groups of three to abide by the Health Ministry’s guidelines of limiting public gatherings to 10 people at a time. President Rivlin oversaw the unusual event and called on the politicians to “give the people a government” after three elections.
  • Also yesterday, Rivlin formally gave Blue and White leader Benny Gantz the task of forming a coalition after he secured a slim majority of recommendations. Gantz promised to “do whatever it takes to form a national, patriotic and broad government within days.”
  • Gantz reached out to all the Knesset parties but the right wing bloc have refused to meet him.

Context: Netanyahu explained that at this point there would be no general curfew, even though Health Ministry officials representatives recommended it to prevent the spread of the virus.

  • A Channel 12 news poll found that 62% of the public said Netanyahu was handling the crisis in a responsible manner, with 70% supporting his decision-making.
  • Civil liberties groups have expressed concern over his decision to allow mobile phone tracking technology to monitor the movements of coronavirus patients.
  • The Blue and White party introduced three bills in the Knesset: a bill to impose a two-term limit on a prime minister; a bill to terminate the tenure of any minister or prime minister who is indicted; and a bill to prohibit asking an MK who is under indictment from forming a government. Yisrael Beiteinu introduced a bill of its own to terminate the term of a prime minister who is under indictment.
  • In parallel, negotiating teams from the Likud and Blue and White met yesterday for the first time.  Sources on both sides said that the meeting had been held in a “good atmosphere.”

Looking ahead: Benny Gantz now has 28 days, with a possible 14 day extension to form a government. During the transition period, his Blue and White party is expected to name one of its members as Knesset speaker and try to pass legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from forming a new government. The legislation is aimed at avoiding a fourth election and encourage Netanyahu to enter into a national unity government.

  • Later this week, four hotels will open, repurposed for coronavirus patients after concerns about capacity as Israel has one of the lowest ratios of hospital beds to population in the OECD.